Displaced Yankee Productions | Charam

Charam

Apparently what I consider early is not early at all (something I’m sure Theresa told me on previous trips when I would refuse to get up at 5am with her.) By six am there’s a large group of people dancing and doing aerobics by the river. Flailing about at the crack of dawn while looking at a polluted river certainly isn’t my idea of a good time, but to each his own.
Megan, Art and I tromp out the door to shoot footage of street kids and spend the next three hours trying to capture close up, intimate moments of their lives. There were certainly some startling ones. At one point a half naked toddler goes tearing by us waving a knife. He proceeds to use the knife to hack leaves off a tree and then stabs with it wildly into the ground. We also run into a young girl with a baby in a sling. She is literally staggering around unable to walk in a straight line. She stumbles past Megan and I and we’re fairly certainly she is high on something. She obviously knows how to work tourists with cameras as she makes her way toward Art and poses for the camera.
As we are getting ready to head back to meet the rest of the crew, we spot a little girl with two older women. The girl is about four and is also suffering from a form of dwarfism. One of the older women comes over to me and pulls out a birth certificate and a photo ID of the child. She presses it into my hands and gestures to the child and then to me. For a moment, I thought she was attempting to give me the child. I had no idea what to do, so I gave her the papers and gave the child a dollar. That was all that was expected and they headed off to find another westerner to give a heart attack to.

By midmorning the rest of our crew has arrived and we head over to CCF to pick up Charam so we can take him for a visit to see Linna, his sister, and his mother, Yorn. Charam is raring to go when we arrive and piles into the Tuk Tuk. When we get to his street corner he jumps out and Linna runs into his arms. The two of them are so beautiful together. The time and care he takes with her touches me deeply. Linna spots me and scampers on over. I haul her up into my arms where she gently touches my face and laughs with delight. We spend the next couple of hours documenting some family time and interview Yorn and her husband, who has returned from the countryside to join his family. They both tell us they are happy with the impending arrival of the new baby, but I can’t help but wonder who will care and support this new child. Linna had Charam full time from the moment she was born until now. The new baby will not be so lucky.

Charam sits with his sister and gently shows us the scars on her hands as he tells us the story about how she was hit and dragged by a car. The sun is beating down on them, so he decides to head to the riverfront for some shade and ice cream from a street vendor. We follow closely and it turns out to be a fortunate thing. We run into one of the girls we interviewed seven months ago hanging out with some other girls. She remembers Art and I and is anxious to talk with us again. We make plans to meet her Tuesday. All of us have an unpleasant feeling. She is looking rather ‘dolled’ up with make up and hair – a far cry from her look last summer and we can’t help but wonder what she may now be doing for work in a city that is well known for exploiting young girls.

 

We finish with Charam’s family and take Linna to the market for some new shoes. The ones Art bought her last summer are falling off her feet. I also give Charam the football I brought for him from back home that he was been waiting for as a late “Christmas’ present. He is delighted as I show him how to hold and throw it. As we walk along, he attempts to bounce it like a basketball with poor results. But it is adorable to see.
We finish the afternoon by almost managing to get in trouble with the authorities again. We went to the five story glitzy mall in the wealthier area of town to try and create some contrast to the poverty we are used to seeing. It isn’t long before we attract attention and I find myself heading into the security office at the mall with our new sound guy to try and work something out. After some fast-talking, a copy of my permit, $40 and a copy of my passport – we are the proud owners of 4 journalist passes, which we put to good use shooting inside the mall. It is amazing to see young people inside forking over money for watches and plasma televisions while less than a mile away kids are begging for food and are barely clothed.
Tonight Megan and I are sitting in the Foreign Correspondence Club having a drink and reflecting on the damage done to Cambodian society and speculating on its recovery. It has been a different experience in the last couple of days having a group of people with me, rather than just myself and Art or myself and Theresa. The group dynamic leads to interesting and involving conversation and there is a real sense of camaraderie that has been inspiring and uplifting. I look forward to what the rest of the week will bring.

 
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