Friday, May 18, 2012

Cambodian Children working the Streets



We had dinner in the Pub Street area ~ a nice place with a variety of food.  Prices, so low to our normalcy we ordered a couple of dishes for the children, just in case they didn't like one of them.  Of course, half the food was still on the plate after paying the bill and walking out of the restaurant, but it was okay ~ the total bill was still a fraction of what it would typically cost us in Singapore.

The streets are busy and suddenly, there is a small girl staring at me, walking next to the single stroller I am pushing my healthy 2-year old son in.  She has a small doll-looking figure in a cloth carrier attached to her front.  The girl is far too young to have a child of her own, it has to be a doll, I think to myself.  The doll's eyelids flutter a little and I question whether this tiny doll is alive. 

She is still looking at me, holding an empty baby bottle in one hand supporting the doll in the other arm.  The dolls eyes flutter again.  I prompt the girl walking next to me, "how old is your baby?"

The baby is 10 days old.  My heart breaks into pieces and I can feel tears welling in my eyes.

Using my western manners, I can not bring myself to ask if the baby is hers.  I don't really want to hear her say, "yes."  I don't want to know the story behind such a young child herself birthing a baby and trying to raise it. 

Then again, I don't want to hear her say, "no."  I don't really want to think about a mom letting another child take her 10-day old baby out of her arms into the streets of Cambodia, especially at night.  The baby and the child should be at home in bed.

"The baby needs milk."  She waves the empty baby bottle around a bit to show me it is empty.  We just left food on our table at the restaurant and now this child with a new born baby is standing next to me needing food and baby milk.  

My stomach drops and I feel like I might be sick.

"Do you need some money to buy milk?"  I ask.

"I do not want money, but I need milk."  She tells me.

"Okay, where do you get milk?"

"There is a mini mart right over there."  She says pointing a few doors down.  It is a busy mini mart in the heart of Pub Street.  I glance back at Kevin and he immediately takes the small girl and her baby into the mini mart to get them some milk.

He comes out with a container of baby formula.  Brilliant! The baby will be able to eat for at least a week with that container.  He touches the babies cheek.  It is cold and clammy and can barely open her eyes.

The girl was very appreciative and walks away.  I want to mix up a bottle of formula immediately.  Instead, I watch her cross the road and curious as to where she will go.  We can see her standing with another lady and hope she keeps the container of formula herself and not give it away.  She does keep it and then she disappears.

Kevin tells me that the posted price for the formula read around $30, but the cashier at the mini mart only asked for $5 when he paid.  Maybe the local girls get a local price?  We don't know and can not continue to think about it, because there really isn't anything else we can do at this time. 

I can only think to myself how badly I want to take both of those babies home with us.  Feed them, bathe them and let them be children.

_____________________________



Arriving back to our Guesthouse, we mention the story to the staff.  They kindly tell us about some of the corruption in Cambodia, which includes young children, babies and women.  Most likely the young girl took that container of formula and sold it back to her "boss" for pennies.

My heart breaks again and I want to run back out there to find that baby and bring her to safety. The rest of the nights, I can barely look at all those young girls on the streets, prepping for their future of approaching strangers.  What can I do?  There must be some way to help them.

The U.S. has had a ban on adopting Cambodian children since 2001.  Apparently, the corruption was so out of control that parents were selling their children to orphanages and private groups that promised a better life for them, which would also give them the funds needed to feed their other children.  The private groups would turn around and sell the children to anyone, including those laughable whore houses so common on the streets of places like Thailand.

I don't get it.  There are so many good families out there that want to adopt a child and raise them with real values.  I can not grasp the even larger amount of people out there that want these children as slaves.  Slaves for numerous things, but a large portion as sex slaves.  I was always led to believe that the girls (and boys known as lady-boys) in those whore houses chose to be there and could leave at any given moment.

I was wrong.  Most of these young souls have been indebted to a life of being owned and will never be able to pay the debt back to escape.  They are held like prisoners.

I don't get it.  I don't want to believe that there are people out there that actually pay to hurt a child for their own pleasure.  Who could do that to a child or another human being at all?  Who are these people and what gives them the right to exploit these vulnerable woman and children the way that they do?

