Displaced Yankee Productions | Tuesday Morning

Tuesday Morning

Theresa gets up at the crack of dawn because Kulikar told us that people line the riverbank starting at 3:30 to exercise, meditate and set up for the day. Morning is not exactly my strong suit, so she heads out the door on her own while I struggle to come into focus with the world. She comes back so excited and enthusiastic about what she sees, she’s convinced me to get up at dawn the next morning with her (Provided she wakes me up with a coffee in her hand.) I’ll let her tell you about her experiences herself in a later blog.
By 8 a.m. I am at the coffee shop. I walk in and the girl behind the counter smiles. She knows my order by heart and I love the fact I’ve become a regular here. Power is low this morning and the Internet connection is very bad, so I am unable to send out any information. We finally get through and then we head off to breakfast. We’re careful to order the orange juice out of the box rather than fresh but totally forget to ask for no ice, so when it arrives Theresa and I madly fish ice cubes out with our straws. It’s so hard to remember everything we are supposed to be good about. We decided on eggs for breakfast – which is good. Not the eggs, but the fact we ate them before going out to the market to see where they came from. No more eggs for us. Or fish. Or pig’s snout. We load up with all our gear. It’s 115 degrees in the shade with 100% humidity. So why did I pack 14 pairs of socks again?
Our faithful Tuk Tuk guy is waiting near our hotel so we gather up our camera gear and head to the Russian market. We spend some time in the tourist’s area haggling over gifts for our family. True to form, Theresa manages to lead me right off the beaten path into the decidedly “non” tourist area of the market. Here there are no colorful booths and shops. Poverty and dirt, rotting meat and fish, dirty children and elderly people sit lethargically in the oppressive heat. We wonder how it is possible everyone does not get ill. The heat is unbearable and the meat and fish cannot possibly last long in this sun. The children actively participate in helping out in some stalls and shyly have smiles for us as we take photos and footage. The smell is horrible and I’m a little worried I wore open sandals as I carefully pick my way through muddy spots running with guts and flies. Guess I should have worn the socks after all. We work our way carefully back to our Tuk Tuk guide, ready for a cold shower and a drink of water back at our hotel before heading out again.
Now comes a lesson in why we’ve been told NOT to give money to the little children begging on the street. Food = Yes. Money = No. This of course is way easier said than done, but we’ve resolved the stick to the instructions. We are walking along heading to the National Museum when we spot a group of barefooted-street kids playing in the park. One little guy, maybe four, breaks away from the group. He is spinning an old tire along with a stick. They don’t see us because we’re a little bit away so we take the opportunity to grab some photos. Then the little guy with the tire spots us. He knows what he’s doing and he makes his way right up to us smiling and playing. We snap away and then he asks for a dollar. Because we’ve taken so many photos, we feel he deserves it. So I hand him a dollar and we head off. Within minutes cries of “Dollar! Dollar!” Fill the air. I turn to see the little guy running across the park waving the dollar to his friends. Like hunters targeting their prey a dozen little heads swivel in our direction. Theresa and I only make it to the next street before the kids have chased us down. We are surrounded. As we walk along toward our destination, little hands and pleading faces are literally all around us. It’s actually hard to move. In desperation, we duck into a nearby clothing store. Yes, two grown women hiding behind a rack of clothing from a pack of little boys who have plopped down on the front steps and prepare to wait us out. Realizing we cannot hide in the store forever, we venture outside and are promptly surrounded again.
I absolutely cannot take it anymore so I head over to the closest vendor stand and buy a bag of sweets and snacks. I hold it out and it is quickly snatched away. Theresa and I see our escape and hustle down the street as fast as we can. But…not fast enough. One persistent little guy is still with us. He follows us for blocks – pleading and begging and tugging at our sleeves. Barefoot, shirtless, dirty and desperate. My head says NO but my heart says YES. So I fish out yet another dollar and slip it into his hands. But you can believe I scanned the street first to make sure there was no one else around. We stop for lunch at a restaurant called Friends. It is run by a non-profit that teaches street children skills. The restaurant is staffed by former street children and all proceeds go to them. Now I just have to say I have never appreciated water as much as I do here. Water. Icy cold water. Any time I want back home – not so much here. You have to be so careful. But it is torture to have it in front of you and not be able to drink it. We’re hot. Tired. Sweaty. Thirsty. And two big dripping frosty glasses of ice water are plunked down in front of us. It is pure torture. I wait till no one is looking and dump it into a potted plant behind Theresa. We opt for alcohol inside. Less germs.
Filled with children guilt, we hired a Tuk Tuk to take us to Wak Phnom – a park with a giant Buddhist temple. Now some people would go for the park. Some for the temple. Theresa? She wants to go because she wants to ride the elephant. We know we’re suffering from guilt when we actually feel bad about hiring another Tuk Tuk driver instead of the one we’ve been using the last couple of days. It feels like we are cheating on him; even though he is nowhere around and not likely to really care. No more guilt we think as we head toward the temple steps. Ah, the best laid plans of mice and men. The temple steps are long and steep. The sun beats down and the climb is daunting. Daunting because on every step leading to the top on either side of us is a victim of the land mines. Men –young and old – maimed and scarred hold out their hands at us. They are missing arms, legs and sometimes both. One man is missing the whole lower half of his body. We do not possibly have enough money to give to everyone and if we even so much as pulled out our wallet we would be overrun. We can do nothing but avert our eyes and climb to the top because if we look them in the eye, we will not be able to pass them by. Hopeless, Helpless. Feelings we’re becoming accustomed too.
At the top of the steps leading into the temple sits a man with a cage filled with little birds. I was a little nervous, having seen similar cages it the parks among the vendors and I sincerely hoped they were not being sold as snacks. You wouldn’t think it was so far fetched after walking through the market earlier. But the birds were for good karma. You buy them in order to release them into the sky. Feeling like we could use some of that, I bought four birds and we let them go. The birds will have to be our animal fix. Much to Theresa’s dismay, the elephant was packing it in for the evening when we arrived. After getting a well-deserved bath (the elephant, not Theresa) she and her trainer ambled away up the street with the motorbikes and Tuk Tuks.
We took off our shoes and entered the temple. People sat alone on mats with incense – praying, meditating or just enjoying the serenity of the temple. The deep, beautiful tones of wooden chimes and ringing bells filled the room. Theresa joined the others on the mat for some quiet contemplation. As I watched and waited just outside the door, I heard a little voice at my feet.
“What name?”
I looked down. A little boy around seven with a runny nose and big brown eyes sat on the concrete. He pointed at himself. “Paine” he said. “Paine” He pointed at me “What name?”
I hunkered down next to him for some quiet contemplation of my own.
“Heather” I said.
“Hee ther” Paine said back and grinned. “Hee ther” We sat together outside for a few minutes not speaking. Then he waved goodbye and scampered off. I spotted a girl selling snacks and bought a couple bags of chips and kettle corn and went off in search of Paine. He was curled up in the corner on the other side of the temple. I knelt next to him and handed him the bags. “For you Paine” He took them out of my hands and touched my arm. “Thank you Hee ther.” I know I’m helping myself and my feelings of guilt over not being able to do more, but I don’t know how else to go about it day to day. Certainly we have long term plans for raising awareness and generating activism to help these kids, but Theresa and I are here right now – in this moment, trying not to hand over our wallets to street kids and trying not to feel horrible for walking past men with no legs. So yes, buying a bag of chips for Paine was just as much for me as it was for him.
Theresa and I make our way back to the Tuk Tuk driver. We’re planning on heading back to the hotel and we are really feeling guilty. So much so, we don’t want our other Tuk Tuk driver to see us in someone else’s carriage! We actually have him drop us off up the street from our hotel and walk the rest of the way. In our own heads much? As soon as we’re back, I grab the DV Cam and head to the river to do some filming. The street kids are fascinated by the camera and I spend quite a bit of time with them showing them on the screen what I’ve filmed. Too soon the light is gone and I’ve got to head back. We’ve got a long day ahead of us tomorrow at the city dumps and we need some rest. Emotionally and physically. The riverbank is getting quiet. Till tomorrow then.

