23 March 2009

A Trip To Prey Veng Province

[daniel using his moto skills to drive us through rice fields]

A few weeks ago we headed out to Prey Veng province to visit some of MCC's more rural work sites. The trip was fascinating on several levels. It was great to see what development work MCC is doing outside of Phnom Penh, but it was also shocking to see some of the rural poverty that exists in the countryside.

[children collecting dung to use as fuel]

There are estimates that half of Cambodia's rural poor lives on less than 45 cents a day. And more than the poverty, what I found haunting was the apparent lack of opportunity for the rural farmers, and especially for their children. And at the same time, it is in this context that the work of MCC and its local partners becomes so inspiring and hope-filled. We visited a meeting of a small community bank, villagers coming together to save and to give each other small loans for small scale business ventures.

We attended a meeting of local farmers listening to a trained veterinarian speaking about caring for their animals and protecting against bird flu.

We visited a high school that is teaching students agricultural techniques to address food insecurity issues.

We met a family living in poverty, who with the help of MCC, is learning to raise & sell chickens.

And we saw some rice field irrigation projects.

In the midst of our journeys here, we are often reminded that we are haves, while so many around us are have nots. And that we are haves in ways that run so much deeper than the size of our bank accounts-in having lived lives free from violence & war & the trauma of genocide & sexual abuse & discrimination; in having families that have always loved and supported us; in the education we received; & in the opportunities we have had to travel & learn & experience life from so many different places.

and it does not make any sense.

i keep remembering (& praying) the words of the poem "listen" by w.s. merwin

with the night falling we are saying thank you
we are stopping on the bridge to bow from the railings...
we are saying thank you and waving
dark though it is

4 March 2009

the wheels on the bus...

...go round and round.

Last weekend we had the good fortune of going for a short trip out to Prey Veng Province to visit the work sites of some of our MCC colleagues. One of the more interesting parts of the trip was the bus trip there.

In what appears to be typical Cambodian fashion, this bus trip was about as chaotic as can be imagined. The way these bus companies work is that all the buses going to the same location leave from the same place, from where they have to compete with each other for the same passengers. It's every bus for herself. So as soon as a person carying a backpack gets within sight, they are descended upon by half a dozen bus attendants trying to make their best arguments for hopping on their bus. A particularly persuasive argument involves having your bags taken from you and placed on a bus for you. This really narrows your options down to hoping on the bus that already has your bags. It makes the decision much easier.

I tried to give my bags to the lady that said her bus was leaving in 10 minutes. It was later explained to me that what she meant was "our bus leaves as soon as there is no more room for anything in or on it. But if you would like to hear that our bus is the type of bus that leaves soon I don't mind telling you this". Oh cultural misunderstandings!

These buses make money by compensating for unreasonably low fares with unreasonable amounts of stuff to transport. About two hours later our bus was still sitting there waiting for more passengers to take up the last conceivable places for people to sit. When the seats are full, they simply put stools in the aisles.

At its peak, the bus had packed 34 people into the 15 passenger seats, not to mention bags of straws, flour, cooking oil, metal wire, and other miscellaneous goods meticulously packed under and between the seats. The best part is that since it took us so long to hit the road, by the time we got going we had to stop, before even getting outside of Phnom Penh city limits, so that everyone could buy bread!

[on the bus we listened to a great Classic Rock Liberation podcast, made by our brother-in-law Chris Lopez]