Displaced Yankee Productions | Sink Hole!

Sink Hole!

I’ve been up since 5 am due to a combination of jet lag, a faulty air conditioner that shuts itself off every 2.5 hours, a mistaken call from the front desk informing me my Tuk Tuk had arrived and two drunk guys who mistook my room for theirs and fell against mine in an attempt to unlock it. Either that or Theresa’s bad habit of getting up at 5 a.m. has simply worn off on me. I wandered up and down the riverfront enjoying the early morning quiet beauty of the river. The weather was still cool and I watched the narrow, pointed wooden boats with their fisherman in broad rimmed hats push themselves along with long wooden poles. The children are still asleep in their usual spots – sprawled along the retaining wall in little bunches. Three wide awake and naked toddlers play a game of hide and seek around an overflowing trash barrel. I pause for a moment and look down into the face of a sleeping boy. His long lashes frame his dirty face. His little mouth is slightly open and he sleeps deeply, a picture of innocence. I realize how attached I have become to Cambodia and her people. How deeply woven my affections for her children have wound themselves into my being. It has gotten under my skin in a way I believe will never truly be shed.
Art comes ambling into the coffee shop where I am writing. “I knew I’d find you here” he says with a grin. Art’s easygoing nature and patience has been wonderful on this trip. I think I could have searched forever and not found a more perfect DP for the project. We have a little time to spare before our new soundman arrives. After a hectic day yesterday, we told Borom we needed to replace Mr. Lee. He worked very hard but it became apparent he did not have enough experience to overcome the fact he spoke no English at all and could not communicate questions or problems to us. Our new soundman is a personable Cambodian American, who speaks perfect English. He’s arriving early to work with the equipment before we head out to the dumps and relocation camps. Till then, we’ll sit here writing emails in the brightly lit coffee shop and try not to think about the dumps this afternoon.
At eleven forty five my friend, John Whaley arrives. I met John in Pasadena at our photography exhibit. John is an unsung hero. He facilitates getting wells dug and providing families with piglets in the Cambodian villages in his spare time and it turns out we are in Cambodia the same week. I invited him to CCF and the dumps with us while we were filming. We arrive at CCF and discover we have additional guests. Cynthia and Brittany Daniel, identical twin actors from the popular teen show Sweet Valley High have heard about the work CCF is doing and have come to Cambodia to learn more about the issues.
Scott informs me the dump has moved to a new drop site for the garbage. We make a pit stop first at a slum row of houses on the outskirts to bring two girls to visit their sick mother. She invites us into her low slung home. It is made of bricks and is about four feet high inside. It must absolutely cook in the Cambodian sun. Flies are very thick around us. Scott gives us a short tour of the other huts and talks briefly about some of the families. Nearby a drunken man shouts at his family. He is disruptive and abusive. Scott is very familiar with this man. He’s seen his handiwork on this man’s children. We met another girl who Scott is currently in the process of bringing into the shelter. Her life is on its way up. Nearby is another girl who has been pulled from the school to work at the dump because her mother is very sick. The woman coughs violently and points to her chest. She speaks in Khmer. Scott turns and lets us know she has blood in her cough – it is possible she has tuberculosis. Whatever it is, she is no longer capable of working – so her daughter must pick up the burden. This little girl wants so badly to be in school but her life has taken a different turn for the worse. One happy child, one desperately sad. It is a reminder that not everyone can be saved. And that is an unsettling truth.
We walk the short distance to Stung Meanchy. On the way, we pass a little boy alone on the path. He looks so ill and one of his eyes is infected. It is painful to walk by him. We continue on. Even from a distance I can smell that rotten, cloying mess. The smoke rises in the distance and I steel myself to step back into that hell. We trek along, the group of us, through paths and mounds of garbage. Suddenly the ground is dangerous spongy beneath our feet. “Sink Hole!” Scott quickly warns everyone and we carefully and nervously work our way across. Small children here often sink in these unseen traps and suffocate. We pass the dump inhabitants water source. A small pond of contaminated run off water, green/brown in color and simply stuffed with floating garbage. In this cesspool of germs and waste are people washing, filling buckets and doing laundry. There are fly larva by the hundreds. I will think of this spot every time I bring a glass of clean, cold water to my mouth. In very little time we are at the main working area. It is a slow day, but still enough to bring tears to your eyes. The Daniel sisters and John are visibly moved. Art and our new soundman, SoPhy, get to work capturing footage. Suddenly, a familiar face pops up near me. It is a little girl who Theresa and I photographed and videoed extensively in March. In fact, she is in our promotional trailer – a little girl in a brown blouse digging in the garbage and sharing her fruit with her little brother. Her little brother is close by as well and I am thrilled to see them. I privately ask Scott if she can be considered for CCF. We plan on finding out her story for the documentary. I give them both lollipops from my pocket. It brings a flood of other children around us and we hand them out quickly, along with some toothbrushes.
Small items to be sure – and they seem so useless in the whole scheme of what they really need: fresh water, food, and vitamins. But today they bring a smile to their faces and to ours.
Our time runs out and we decide to journey to the relocation camps tomorrow. We pick our way back through the garage toward our air-conditioned trucks. The kids laugh and wave as we leave, then we gradually lose their attention. They have work to do. And collectively, everyone who has seen through our eyes what we have seen – we have work to do too. The sooner the better.


4 × = twelve