Displaced Yankee Productions | 24 Hours Later

24 Hours Later

We’ve arrived! On a very tiny jet I might add. Theresa got some amazing photos as we came in. The heat and humidity was the first thing we noticed. We got our bags and were met by a driver from Hanuman Films. It was quite an experience as he drove us through the city to the hotel. The roads were overrun by people on motorbikes – sans helmets, sometimes four to a bike or loaded down with things like open containers of fuel – as they kamikaze their way through the street. At one intersection a cop waved us through a red light so our driver went through and nearly took out a dozen bikers coming the opposite way. It was hard to take everything in and once we’ve had a chance to rest and start exploring the city, I’ll hopefully be able to send back some clearer thoughts. However, I’ll leave you with this: I walked from my hotel to a nearby store to buy some bottled water. I had been planning to ask our contact at Hanuman Films where in the city the street children frequent. I don’t need to ask any longer. In those three dusty, grimy blocks, children and beggars besieged me. A sickly woman with a naked baby held her hand out from where she sat looking up at me from the curb. Poverty is everywhere and I’ve only gone three blocks. May God give me the strength this week to go even further.
Sunday Evening –
Theresa and I are staying on the Tonle Sap River. This evening we decided to walk along the busy front with our cameras and get a sense of this city we have come to document. By the dozens, men young and old are lining the streets with Tuk Tuks – motorized carts with which they ferry travelers around the city. Cries of “Tuk Tuk, miss!” greet us every few steps. An enterprising man offers to hire himself for any day this week to bring us to the Killing Fields and other area of interest all day for $15 and gives us his printed card. We have no way to call him but promise to look for him near our hotel. Minutes later, we consider hiring someone just to get us across the street. Sunday, we soon learn, is a special day in which everyone comes out and rides around. The main street by the river is stuffed with motorbikes, Tuk Tuks and cars whipping around at high speeds – with much beeping, laughing and enjoyment. Getting across the street is much like a roller derby. We are advised by a fellow Westerner to simply walk slow and hope they miss us, rather than the other way around.
Walking along the river is our first lesson in how hard this is going to be and how amazing this city and her people are. Street vendors selling their wares, families spread out on colorful mats, a group of young men playing a game that at first glance resembled volleyball but is played with a light bamboo-like ball using your feet and head only. Street children laugh, play and beg along the strip. They are easy to spot in their worn, mis-sized clothing, dirty faces and bare feet. Some have wares to sell, some simply beg. Others, badly crippled, hold out their hands on their own or are wheeled about by a family member asking for Rels – the local currency. We are charmed to death by one little boy selling books who is excited we are from America, which he mistakes for Australia and he gives us his best “Good Day Mate” impersonation. Naked or half clothed children are not an uncommon sight. On the banks of the river are make-shift camps. Dirty clothes are stung up around these little camps where children squat and gather in their own groups. I watch one boy, perhaps around nine, prepare a plastic bag and begin huffing. I don’t know whether he is huffing paint thinner, glue or some other substance. All I know is he is trying to forget and I will never forget.
Theresa and I decide to grab a bite to eat and choose a place called “The Jungle Room” We choose it for the ability to sit outside and watch the activity and for the fact it appears to be very popular with Westerners and therefore probably safe to eat. The food is in fact wonderful, but it was hard keeping our appetites and our composure when confronted by the scores of hungry children trying to catch our eye. What do you do? Guilt, sadness, and anger over the situation – a boy of about eight appears next to me. He doesn’t want to be seen by the police lingering near the entrance, so he squats down between two large potted plants next to my chair and looks up at us with big sad eyes. He points to my plate and then to his mouth, pleading. I don’t know the words, but I understand the language. It’s heartbreaking. I palm some vegetables into his hand and he shoves them into his mouth and scampers off. Theresa and I look at our plates of food and want none of it now. We continue to pick away. I’m distracted and frustrated. Faced with something like that, how much difference do all our good intentions make? How much change can we really effect and does it really help? Certainly that boy cares nothing for documentaries. All he wanted was a bite to eat. It gives us a lot to think about.
It gets harder and harder to eat, caught up as we are in watching the children wander the streets around us. Babies caring for babies. A young girl around nine has a two year old slung around her hip in a make-shift carrier. They both look tired and ill. She begs near us before wandering up the street. Theresa and I look at one another and stuff our plate of rice into some tinfoil. I grab this and a couple of tomatoes and chase the children up the street, slipping it into her hand. The two year old is lethargic. The girl feeds them both muttering thank you, thank you, thank you. I return to the table feeling even worse. Are we doing to right thing by giving them food? Or are we just contributing to a circle of dependency? The hard questions are now harder to answer. We take the rest of our food to go, slip the box to another young boy hiding in the planters and head back to our hotel.
(Theresa Thoughts):
“Please?” he said, motioning to his mouth with his hands. “Please?” he said again with his eyes. And there it was, distilled into one question and desperate brown eyes. What should we do? What will (it) do? Not nearly enough it feels tonight.

 
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