I have so many emotions storming through my western mind, it is hard to grasp my true feelings.  Anger, sadness, greed, ashamed.  Most of all I feel ashamed. 

Ashamed that I go on living my life so happy and able to disconnect what I saw and go on living as if it doesn't exist.  There must be a way to help, but how?

___________________________


  
I begin researching some of the issues and have been completely blown away with the statistics.  Human trafficking is the third most profitable business comparable to drug trafficking and illegal fire arms trade.  WHAT?! 

Drugs are common all over the world and there are a lot of corrupt people out there willing to pay top dollar for different fire arms, but people?  Who still buys people?  I thought that ended in the 1800's, along with the U.S. Civil War.

Apparently, the times have changed from investing in slaves, to modern slavery as Kevin Bales describes it, buying them cheap and keeping them as "disposable people".  No need to keep the person healthy, like the traditionally known slaves were kept as an investment ~ they are now disposable, replaceable and invisible at no great expense.

But, not so invisible that I didn't notice.  Once I knew what was really going on in the streets, it was everywhere and it is heartbreaking.  These children owned by greedy, disgusting people.  Unable to escape for so many reasons.

_____________________________


When I think of human enslavery (of which isn't okay in any regard), I think of a third-world country.  I picture people working in these places, in factories working very long hours 7 days a week for just a few dollars.

I don't picture children being forced to sell their bodies to profit their owner and I don't expect it to be happening in the U.S. or Europe.  However, most of the enslaved people have in some way come through these developed countries into their new lives with no knowledge of where they are going or what will happen to them once they arrive ~ How is this happening?

I don't get it.



An interesting site on this issue:



Another powerful story:
http://www.sethbarnes.com/?filename=sold-into-the-sex-trade

A very disturbing truth about this issue is written in this book:
Not For Sale by David Batstone

Support a non-profit group teaching and employing those that have escaped how to make jewelry:
http://www.nightlightbangkok.com/

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Tonle Sap Great Lake, Cambodia



Stepping out of our air-conditioned van that had just travelled half-way on gravel roads to the boat landing, we knew we were in for an adventure, but had no idea what was coming next. To our luck, there was a snack shop selling Singha beer, so we loaded a bag for the 1 1/2 hour boat trip to the floating village on the Tonle Sap Great Lake.

Walking down a steep, 50-yard slope, with two small children in tow, all I could afford to focus on were the wooden cattle grates nailed to the ramp below my feet to keep from sliding into the muddy waters.  Finally reaching the bottom of the medieval ramp, only losing balance a couple times, my eyes are able to rise from the platform up to a mound of bobbing junk boats pulled together at one small point - the floating dock. 

I hear our guide say, "That boat, back there. The yellow one." His arm extended pointing to a yellow junk boat bobbing 8 rows back. Trying not to look at Kevin, our Traveling Business Man, for fear he would pull me back up the grated ramp, back into the van and lock the doors, I jump out onto the first bobbing boat, hugging Riley as tight as possible and leap our way back to the distant yellow boat. 


Happy he made it to our boat without falling into the muddy water.



The boat has the stability similar to a narrow canoe, so I quickly take a seat and see our Traveling Business man leaping his way across the boats, holding Little Miss M as tightly as he can.  Seated, he quickly cracks open his beer, as the boat backs away from the mound and starts puttin' down the murky channel. 

Our captain

A few moments later, our captains is beeping his horn and flailing his arms at an oncoming junk boat. It is coming straight at us.  Our captain slows down a bit, as the oncoming boat flies by within a couple hairs of ours.  Then, it happens.

Our tippy little junk boat, crashes to a sudden halt and the boat jolts to the side, throwing us all to the left.  I hear our Traveling Business man to my right, words unrepeatable, clenching the child in arms.  Then, I hear him come up with our escape route and meeting point after the children have both been rescued. As, the captain calmly apologises and walks to the back of the boat to clear the propeller of the mud we are stuck in.

Auntie Megan throws another Singha to Kevin. He is most definitely going to need a few more of those very soon!



