Displaced Yankee Productions | Freedom

Freedom

Theresa finally gets the call she has been waiting for. Her luggage has finally arrived at Phnom Penh airport and is ready to be picked up. She heads out to the airport for the third time since she has arrived, to claim it. However – she can’t actually get in it! Someone along the way has slapped on a universal TSA lock without the universal key anywhere in sight. So one pair of pliers and two dedicated airline workers later – she’s finally in possession of her tripod and underwear.
Meanwhile, we’re on the prowl for more kids to interview. I ran into another girl I had interviewed last summer who talked of her harsh life on the streets – of dead family and being raped by foreigners. Still looking worn down from life, she agrees to interview again, but when we find her she is in the company of an older, tough looking Cambodian guy in his late twenties. She tells us not only is she now married, but also she is expecting a child. The husband is not pleased she is talking to us and spends a lot of time glaring. We interview a book-selling boy first and plan on interviewing her second. As always, there is a crowd of street kids watching us the whole time. They suddenly scatter in a dozen different directions. A policeman is rapidly approaching us, yelling in Khmer. I quickly whip out my permit ready to defend our turf – but it turns out he is yelling at the kids. Apparently, along the street we are filming, the King of Cambodia is due to drive down in a few minutes and they don’t want unsightly, dirty, homeless children spoiling the picturesque scene by the national museum. We are told we can have five minutes to finish before we must push off as well. We comply, not in any mood to tick off people preparing for the king.
After a lunch, in which Art sent back every glass they brought us twice because of the presence of previous users on them, and his napkin, which was crusted with food, we break for a short while. I must go to the travel agent for what feels like the twentieth time this week to work on ticket issues. Art heads to the market to buy gifts for our kid’s families at the dump village. Megan has returned from Siem Reap and both she and Theresa are chomping at the bit to do some late evening/early night photography at the village. We arrive at CCF in order to film all the kids getting on Tuk Tuks to head back to see their families. Layseng and Hov Nygan are among them. Art sees that there is room on one of the Tuk Tuk’s to ride and film the children so he makes the decision to hop aboard. It turns out to be a good one when the Tuk Tuk is let through an intersection, but we are stopped and diverted in the other direction due to the royalty and the crowds pouring in for Election Day tomorrow. Because I only vaguely remember the way to the village, I am relieved Art is on board getting footage and not losing time as we wind our long way through the detour to the dump. When we arrive, I attempt to find our way through the dump, but we are hindered by a huge sinkhole. A young girl asks what we are doing and it turns out she knows Layseng and for a few dollars she hops in our van to show us the way. We are duly grateful, but I can’t help but be alarmed at the ease with which we lured this girl into our employ and she simply hopped into a van with five white strangers. It is a reminder it is very easy here for a child to fall victim to exploitation.
When we finally find the village, it is quite a scene. Art has a crowd of about two dozen dirty little children all around him. Apparently, he was giving out candy and the word has spread. They all spot the rest of us and come tearing over. Within minutes, we find ourselves holding hands with the kids as they parade through with us to Layseng’s house. I introduce myself to Layseng’s parents again and present them with 2 cases of noodles. We make plans to visit them tomorrow during the day to interview them and go in search of Hov Nygan’s family. Art is madly slapping flies away from his legs with his camera cap and I suspect he is regretting: 1 – his shorts and 2 – not putting Deet on. Since I’ve been wearing the toxic bug cream for a week, it’s practically leeching permanently through my skin by now and the bugs leave me alone. Perhaps Art simply tastes better. I’m not complaining. J
Theresa and Megan are in their glory, running about the village filming this interesting slice of society. The dump village is its own little city unto itself – with little stores, burning cook stove fires and carnival games set up with bright lights powered off small battery packs. Kids are laughing and throwing darts, trying to break balloons and win prizes. The large carnival stuffed animals you would see at any theme park line the tables. There are two pool tables and a small gambling area under a tin roof off to the side and the men lounge, drink and play. One drunken fellow takes the time to tell Theresa, Megan and I not to worry because we will be safe here and staggers off. However another is not a happy drunk. He is busy yelling loudly at his wife and Thary, our translator, quietly advises us to move quickly away.
We give hugs to all the kids around us and say goodnight, slowly working our way back toward our truck. Once in the van, I look at dismay at my sneakers, which are covered in a sketchy, slimy substance and decide they are never leaving Cambodia. Megan cannot wait to get into a shower and all of us are looking forward to a close encounter with a bottle of Purell sanitizer. It takes us longer to get back than expected, because the city is crammed with people – due to the elections tomorrow. However, we are told by our Cambodian friends that the “democratic” elections are really nothing of the sort. It is expected the Cambodian People’s Party will win and that it is rigged. Like the street children being swept off the street and out of the view of the king, apparently real democracy is not something the current government wants in sight.
Thank God for our own freedom. May we never take it for granted.

 
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