Sunday, March 23, 2014

The Lord's Prayer

I am a believer in balance. Thus, since I provided one of my grandfather's favorite prayers as the title of my previous post, I am going to give a shout out to my other grandfather, a very religious man, in this title. He forgot most of my birthdays, but he remembered when I went through confirmation and bought me a beautiful Bible. I still have it.

He loved the classic Lord's Prayer. Don't know it? Memorize it, so if you are ever invited to a Christian home, you won't look like an asshole if asked to lead a prayer. I am talking to you, Matt Coolidge.

Again, nothing to do with my blog. This blog is about the amazing people we met in PP.

In general, we found a lot of expats in Phnom Penh that had relocated there to start sustainable businesses that help local people. They had fallen in love with the city and dropped their lives at home to start new lives in a place with which they'd formed a deep connection.

Because of this condition, we found a lot of innovative organizations and friendly people.

Organizations we enjoyed:

First and foremost, there are a lot of great organizations in PP. Two of Matt and my favorites ended up being restaurants. Our favorite being a place called Friends that trained and hired people that were living on the street and taught them about the restaurant industry. The food was delicious and it was conveniently located next to the National Museum.



Picture of Friends from the street.

Additionally, Matt and I ate at Pteah Clare, which gives a portion of its proceeds to help get water filters into the slums. Unsanitary water is the number one reason for child fatalities in Cambodia.

Picture outside of Pteah Clare.

I also support an organization called Cambodian Children's Fund. I had learned about the organization from another really amazing Cambodian based organization called the Somaly Mam Foundation. Cambodian Children's Fund provides education and nourishment to children from some of Cambodia's most destitute communities. You can donate money, sponsor a child or sponsor a family. It Just depends on how much you can give.

I really like this organization for many reasons.

  • First, I think education is the most important instrument to get any child out of poverty.
  • Second, they primarily hire Khmer people. I think this is great because, they understand the culture these students are coming from and it gives locals really great jobs.
  • Third, they don't let just anyone into the building, you have to go through a lengthy process to volunteer. You also have to volunteer for at least a year. This ensures safety for the students both mentally and physically. Some of the kids have gone through a lot of mental turmoil and CCF wants the children's lives to be as stable as possible. If an orphanage just gladly accepts you into their facilities and asks for money, it is most like a scam.
  • Fourth, if you don't write to your students, you lose your students. Again, this comes down to the mental stability of the child. They want an adult to remain as a constant in their lives. They don't just want someone darting in and out.

Lucky for me, the students at CCF live in Phnom Penh, and sponsors are able to meet them - all meetings have a chaperone. My student's name is Reaksmey, which means brightness in Khmer. Matt and I took Reaksmey, her friend, and a chaperone to the Royal Palace one afternoon while I was there. They all spoke English super well, especially her chaperone, who was fairly young himself and had just finished college with a major in English. He was also a CCF alum.

Reaksmey was very shy, but her friend was hilarious. They talked about Phnom Penh, some of the dangers that annoyed them, mainly pick pocketing, as well as what they wanted to be when they grew up. Reaksmey started her first semester of college this year and her friend was in her second.

The group inside the Royal Palace. Reaksmey's eyes are closed, oops!

Although, there were a lot of uncomfortable silences (and the fact that the girls didn't speak to Matt), we had a good time and I was so happy that my student was well adjusted, bright and happy.

Our PP Cheers:

Our major hangout was a placed called Empire Theater. It was owned by a married couple (one Khmer and one British). They played all the latest releases (Matt and I saw American Hustle, Twelve Years A Slave, The Butler, Dallas Buyers Club, etc). After not watching movies for about three months, it was a breath of fresh air.

We would often hang out at the bar after a film and met a lot of the PP locals hanging out or folks coming through town. A few favorites and interesting characters we met:

  • Lee Ann - worked there and also taught. Had lived in Asia for five plus years. Originally from England, but spent most her childhood in Australia.
  • Enders - crazy Irishman who lived in Afghanistan and was a psychologist for men and women infected with HIV. He could have been the maddest person I have ever met. But, who wouldn't go mad with his job? Actually, I think you would have to be mad to take it. The night we met him he got kicked out of a bar for trying to do E. Needless to say, the owner of the bar was more mad at the douche-y red head that sold Enders the E than Enders. Enders was also mad at the red head as he had paid him a lot of money and ended up pocketing the drugs and getting the hell out of the bar. It's a mad, mad, mad, mad world!
  • Anastasia - a Russian girl, who was actually Volga German, which is my own heritage. If you want to learn more about Volga Germans, check out this article. They have an amazing history and talking with her about her family's history made me very happy that my family immigrated to the U.S. when they did. Four words: Bolsheviks hated Volga Germans.
What will it be tonight?

Local Flavor:

Along with meeting Reaksmey, I was also able to reconnect with my friend Badong. I had met him about three years ago on my first trip to Cambodia. He was our tuk tuk driver at the time, but has since left the business and is working for a hotel.

It was really great talking with him, as he gave us some amazing inside perspective of the country, both good and bad. Sadly, Cambodia is selling a lot of its land to foreign investors. Sand is being sold to Malaysia, China has bought up large chunks of the country. The list goes on. There is major fear from the locals that this will cause disaster and is not sustainable for the people. I couldn't agree more.

Badong really wants Khmer people to create more businesses and control more of the businesses too. I really hope this happens. I see so much potential for this place, but it is still fragile and corruption is rampant in the government.

Sorry, this blog might have taken a little longer than I intended, but I wanted to capture it all. Phnom Pehn is a diamond in the rough that is growing brighter and brighter. Although it has its sex tourism and dead rats - we saw so many pancaked rats that had been hit by tuk tuks (rats and tuk tuks run rampant!) - we really enjoyed the people that we met. It is a city with good bones that has lots of potential, and those that are willing to stand the crazy that the city has to offer will be well rewarded.

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