It’s been a busy week with a mini-holiday thrown in as my husband came to visit and we headed off on my annual trip to Phnom Penh. Now there’s a crazy place — not as crazy as Bangkok, but it’s trying. It makes Siem Reap look like a sleepy backwater. The traffic is out of control. Construction is omnipresent. But there is a growing arts scene and a determined buzz everywhere you go which I find infectious. I now have wonderful friends there, and there are always more and more people to meet with for Writing Through. But the following pictures say it all. For me, Phnom Penh is a mixture, full of romance, as you can sit and sip a gin and topic while gazing at the confluence of the Mekong and Tonle Sap rivers:IMG_1168 IMG_1165
But it is also a city of huge contradictions, as I found when doing some research for the next novel. These photos are of the notorious Stung Meanchey rubbish heap. The active dump has now been moved a few kilometres away, but ‘Smokey Mountain’ still exists, with many people still living there. And why do they stay? Because NGO’s have come to work, to provide support and education,and they have stayed even after the dump moved. So the residents continue to live there needing the support of the NGO’s, but they ‘commute’ to the new dump to work in the only way they know how –picking out rubbish and selling it for recycling or whatever:
This year, I am more aware than ever of the contradictions in today’s Cambodia. There have been improvements. People I know who have been living in shacks by the road, now have electricity and access to water. There are changes being made in the educational system. A new environmental code is being discussed. They have even started to charge VAT! But rules don’t always translate into action, and there is still a long way to go. Those of us working in the development sector here are starting to imagine a time when we might not be needed. This is the only industry I know where people dream of being made redundant. That time is coming. Whether any of us see it in this generation, though, is still a big question.