June 29, 2010

On field and beyond..

Let me tell you a bit about my work, because many of you don’t understand what am I doing here and why? Well, first of all I work for a French NGO who is present in 27 developing countries, usually in post conflict and post disaster areas, providing emergency humanitarian aid, but has also some development projects. In Cambodia ACTED took over another NGO, namely PSF (Pharmaciens Sans Frontieres), and continued it’s projects here. Thus for now its projects are focused on health issues, more specifically on HIV/AIDS. But it aims to expand into different areas of intervention in the future also. After working at the European Commission and hearing about all these projects from far away, and reading only policy papers and about aid effectiveness and all that, I was very curious to see what actually happens on field. And this is why I came and after my first week of work I can tell you that people here actually make an impact. It is hard to see from a desk in Brussels or wherever in the developed world, but project aid usually helps. If it is a sustainable way and how some organizations use it, well it is questionable sometimes, and I have yet to make an opinion on that, but so far, at least the organization I am working for has a clear impact, which can be quantified and which you can see immediately. And this is a great feeling. So, I started work by visiting the sites that our teams work on, and the activities of the projects, so that I can better understand what is going on. The focus of most projects is on ‘entertainment workers’ (girls who work in karaoke bars, in beer gardens, in restaurants, but to gain some extra money they also sell sex). Here, the culture of men having sex with other women than their wives is very common and accepted, hence there is a huge market for prostitution. Usually men do not go out with their wives, but with other male friends. But when they go out for a drink they like to be accompanied by a female. Girls who work as waitresses also work as “escorts”. However due to the high rate in HIV, in 1998 the government with all the international donors started to take measures against this. One of the laws they passed out was on trafficking. So since, they closed down many many brothels, many hotels and other places. Thus all sexual workers had to find new directions, and have mostly went into the entertainment business or in “freelancing”as they call it. So, from what I understood so far, it works in the following way: clients go to karaoke bars (very very common here) or to beer gardens/restaurants where they come into contact with entertainment workers, and then, they somehow arrange with them and take the girls to guesthouses, or hotels where they can indulge in their pleasures. A night is 10$. But I believe there is a commission girls pay to the owner..i am not sure about that 100% I am still trying to find out exactly how it works, but again the language barrier comes into play..
Before the law became so tough, well, they could pretty much do whatever they wanted (imagine orgies and whatever u think of). But even now, when you see these places that the girls work in, because I have visited two establishments…oh well, I cannot believe that it’s not still happening there..even if they ensured me that they don’t have sex on the premises, when you go in those karaoke vip and super vip rooms…I cannot believe they don’t do anything behind closed doors…
The girls sleep there overnight, and their work starts around 3 pm…they get around 80$/month for changing the CDs or pouring beer into the client’s glass…When a client come, they all go and the client chooses who he wants in the karaoke room…

Our mobile intervention teams go to these establishments where entertainment workers work and provide education on the risk of STI/HIV and reproductive health to them ( I will come back to that in another post), but also there is a medical team that does a basic gynecological consultation and refers the girls to hospitals to be tested for HIV, and they also provide free drugs ( such as multivitamins,paracetamol, anti STD drugs..)
Another activity is to take girls or men who have sex with men to hospitals and clinics where they can be tested..because most of the times they don’t go because they don’t have money for transportation… the consultations/tests, drugs and condoms are for free..
We are not allowed to distribute condoms in establishments because the owner thinks this is a sign that they have sex there and they are afraid of the police…can u believe that??? anyways…the girls take the risk to carry condoms in their purses because it happens the police arrests them if they found they have condoms on them…or maybe who knows, policemen use that as a bribing tool for some sexual favours…

