Phnom Pehn (Revisited)

I am pained to make today’s tale sound like an Amnesty lecture, but I suspect it still does. So save your abuse (Kris) just accept that my blog is going through an ‘oh so worthy phase.’ It will pass.

All of the following happened this afternoon. My point being to demonstrate just what a tangled web of contradictions Cambodia can be, and how easy it is for us all to be hypocritical here. They are all related. Bear with me.

  • We set out this morning with the intention of ‘doing something nice.’ Claire has read about this City Dump Project, whereby volunteers take food supplies to the families that live in slums just out of the city. But from what we read it’s closed down so we needed an alternative.
  • All of us gave a few dollars to the street kids and bought their bootleg Raybands and a few of their pirated books.
  • Lindsey and I gave a street girl half of our $4 cakes from the posh bakery. (You can eat a meal for $25c here, to put into perspective how posh an éclair that was.) She shared it with her brothers/sisters before having any herself.

We also:

  • Visited what we suspect to be a fake orphanage.* More on what constitutes a fake orphanage, below.
  • We refused to by a $60 bag of rice for said orphanage (we learn by asking around that the actual cost price is $16 for 60 kilo)
  • We drank $12 Sauvignon in a riverside cafe, whilst having a debate about poverty/corruption. We are aware of the irony.

The problem is we have no idea which of these lists is good or bad anymore, or interchangeable. All are intrinsically linked with scamming, kickbacks, and the evils of voluntourism.**

*So the fake orphanage story is unfortunately so common. The whole place looks suspiciously like a school; with apparently 108 kids aged 3 – 18. We see about 20 kids, all relatively well dressed, one with a Ronaldo football shit, another with a laptop. We have a quick look around, to see some newborn puppies being man-handled by the kids, some pics of a trip to a waterpark, a TV – which may or may not have donated by tourists. We don’t know truth from lies anymore. They kids themselves are not really allowed to speak to us – the teacher does most of the translating, when I ask where the older ones are, Ronaldo suddenly claims to be 17 next week despite not looking a day over 12. We suspect they are village kids, rounded up and told to play for a few hours and given dubious backs stories. We ask the right questions, we interrogate it on the internet afterwards, but it’s impossible to tell. Our gut instinct was that it didn’t add up. Plus real orphanages have coordinated volunteer programmes, they don’t just let travellers rock up.

**A word on Haters of voluntourism – Save your preaching for the Thorn Tree forum! We are not under any illusions that we were saving the world this morning, but at the same time we like to separate ourselves from the cast of Jersey Shore types that lay around Sihanoukville, abusing local culture and pretending its Magaluf. At the end of the day, voluntoursim, in certain forms, IS better than apathy.

So now we have no real idea whether we are good or evil!

Did we do right by the street girls/wrong by the orphanage or vice versa?

Should we not give money to the street sellers (it encourages them/do they have a choice?)

Should we have donated to the orphanage just in case it was genuine?

Who do we think we are buying $12 wine in Cambodia as girls on a ‘shoestring’ paying $3 for guesthouses and haggling $1 out of tuk tuk drivers and kids?

Isn’t it good that we are here, and contributing, however small, towards an economy?

Shouldn’t charities be run like successful businesses? Shouldn’t grassroots projects be supported?

Are we damned if we care enough to blog about all this, damned if we don’t?

There are a million more. It hurt our brains that much that’s why we needed the wine! But to be honest if you can’t/don’t ponder this stuff you arguably shouldn’t really be in Cambodia.

Quote of the day has to be: “I feel as though if I’d have bought that rice, I’d have funded terrorism.” A joke from the ever so slightly melodramatic, but funny Claire. Are we wrong to have laughed?

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An.an.tas.in : The Anantasin is the name of a shipwreck just of the coast of the Sensi Parasise, Mae Haad Bay, Koh Tao, Thailand. It’s one of my many favorite places.

Lit.tle: Just because it’s cute.

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