Displaced Yankee Productions | Always Wear Sunscreen

Always Wear Sunscreen

These things I know are true. Shoots never follow a schedule. One should ALWAYS wear sunscreen even if you think you are shooting inside. And there are 525 steps leading up to the ancient temple at Ou Doung Mountain – steep, steep, steps – in the blazing sun. Which, indecently, tends to be bad for white girls from Los Angeles.
Ou Doung Mountain is situated 45 minutes outside Phnom Penh. Originally intended as the site for the country’s capitol – it is now a minor tourist attraction for people, a little off the beaten path. My Cambodian fixer, Borom, has brought us here to scout the location as a possible place to talk to poor and abandoned children. He also entices us by telling us there is a frozen corpse of a murdered monk kept somewhat preserved there. (Though he added the fact that it was getting a little moldy in the face) I’m not sure this is a draw for climbing 525 steps, but Art is duly interested. In fact, I didn’t know we had to climb 525 steep steps in the sun. My foggy, jetlagged brain thought we were doing a quick local scouting trip to a nearby slum area and when we piled into the van and Borom announced exactly how far away we are going – I realized we’ve just committed to shooting instead of scouting.
We arrive at the ancient temple and are immediately crowded by children selling trinkets and offering to shine our shoes. Here, rather than begging, the children offer goods or services as a way of earning money. Our favorites are the children who hike up the steep climb with us fanning us the whole way with bamboo fans. Two in particular glue themselves to our side so I resolve to interview them and find out their stories.
The shy, tall 14-year-old girl is new to Ou Doung. She just started working because her mother died several months before in childbirth and she was now alone. The 12-year-old boy had lived there with his family for several years, but he worked while his parents slept in a hammock in the shade. It is something I have seen and heard over and over during my time in Cambodia. Children working to earn money for parents who refuse to do the work themselves. I know it is because they think the children are more sympathetic to the westerners, but it puts you in a tough position. You don’t want to give money because you are continuing the cycle of the parents exploiting the children. You want to give money to make sure the child has enough to eat and won’t get in trouble for not doing their job. Back and forth. Round and round. Endless cycles with no easy answer.

Four hours and one very bad sunburn later – we are off to CCF to set up a schedule for interviewing staff and kids. On the way we stop by to pick up Linna so she can play at the school and visit her brother, Charam, for the afternoon. When I arrive at her street corner, her mother motions for me to sit down on their wooden pallet. Linna crawls into my lap and amazingly Yorn (their mother) pulls out a stack of baby photos of Charam. She proudly shows them off to me, delighting in my joy at seeing Charam at various stages of his life. Lastly, she pulls out a black and white copy of the photo of Charam and I taken last summer. It is one I sent to the CCF via email and I realize Charam must have had it printed off and has given it to his mother to add to their family photos. Yorn smiles and points to the picture, and then to me. She carefully stacks it with the others and hands her daughter off to me with trust and gratitude. It is a responsibility I treasure. My family has grown by three.


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