Displaced Yankee Productions | Hunting for Interviews

Hunting for Interviews

Art and I got up at 5:30 this morning to head out to the riverfront and shoot some footage. As many of you already know, I am totally not a morning person and there’s nothing harder than trying to be cheerful in front of someone you don’t know that well because you don’t want to let on that you are a bitch in the morning. There’s not too much to see this early dawn. Turns out the daily afternoon and evening rains keep most of the normal street crowd seeking drier ground. We spent about an hour and decide to get a catnap before the crew arrives. Today, we are interviewing street children about themselves, their lives and their future.
Hunting down good interview subjects requires a little finesse and a lot of luck. When you are not looking for them, street kids are all over you. I sometimes find them clinging to my pockets as I head into the hotel. But when you need them? A totally different story. I thought about pulling out a dollar and waving it over my head, but that would have brought us more attention than we really needed.
We started at W’aht Phnom, a large national park with a pagoda. Ny and I have developed a system. She and I walk around and target a likely subject. She introduces us and asks a few of the questions to see how they answer and how open they are. Then, if they agree, we ask them to appear on camera and bring in the crew.
Things are going marvelously for the first twenty minutes. We find a homeless beggar girl who is carting around a baby on her hip. Turns out her entire family – mother and eight siblings – are homeless and living in the park and around the streets. She is very open about her abusive father and the fact she carries the baby sister to make her more sympathetic while begging. We are just about to call Art over from where he is shooting B roll when trouble hits. Two policemen corner Ny and I and demand our papers. We hand them over and they make quite a show of examining them. One of them gets on the radio and the next thing we know there are nine policemen around us. Art wisely and quietly slips out of sight. Ny is talking back and forth with them in Khmer. She even gets the minister of the interior on the phone that signed our permits to no avail. Apparently, there is a new form that we must have. It is clearly an intimidation meant to generate bribe money. I don’t have enough money to bribe all of them and we don’t want to cause a lot of trouble, but I am really frustrated. This is one of the main areas we are suppose to conduct our interviews. Borom, our production coordinator and SoPhy our sound guy head over to the ministry to try and sort things out. But for now, we are out of W’aht Phnom. It is a disappointing set back and a waste of a couple of hours. While we are heading to the National Museum area, Borom calls. Apparently, they have made up a new city permit just for us. How convenient and thoughtful. For the bargain price of $50. However, rescheduling on our tight schedule is going to be tough. The only thing to do would be to shoot it on our one open day that was for R&R. Which means an additional $450 for the crew as well. That thoughtfulness just keeps on giving.
We run into trouble again on the waterfront with another police officer. We saw him walking towards us with his bullhorn and crisp hat and uniform and did our best ostrich in the sand impression. It didn’t work and we once again handed over our paperwork. Thankfully, this time, some fast-talking by Ny sent him on his way with a copy of our permit. We heaved a grateful sigh of relief and spend the rest of the day avoiding spots we see military or police.
As for the children we spoke to – it was a day of intimate moments. We met a 12-year-old boy who cares for his little sister. She had a thick scar on her arm, he explained, because a car had hit her. He lived on the streets with her and his mother. His father was dead. His mother was abusive and bad tempered. We had the pleasure of meeting this foul-mouthed excuse for a parent when he brought us back to the pagoda to show us where he slept. She was angry with him and let him know it. This poor guy actually chased us down after to apologize for his mother’s bad behavior. He spoke of wanting to go to school, any school, wherever, however. Without school, he told us, he had no future. So badly, he said, so badly I want to go to school. He has never been.
The next girl we met had no parents. Her father was a potato farmer and he tripped a land mine one day and blew himself up. Her mother moved them to the city and began to drink. She died from alcohol poisoning leaving her daughter to fend for herself on the street. She lives with a community of homeless people on the riverfront and sleeps on the retaining wall. When it rains, she takes cover in a nearby prayer station. She is lucky, she tells us, because she earns a good living of 2000 rels a day (about .50 cents) peeling the skin off frogs at the market at 3 a.m. in the morning.
A sad looking sixteen year old with a baby slung around her hip catches our eye and Ny and I chase her down. She agrees to tell us her story. Both her parents are dead from alcohol related issues. She used to live in the Bird’s Nest, which is the slum that recently got “relocated” to the camp. She was, in fact, burnt out of her home by the government. She tells us she saw them coming and saw the flames and was able to get her belongings out in time. She wishes bitterly that she could burn those men in return. One of her brothers is at the relocation camp. But she prefers the street. It is hopeless and awful there. I agree. I’ve seen it. When asked if she wanted to go to school she simply shrugged. School has little interest for her. She is only interested in getting enough food to survive day to day.
Our last boy of the day is strutting along with his arm slung around his best friend. They are glue addicts. He is 16, but looks 10. He is from the country and ran away to the city because he has been hooked on glue since he was twelve. He used to steal from his family for the money and couldn’t face them so he ran away. He has been living on the streets as a trash picker ever since. He says he knows it does bad things to his brain and the hallucinations and trips are really bad but he can’t stop. He hasn’t tripped today because he hasn’t any money. I give him oranges, muffin and water and wonder if he’ll eat it or sell it for the glue money.
It’s been a long day and tomorrow we are headed to Stung Meanchey to interview dump kids. After listening to the stories of these kids today, I can’t imagine what tomorrow will bring. But it will bring one ray of light. I called Scott to tell him about the day and told him about the 12-year-old boy with the abusive mother that wants to go to school so badly. Scott tells me I can bring him to the CCF. I am thrilled. Now we just have to find him tomorrow. Send thoughts, prayers, energy, good wishes and good luck – that we find this child and convince his mother to let us take him to the shelter. I’ll bribe her if I have too. Apparently, that works very well here.


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