Released from the mud, our little yellow junk boat continues down the channel toward the Tonle Sap, the life blood of Cambodia.  This massive lake provides 75% of the fish consumed in Cambodia.  It is a combined lake and river system and known to be the largest freshwater lake in Southeast Asia. 

The flow of this body of water changes twice a year.  During the dry season (November to May) the water drains into the Mekong River.  During the monsoon season, starting in June, the water reverses its flow, pushes water up from the Mekong forming a massive lake, flooding nearby fields and villages.  However, this floodplain provides a great breeding ground for fish. 

Making this lake one of the most productive fishing lakes in the world and is home to the Giant Catfish.



Local fishermen throw nets out to trap the fish and pull them in.




Bamboo trees tied to the bottom of the homes keep them afloat.

Floating village church in the background.


Other posts on Cambodia:




Friday, May 11, 2012

Siem Reap, Cambodia



Arboretum Guesthouse - Home away from home.

Our tuk-tuk (driver: Mr. Lam)

We flew out of Singapore on a direct flight to Siem Reap with no expectations.  We knew it was small, remote and a bit third-world, but this hidden gem truly surprised us.  There are small hotels and Guesthouses everywhere.  Plenty of restaurants to choose from and the markets had deals better than Bangkok.

I have to admit I was a little weary of the Guesthouse we had reserved in advance, for the sole reason that we have never stayed in a hotel with the kids, with no pool for longer than a really short overnight.  The location of this particular Guesthouse was exactly where we wanted to be ~ a short stroll to the famous Pub Street where all the action is and a short tuk-tuk ride to Angkor Wat.  So, we booked and upon arrival the amazing managers had already checked out some options for us to swim at a pool down the street.  Love that place and all the helpful, wonderful staff.

First stop, Arboretum garden bar for a Welcome to Cambodia, Cambodia tap beer (or a few)!  After hydrating, we headed out to Pub Street to find dinner and Little Miss M spotted these Fish Pedicure tanks.  She insisted and didn't want it to end, "those little fish nibbling on her toes."

"Can we do it again tomorrow mummy?"
Sure, but maybe daddy can take you, while mummy and auntie Megan are getting their $10 - 2 hour massage! 

Little Miss M wanted a fish pedicure everyday after getting her feet dirty at the temples. 

For a brief second, she was a little nervous about the fish nibbling her toes.



Water Buffalo in the rice fields

Guess who found some new shades at the night market!


Riley found a new favorite beverage - Fanta

Saturday night Fish 'n Chips at the Arboretum ~ yum yum!

The best fish 'n chips ever! Perfecto Chef Mike!

Yes, those are USD prices.

Place to skip in Siem Reap:  The Crocodile Farm. 


These crocs were lining themselves up when they saw the children walking down the corridor.  Like they knew where the bridge would break and everyone on it would be fair game...


...you get the picture.  Needless to say, we didn't stay long. Creepy, disturbing place!


We enjoyed everything else about this magnificent area ~ the temples, Tonle Sap Great Lake floating village tour, the people, all the fun markets, cheap massages and foot reflexology, wandering around the dusty streets and riding the tuk-tuk with Mr. Lam.  The best part of the trip was the welcome we would receive when arriving back to our wonderful clean Guesthouse in the heart of it all.

Other Related posts on Cambodia:


Thursday, May 10, 2012

Majestic Angkor Wat


Riley exploring the temple.


 We purchased a three-day pass for entering the temples throughout the area of Siem Reap.  After the second day, it was too hot to continue for the third.  We easily, could have spent several additional days wandering around the grounds and all the temples, trying to take it all in, if the sun would've just taken a little break.  The beauty, the detail, the grand, majestic presence of power...all so intriguing.

The random monk strolling through smiling, enjoying life, while a group of children cool down in the small lake nearby.  Another child trying to sell some postcards in front of a group of Landmine amputees playing some peaceful music, as we try to make our way back to our covered tuk-tuk holding our cold water.   Incredible place lost in time.






Another temple


Little Miss M loves to explore!

Temple that Tomb Raider was filmed - Ta Prohm Temple

Ta Prohm Temple

Other Cambodia posts:


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