oh well, it’s all f***ed up…to be continued …

June 28, 2010

Rain, weekend and other trivia

I don’t think I have experienced rain like this before. Rain here starts all of a sudden, without giving you any time do run home or go and hide somewhere. It is just like pressing a button and it starts pouring down and it can pour down for hours... When you are inside, it is a very nice feeling, at least for me. I like rain and the sound of it when I am inside. But if you are unlucky to be outside, well..tough luck!
Anyway, my first weekend in PP was good fun. We went out to this bar called Equinox, where most expats and travelers hang out, where there was a live band – Los Poporks – ( a mix of all possible nationalities) playing some funky jazz. It was good music and nice atmosphere, but sooooo HOT…I could feel the sweat drops dripping of me…Make up? All gone after one hour… the people are very laid back here, all smiley and very relaxed..it’s a nice atmosphere, you can talk to anyone without any prejudices..
I also went out to this club where the music was good but the atmosphere was a bit strange.. It was full of travelers I suppose, looking like Americans on their spring break, trying to get as much xxx as they could.. and it was full of Khmer girls, dressed in mini shorts, trying to get foreign men. I was a bit disgusted by this to be honest, but at least they had common interests and probably no one was leaving home without getting what they wanted… Khmer people do not usually go out (very rare are the ones who do, usually the ones who are better off), the only ones who go out are Khmer girls looking for I dunno, a better life I suppose.. I think me and my group we were just a bit lost there, trying to dance and have a bit of fun.. the weirdest part was when this American bloke asked me whether we were prostitutes..i thought I did not understand correctly so I asked him to repeat… and he repeated.. oh well, I suppose he thought all girls there were there for business…
But you can definitely have fun here as well, and drinks cost so much less (2.5$ a cocktail is good no?)
From all things planned for the weekend, I didn’t get to do even half of them…because of the bloody rain that perturbed my plans, and also a bit of laziness..but I went to this place where you can do shoes on your measure with 15$, and I could not resist not ordering a pair of sandals..mind you, I am investing in their economy so I am doing a good thing no? haha
I was also looking for a helmet, as I am planning to drive the moto again, however all helmets we found were too large..which is a bit strange seeing how small people are here..not that the helmet would protect too much as usually the quality is very very bad… and the traffic, well I cannot even begin to explain the traffic. What can I tell you? That when you go out of the house you might as well say your prayers and goodbyes to everyone just in case you won’t make it to the office or where you are supposed to go ? hahah, maybe I am exaggerating a bit, but just a bit .. I think the riskier way to commute here is by feet haha as no one but NO ONE stops at the crossovers..they barely stop at the traffic lights.. there are some policemen at the crossovers with big STOP signs who cross the street with you while holding the sign up and whistling that the cars and motos and tuk tuks stop. But not even then do they stop!!! I think there is a single rule for traffic here: NOT TO STOP WHATEVER HAPPENS…that is why I guess Cambodians who afford cars buy big Lexuses and Toyota 4x4, because the bigger you are the less risky it is to get killed, if bumped into haha..but no, it is not a joke..here, it is the survival of the fittest when it comes to walking or driving on the streets ..
There are fakes for everything here, but EVERYTHING you can think of. For example, ladies they have MAC make up here, with very small prices..and OPI nail polish here, called BO..you can’t imagine what it smells like haha
I went to the biggest shopping center in PP and it’s something on 7 floors, something like our Unirea in Bucharest, but with all the possible fakes you can think of, probably imported from China…And there I had a manicure and pedicure with 2$, which wasn’t that professional, not to say unprofessional at all..they had all their utensils on the floor with no hygiene whatsoever, they were 5-6 girls working there in a very very small place, but hopefully my nails won’t fall off haha… here it is very common to have the nails done, but not like we do, but with a lot of designs and stones and flowers and flags and everything you can think of …they are very skilled in paintings on the nails..i will try that once haha but not in the same place. I will go in the 4 $ I heard is a bit more professional!!

June 23, 2010

My first moto ride and my first tukluk

Monday I had my first moto ride, with Pheakdey, one of our drivers on one of those small motos he was wearing a helmet I was not this is how people do it here..they didn’t use to wear helmets at all, until there was a law introduced saying the driver is supposed to wear one, cause they have maaaaany accidents so this at least protects you a bit… but I can tell you I was holding him like there was no tomorrow, and I don’t think they are used to that :-)) and then even funnier, astrid joined, yes on the moto…so we were three… for them is common to ride even 5-6 but they are tiny …can u imagine 2 of us ‘European taille’ girls and him :-D but we survived, I had to close my eyes several times …when he was turning in the middle of another hundred motos hahah but he is a good driver maybe I try driving a moto one of these days..but first I’m gonna get a bike… and a helmet..i am going to ride my bike with a helmet hahahah
And so after eating some Thai food, we went to drink a tukluk – see wiki- we stopped on the side of the road, where there were some improvised tables in the middle of a garbage damp…oh , the smell..and some girls prepared some tukluk, a kind of smoothie..very good and refreshing, you can have it with an egg inside..but I thought I risked enough without the egg in…but I thought, well if they drink it why couldn’t I?? and I survived…well, until now :-P

Oh, and jumping to a different point: they have a fetish for European noses here…they fell in love with my nose, because it is pointed :-D they do not like they’re noses because they are flat…but all the men tell me I have a beautiful nose !! I have never been told I have a beautiful nose :-D ah, an the hair!!! they love my hair.. I think they’re not too happy that it is short, they prefer long hair :-P two women stopped me on the street to ask me whether my hair was real!! Mind you, they were asking me that in Brussels as well hahah..
Apparently wealthy Khmer lady’s get nose-jobs, so that they have ‘pointed’ noses.. So for the people out there who think their nose is too big, like my brother :-P, well here YOU can be a MODEL :-D

If I can make it there I can make it anywhere!

