Tuesday, February 16, 2010

On The Road

Sadly, today was my last day at the Greater Hope Orphanage. After saying my so-longs to this beautiful group of kids that I could only hope the brightest future for, we headed back to Phnom Penh to pick up a 2pm bus to Siem Reap.

Phnom Penh is fairly overwhelming - it's dirty and chaotic and the traffic is quite rebellious. If you've ever seen that movie City of Ghosts, its depiction of the capital is not exactly that intense, but it gives a mild idea... We sat at the bus stop for an hour under a water mist, whose source was probably questionable, watching the groups of locals and tourists flock to the various buses with destinations such as Ho Chi Minh, Sihanoukville and other smaller towns within Cambodia. A few mothers and their small children seemed to just be hanging out at the bus station - one, whose infant boy was underwear-less and climbing all over the dirty bench, he could not have been more covered in filth and I couldn't help but feel violated for him. At least three were breast feeding, one who was walking and talking at the same time. A monk was chatting away on a cellphone, a few old lady beggars came up, reminding me of how sad it would be if my grammas were living like that. A few riel or a dollar (both are official currencies) go a very long way here, and so it's easy for Westerners to lend a helping hand, most beggars are excited about getting the equivalent of 25 cents.

We finally boarded the bus, which came fully equipped with air conditioning and mosquitos, but no toilet - it would be a six hour journey with two rest stops in between. As the bus drove off, I watched the craziness of the city turn into an ironic peacefulness of the countryside. With my head glued to the window the entire time, I was carefully observing and analyzing the way people carry about, trying to understand them a little better and how they live. We passed several of what seemed like the same villages, the same houses, the same street vendors and the same fields. Along the road from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap, there is not a whole lot of diversity and apparently all of rural Cambodia looks pretty much just like that, with variations in the landscape greenery. Houses are extremely modest, mostly made of straw and perched on top of pillars (I'm assuming to protect them from floods), and most people have some sort of small dirty pond in the front yard. I caught many occasions where kids were playing in it, and most of the time the yard surrounding it was covered in trash. There is no waste management of course and people don't seem to understand the concept of containing trash, or they just don't care.

People are very, very poor and will work an entire day under the scorching sun for as little as a few dollars, sometimes selling coconut juice or other fruits, dried frogs or crickets, meat, candies, water, and other local products. There is an incredibly limited supply of food and merchandise in the rural areas and people definitely struggle to survive, especially due to the dirty water situation. Rice is the main dish and fairly abundant, but clean vegetables aren't as much and consequently Cambodian diets are not greatly balanced. Meagre slices of meat will sit out in the sun for hours and hours, and all I can think to myself is botulism. A pharmacy pops up here and there and hospitals are very scarce - a few of the children at the Greater Hope Orphanage now have crippling disabilities because their families could not afford or were not able to get to a doctor, and this happens very often to many, many people in these areas.

We stopped at a rest stop only to get attacked by mosquitos, especially in the bathroom - it was a lovely experience. But not as lovely as coming across stuffed turtle to eat. Yum. NOTTT.

After a long, but fascinating journey, we finally arrived in Siem Reap. Siem Reap instantly seemed much more modern, clean and Westernized, which was comforting. Nine of us were traveling (Courtney, Kit, Ream, their son, Sam, Ream's brother, Ra, Ra's friend, Kath, two kids from the orphanage, Chow and Rachana and me) and we hadn't booked a hotel before hand so we stopped at a couple spots before finding a decent, not full hotel, and for $15/night! Half reluctantly, half excitedly, we set our alarm clocks for 4am, early enough to catch the sunrise at Angkor Wat the following day...

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