Displaced Yankee Productions | At Community First Initiative

Has it already been a week since we arrived in Phnom Penh? Each time I’ve been here before, time seems to stand still. When you spend each day focusing constantly on the harsher realities of the plight of the street and garbage children, sometimes the days can seem very long and draining. It’s been a fast eight days this time around. Partly because we came here with such a specific agenda – to get certain things I need to finish the project and we’ve been working hard to meet those goals. I believe the other reason is the size of our group this time around. With so many of us here – it’s been an interesting and thought-provoking dynamic and has helped the shoot and time go more smoothly.
Yesterday was our main CCF day. We spent the entire day at CCF talking with staff and filming the kids in their new environment. It’s something else to watch Hov Nygan shouting and dashing around volleyball court with other boys – smiling, handsome, healthy – and picture him as I first saw him. Covered in flies and filthy clothing, digging through trash in Stung Meanchy.
We are present for the weekly kids and staff meeting and it’s amusing to see all 130 kids crammed into the main room downstairs laughing and cheering at the top of their lungs as Scott and the staff hand out awards for school: best student, most improved, most kind, etc. The kids really get into it as third and second place are announced and then shout and clap for the winner who receives a plaque and some spending money as a prize. After the awards, the kids line up and Scott, Fiona and Annabel dish out ice cream. It is everyone’s favorite part of the week.
Speaking of week, it’s almost been a week since Theresa last saw her luggage when she dropped it off in LAX Monday evening. She’s talked to everyone under the sun and they are fabulously helpful at passing the buck. So she treks off in the afternoon – back to the airport to try and solve the issue. After three hours standing at different counters, they tell her they still have no idea where it could be. Which is surprising, in light of the fact that while she was there inquiring, they were calling me on my cell to say they have found the bag in Hong Kong. Not the most organized airport in the world. They assure me it will be on a plane the next day. Hopefully, it will be a plane to Phnom Penh.
I’m also on my third cell phone of the trip. My first is under a ton of garbage in Stung Meanchy. The second was getting a little weird. I kept receiving phone calls for a guy named Wicked. I was told by my Cambodian fixer to simply say – “Call Wicked- I know nothing else about the situation.” Then late at night I got a text messaged saying “Mr. Man dead. Meeting HIV team to burn the body.”
I told my Cambodian fixer it was time for a different phone.
Friday evening we were treated to an amazing performance. The children put on a show on their stage on the rooftop for PEPY, an NGO that sets up bike rides though rural villages delivering school supplies. In full traditional costumes, the children performed Monkey Dance, Coconut Dance and Traditional Movement Dance. It was a proud and strutting Charam, bare-chested with make up, who performed Monkey Dance for the first time. It was beautiful and fascinating. Afterward he came dashing up and jumped up in my arms to give me a hug and make sure I was proud of him. That’s an understatement.
Then the kids performed a play they had written about an alcoholic father who sells his daughter to a brothel. There is, thankfully, a happy ending, but the fact they wrote it to perform was a little disturbing. Theresa quietly noted that you write what you know.
Afterwards, the children, happily taking our attention and praise, surrounded us. Theresa put her digital camera around Charam’s neck and we both were touched and amused as he fussed taking pictures like a true professional – adjusting his frame and lighting. The pictures came out so well, Theresa announced she could head home.
We headed instead to a bar/restaurant called Elsewhere with Fiona and Annabel to decompress from the day. Sitting outside on a circular, flat platform with pillows by a small pool – it felt like a night out in Los Angeles. Later – Fiona and Annabel bought Theresa and I down to a bar on a boat on the riverfront where apparently all the white western NGO workers come to hang out, drink and forget about the issues they deal with on a day-to-day basis. It is an interesting dynamic. Here is a group of young people desperately trying to change the situation here in Cambodia. They are also a huge part of keeping the economy afloat because of the money they inject into society. They try to forget and on the boat it is easy to think they are in a trendy city. Yet circling among them, well known to all, is a street girl selling roses. It is the same routine every night. It is midnight and they are drinking and this girl is up selling. Inevitability, someone will fork over money to buy the entire bunch of roses so she will be able to go home and go to bed. Tonight that person is Fee. It is not a great solution, because with such a receptive client, she will be back the next night doing the same time. But at least she’ll get home earlier tonight.


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