If I can make it there I can make it anywhere! There, being New York… As much as I love Frank, Mr Sinatra, I will have to contradict him on this one… I guess he never went to a developing country … it’s too early to tell I know, but for me at least, the first few days had a huge impact, and not necessarily in a good sense… I guess it depends on how strong a person you are. I thought of myself as being strong; well, I guess I was wrong! It is tough to see such contrasts on one street (you can see the pics on fb). You have a huge villa, and then next to it you have a wooden hut, with a bunch of kiosks on the street; all kinds of vendors and all kinds of smells. Oh, the smells…that’s probably the worst thing…

Full of motos, tuk tuks and Lexuses. Yes, Lexus is like a national car here, and it is owned by the rich Khmer.

Sunday, I had my first tour of PP- lonely planet’s suggested tour was very good actually and I could figure out where I live and where are the places to go out to..

I had my first tuk tuk ride :-) and my first tuk tuk negotiation!! And even the worst negotiatior knows that you cannot negotiate again after you already agreed on a price.. well, the tuk tuk driver, he thought he could do that, so what he did is after we agreed on 3 dollars, when we arrived he asked for 5… :-) well, he didn’t get it! Muahahaaa (cheap Romanian leaving on 300 $/month)

The riverside is the nicest with most bars, and where you can see most of the expats, so I felt a bit more like home… after 3 days of Khmer culture, I needed to see some ‘white’ people J when you are away in a different civilization, you feel the need to find your own people from time to time. After my tour, where I was again shocked to see all the contrasts, I went into a nice bar where journalists usually go, it’s called the foreign correspondents club and it looks very colonial, and you can imagine how the old times used to be, when French used to be the colonial power..interesting, sad..don’t know… there you go…contrasts..

The American embassy is one of the biggest buildings in PP, and very pompous…I will refrain from further comments… in the park in front of the embassy you can see a woman breastfeeding her newborn…no comment…

And then the ‘funniest thing’- the disabled ramp- looking as you could see…

it is a bit shocking ...or not?

leave me comments also pls ;-)

My office and my room

my office

my room and terrace

My building and my street

building where i live,
the tight tight corridor to get to the stairs and the tight tight stairs

across the street is a school;


June 19, 2010

Lost in translation

Have you ever felt lost in translation? Cause I certainly do now!!! Khmer is sooo far away from any language, of course maybe if you are familiar with Asian languages you can understand or at least get something of Khmer. But not me… :-)

I arrived in PP on Tuesday afternoon, and was received at the airport by our office administrator Navann. Guess by the name, is it a male or a female? Well, guess what it’s a female!! A beautiful and lovely Khmer lady. Trying to explain the customs that I had my letter of attestation there and I don’t want a travel visa was tricky, and in the end she arrived and cleared that with them and I got in on a 3 month visa with a single entry.

She and one of the organization’s drivers took me to what is to be my home for the next 6 months. Well, on the way there my feelings were more than mixed, I was trying to figure out where we were and what PP is about. I got home, took my huge backpack, Peakdey helped me with my huge luggage, and we went in. In, that is through a super tight passage and climber a super tight staircase ( see pics) to get to my flat. Got in, the flat is basic but ok (see pics). It has AC and ventilators :-D and a bathroom where there is no bath or shower tub, just a shower head :-D and cold water. Well, it works, I can wash it’s fine :-) The bed is a bit tough but it’s big haha

I am sharing the flat with a very nice French girl, who works a lot in the provinces so I see her only in the weekends.

Ok, so I could not stay home I was a bit in shock, so I said I want to go to the office and say hi to everyone. And so I went…(see pics) everyone was very welcoming and nice. Astrid came home in the evening and we went out to eat. The next day I woke up at 7, packed in 10 min and left to meet the team. Two buses were waiting for the new expat in the organization, (here I make a paranthesis to tell u that Khmers wake up VERY early and go to bed VERY early; so they planned to leave at 7 already!!!)

And there I went to Sihanoukville with 70 Khmers…. I was extremely tired, and they were extremely LOUD!!!

