Exploring the less likeable areas and social aspects of Phnom Penh
14.01.2013 - 15.01.2013 33 °C
You might recall that so far, I have completed eight interviews and there are two more planned for this week. Well, today’s one is with one of the biggest MFIs in Cambodia, residing on one of the longest streets in Phnom Penh. Great news, except that there is no way for me to know on which stretch of the extremely busy and dusty six lane road to look for the office. Not exactly ideal when cycling. And no, taking tuk tuk or moto does not help as the drivers generally expect you to show them where to go.
‘Why not to call them’, I hear you ask. Having tried this on a couple of previous occasions I am skeptical. Thanks to the language barrier and my still limited knowledge of the town, this generally leads to more confusion on both sides. Once I even got transferred to the CEO as he was the one I mentioned I am meeting, which was not exactly a great first impression. My best chance, as usual, is to pick my team’s brains. And indeed, after a few ‘ahm’s and ‘arrrrr’s I am able to cut down the 3km road to ‘likely’ 1km.
Conscious of being late, I use part of my lunchbreak to find the office I am expected to visit in the afternoon. The road is ridiculously busy and unlike in the rest of Phnom Penh, the traffic moves very fast, making it even more hazardous for cyclists than other roads. The suburban location also means that instead of restaurants, massage parlours and mobile phone shops both sides of the road are lined with building sites, moto and car repairs, metal dealers and other industrial enterprises.
Of course, having joined the road in the middle of my ‘target stretch’, I confidently set off in the wrong direction. After avoiding the traffic for 5 minutes, it dawns on me that I will have to cut across the six lanes and cycle in the opposite direction. This takes another 5 minutes of defying my self-preservation instinct as I half expecting side-impact criss cross through the traffic.
Once on the other side, I almost get hit by a side mirror of a passing minibus, before I get on the bike and carry on, this time in the right direction. Although after 10 minutes cycle ride I can see the office, it is on the opposite side of the road! Satisfied with having found it but not wanting to risk another crossing, I continue until a traffic-light junction, where I make my way across the road to the ‘safety’ of the side streets. Lunch time!
Equipped with the knowledge of the approximate location of the interview venue, I slowly make my way to the guest house for some nibble, before heading back to the traffic mayhem a couple of hours later.
The interview goes really well and upon my return, I decide to spend the afternoon focusing on my new work task of coordinating the definition of Facebook strategy and enhancement implementation plan, before making my way to a yoga class. This proves to be unexpectedly strenuous and so by the time I make it to the guest house, I am exhausted and ready for a movie and early night in.
Knowing that the second workday of the week is unlikely to bring anything too exciting in the work department, I arrange with a few people to visit the Meta House showing a couple of documentaries about Cambodian virginity trade and the problem of prostitution. Although both issues are widely acknowledged and even openly visible, some of the brutal facts presented in the documentary ignite a new wave of frustration at the Cambodians’ own efforts to make the lives of their compatriots often unbearable.
Needless to say that the journey back from the ‘cinema’ is filled with serious conversation about prostitution and the selfishness of many Cambodian men and women, selling their young female relatives for profit and treating involuntary sex workers as commodities without rights. Issues like social exclusion and violence, as well as gang rape and continuous abuse are just some realities faced by young women in Cambodia who have been forced to sell their bodies. Characteristically for Cambodia, however, many of these issues are kept under the covers, in an effort to protect well connected, powerful or rich men using women as playthings, police not excluding.