The elephant made it all worthwhile.
Ah…. Blessed, air-conditioned sleep. Wait, the room is getting lighter… no…not yet, not yet…Last night we heard that the riverfront outside our hotel was busy with a different set of people in the early morning hours. As early as 4 am. Well… I wasn’t that industrious, but I did want to be out for the dawn light. After all, it was our second day here, and I hadn’t gotten any shots in the dawn light yet! Jeez. I’m slippin’. So, as the gray light filtered into the room, I hauled myself out of bed to strap on the 40 pounds of camera gear and head out. (I left the key for Heather.) Grin.
Boy, it was beautiful out. A quiet, gray morning. But the river front was bustling. All those who’d been selling items till midnight last night were still there, selling breakfast.
Children asleep near their parent’s feet stirred, got up, and chased the pigeons round and round. Groups of citizens gathered around a man with a mike and a boom box, and – all together now – started doing stretches and exercises. A nice Khmer man with a cute son sat down near me and struck up a conversation. Old women walked past, smiling and holding out tin cups. One came up to me, saying things I couldn’t understand. I turned to the man and said, “Does she want food, or money?” “Just say ‘hello’”, he replied.
He then pulled out a small bill and put it in her cup. We talked some more; he gave me his thoughts on helping out the poor if you could. That’s what Jesus says in the Bible. In fact, had I heard of Jehovah? Good God, I didn’t think I’d get hit up by a Jehovah’s Witness at 6 am on a riverbank in Cambodia. You just never know.
One woman with a full kitchen strapped to her shoulders knelt and served this man’s son and wife something white in a bowl. Just trying to make conversation, I asked what it was. Uh Oh! Now they’re asking if I’d like to try some… 300 ruhls. The equivalent of less than 25 cents. Was my gastrointestinal integrity worth sacrificing for a quarter? I was feeling bold and said yes. She scooped a gelatinous white substance into the bowl, along with some boiled (I hoped) water, and then poured a kind of sweet milk over it. Somewhere I remember in the back of my mind reading in the guidebook that the three things you should avoid here are the water, the dairy products and gelatinous white substances. Oh well, I was in it now, as I tried a small spoonful. Hmmm. Tasted just like porridge. Amazingly, it’s now 7 hours later and I’m still not feeling it.
Just then, a large elephant strolled by down the street amidst cars, buzzing motorbikes, pushcarts and tuk tuks. Calmly. Purposefully. All the way down the main boulevard.
Late Tuesday Night – Side Note:
Theresa and I have just taken our first malaria pills in preparation for our trip to Siem Reap. We’ve taken them with food as instructed – french fries, a piece of chocolate mousse cake and a beer. Yeah, why did we think we were gonna lose weight on this trip? There are plenty of things for us to be careful of, but we’ve taken the advice to heart that if it is fried – probably all the germs are dead. That doesn’t apply to the cake, I know, but it was the only thing that got Theresa up out of bed for a late dinner.


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