And now begins the nice part of my stories: everyone was smiling to me, and waving and talking, saying things in Khmer. They thought I understood, until I told them I didn’t have a clue. I cannot tell you how that trip of 5 hours was!!! It was funny but in the same time I wanted to KILL someone :-) you know when you’re trying to sleep but there’s a FULL bus giggling and speaking and singing soooo loud :-) well, I guess I made my point. Oh, and the girl in charge of our bus had a microphone too :-))) that made it even ‘funnier’ and who knows me better, knows how I can be in the mornings :-)) anyways, first stop was at 9 for a pee, second stop was at 10 for LUNCH…they were asking me lunch, you hungry? I was like people it’s 10!!! Well, Khmers, you know those tiny tiny slim people EAT more than any other race I have met so far at 12 we stopped at the market in Sihanoukville for another refill, no not gas, but FOOD – we were having dinner…the market, well the market was huge and HOT and full of everything you can think of but mostly SMELLY food…I only bought some bananas, bananas here are tiny and they come in a bundle… cause that’s all I could eat with all those smells and at that hour. We got to the hotel and we rested for 1 hour before going to the beach (the hotel looked very good from the outside but it was sooo dirty that half of the team got down with bad bad bad stomach the following day, including me of course!!! I was soooo sick… :-( )

On the beach (see pics) guess what we did the first thing when we got there? I was expecting people to get undressed and run in the see…but guess what they did…well, you can figure out from the pics. We sat down and they started eating. There are plenty of food sellers on the beach and they come and cook in front of you, if you have the courage to eat. I only tried the squids and shrimps, but they had everything including the famous egg –( wiki link) BLEACHS!!! This is something I will NEVER try, not even if you pay me big money

After that they all went to swim. I was a bit surprised when we left from the hotel to see that people didn’t seem to have any bathing suits but just regular summer clothes, and no bags to have changes or anything like that… I thought hmmm maybe they’re not gonna bathe after all..but I forgot that the guide said that Khmer people bathe in their clothes!! Yes, they do not wear swimming suits- bikini- women, I mean… they’re to shy!!! and they were asking me hey come to swim with us, I was like hmmm I forgot my bathing suit (had it in my bag, but could not go ‘naked’ like that with all the dressed people no?? :-)

And after the bath there were THE GAMES- Khmers love to play games!!! And they have sooo many games, and of course they asked me to join them so I joined, we played this game we were 5 in a team and each one of us held a spoon in his/her teeth and with the spoon we carried an egg and had to transfer the egg to the next person in line, on the spoon, without hands. The team who got the most eggs transferred won. My team did not win :-( but we were not last either, and I didn’t drop the spoon or the egg :-D well done they told me hahah. And then there was dancing on Khmer music. This is very funny they dance in a circle, one behind the other :-) with a kind of hula hula moves. And their music is well, all songs seem very similar to me, but the funniest part was when Pitbull's "I know you want me" started, but in Khmer. Khmers copy EU/US music and translate it. Oooor they take a US hip hop video and over it they record their own music, so you can see Timbaland but hear Khmer music hahahah funny

Where I come from, a party usually is accompanied by …yes, of course ALCOHOL!!! Especially in my alcoholic group of friends…But here no one drinks :-) (it’s the opposite of Brussels :-) except the older men, so only maybe 4 men drank Angkor beer. And they asked me to join at one point. I was longing for a beer, but realized that I was the only one drinking with them. The others didn’t drink. They like juices a lot, but alcohol is not very common with them :-) I felt a bit like an alcoholic, but the beer was good so I didn’t care :-D

After a full day we returned to the hotel at 9, sleeping time :-) oh yes, here the sun sets at 18:30 during summer, this is the longest day. In winter it sets at 5… I was shocked to hear that!!

The next day we woke up, (well they did cause I slept until 10), at 7 to start our workshop…how do you think the workshop started?? Yes you guessed with a GAME :-) (see pic)

Otherwise the workshop was all in Khmer…they translated to me as far as they could, the ones speaking English, but oh well…it’s not their strongest point ..and their accent makes it even harder, they do not finish words ..for instance they can tell you something like “ha you me my wi?” ( to be translated “have you met my wife?”) or “ I want to cha” ( I want to change) or are you from Fra..(France) so yes it can be tricky…but once you get it..u get used to it. The problem is I really hope I will not destroy my English here, because they do not understand my accent, they understand English with French accent, and so I have to adapt my accent to the localc conditions..and also my vocabulary :-)) funny…

But the people are the warmest people I have ever met, and friendly and their SMILE is amazing :-)

PS pics are in next post...i'm new to blogging...