Developments!| June 8, 2009
So I am now into my third week here, and I think I’m finally starting to get used to it. I’ve moved into an apartment, finally figured out the work plan for the summer, and gotten a chance to travel a little bit.
Last week, the other intern, Caroline, and I took an impromptu trip to a little town called Kratie, north of Phnom Penh. If you look in a guidebook, you’ll see that the main reason to go to Kratie is to visit the endangered Irrawaddy dolphins, although there is also a tiny village called Chhlong about an hour drive out from Kratie, with some really nice colonial French buildings and a big temple. Since we didn’t have much time, we spent half of one day in Chhlong and half out on the river trying (in vain) to capture the dolphins on camera. Getting to Chhlong is a trip in and of itself. Although it’s only about 20 kilometers away from Kratie, in a car it takes around an hour because the roads are not paved. They are, in fact, big piles of dirt, randomly smoothed out. It’s so bad that it’s almost impossible to even get to Chhlong when it has been raining, because the roads turn into pits of mud that can trap a car. Luckily, it was clear that morning, so we were (relatively) safe.
I should add here that driving in Southeast Asia is like nothing you’ve ever seen. While Cambodia is a little less insane than Vietnam, it’s can still be quite scary. There are traffic rules, and even traffic lights and stop signs, but they are irrelevant. Drivers depend upon their horns to let people know that they are going to blast through a red light, rather than just waiting the 30 seconds for it to change. Entire families drive on one moto (it looks a little like a motorcycle, but less powerful and with a really long seat). I think I’ve seen 5 people on one moto -- usually including tiny babies. Then there are the tuk-tuks, which are motos with a covered carriage attached to the back. These are slightly more expensive, but good for groups of people or people carrying baggage. Caroline really doesn’t like motos, possibly because the only person required or expected to wear a helmet is the driver, so we usually take tuk-tuks to work or when we go out together. I have already had a moto drive into my tuk-tuk while attempting to slip past us in stopped traffic.
We made our way back to Kratie in the afternoon to see the dolphins. As I mentioned above, they are endangered, and there are only about 75 left in this particular stretch of river. We spent about an hour and a half out on the river. The dolphins move fast, so they would pop up for air and then dive back out. We got some good views, but they move too fast to get good pictures. There was one moment when a dolphin pulled a typical zoo-move and did a flip in the air, but unfortunately we had already put away the cameras.
After Kratie, we went back to Phnom Penh. Rather than the route that we took to Kratie, the bus took the unpaved road back through Chhlong for some reason. At one point, the bus was swaying so much that the Israeli guy sitting next to us in the bus leaned over the aisle, offered us some candy, and said, “I think we should have some sweets before we die.” It was an exaggeration, of course, but it was also unsettling to think that the bus might actually tip over. We made it back safe and sound, though.
Caroline and I also found a roommate and an apartment this week. Grace works at Legal Aid Cambodia as a summer intern as well, so we found a two-bedroom apartment that we will share over the length of the summer. Grace gets one room, and Caroline and I are sharing the other room. This works out perfectly, because I am going to Takeo for one month starting next week, and when I get back, Caroline is going to Pursat for work. The rent is much cheaper than living in a guesthouse, and we get our own kitchen! We are on the sixth floor, so we have a great view of the city, and we’re right off a major road called Sihanouk Boulevard. There are tons of restaurants and shops in the area. So far my favorite is a Korean restaurant a block away.
Aside from finding an apartment, it has been a pretty quiet week. Vandeth is off to Switzerland for a week and a half, so there’s not much to do at work. Last week we made a brochure to be handed out to people accused of crimes, listing their rights, particularly as regards police custody and pre-trial detention. Vandeth wants us to work on a “monitoring project,” but it hasn’t become clear just what that project is yet. I think he is sort of at a loss for what to do with me, because I am leaving for Takeo in a week, where I will be playing a more active role in the field. In the meantime, I guess I have to be more proactive in looking for assignments to do from the office.
So that’s the abridged version of what has been going on for the last week!