My First Almost-Collision + the Trash Mountain is Moving.
It may be hard to tell from these photos, because I have to take them at night and can’t get a really wide shot, but this trash mountain is slowly moving out into the main street as the recycle collectors appear to scavenge its rear end and the residents put more stuff on the front end. Eventually the council garbage men will have to collect it or move it. Given the way half the population think the trafic lights are meant to other people, I’ve learning to look over my shoulder in five different directions at once. Nevertheless, today the inevitble happened. A motorbike ran into my bicyce: fortunately they hit my front tyre forward of the axil, so I didn’t get knocked off. However, in viewof the number of children who play on the side of the street only 10-12 feet form bicycles and motor bikes, I have learned the Cambodian word for ‘watchout’: it’s ‘pror-yat!’: Ah well… into every life a little rain must fall. Tomorrow will be a wasted day filling in forms.
For the first time tonight I did what I’ve read others advocate. When I was approached by a child beggar while I was eating dinner, instead of giving him a money, I bought a him a take-away noodle pack (for the glorious amount of 75 cents.) At least there’s a fair chance he’ll get to eat the food, and it won’t go to an alcoholic parent, which I’m told is what often happens when you give money to kids.
I just added a review of Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s autobiography to one of my book review pages. She describes growing up Muslim in Ethiopia, rejecting Islam and becoming a refugee and eventually a member of parliament of Holland. She had to leave Holland after a film producer she worked with was killed. It’s a fascinating read. If anyone wants to understand the North African and second generation Muslim word in Europe, this book is a “must read.”
I’ve been wondering why this so-called rainy season hadn’t been so rainy, and why I’d only needed a rain coat two or three times. Tonight nature decided to teach me a lesson: never assume anything. I was teaching an English class at my university in Phnom Penn (I got a paying part-time job to support the volunteering.) and earlier in the night thought how much I’d saved by buying a $40 bicycle. At $4 a day in tuk tuk money, the bicycle had paid for itself in two weeks. Since it had really only rained for an hour or so each afternoon, and most of the rain occurred overnight, I hadn’t really been much affected by this so-called “rainy season”.
At about 6.30 I noticed it was raining early tonight, and shut barred windows on our seventh floor classroom. (Why do they need bars on the seventh floor? Who knows. And what happens when there’s a fire and people want to jump out the window? Who knows.) By the time class ended at 7, I went down to the basement to collect my bicycle, and when I emerged, I didn’t like what I saw. The drains weren’t coping and in places the water was up to mid calf height.
The streets of Phnom Penh are littered with uncollected trash. Most of these piles only grow to a couple of feet high, before the recycle scavengers or the municipal trash collection deals with them, but residents of some streets – not all, I stress – like to dump their stuff in side streets, near the edge an intersection with a bigger roadway, so that traffic sometimes has to drive around the rubbish mound when entering or leaving the side streets. This is fine if you’re in a car (maybe five precent of the vehicle population here) or a motorcycle (eighty to ninety per cent) but if you’re on a bicycle, you have a problem. Well, two problems, realy: one, you’re mid calf deep in water, and two, all that filth and trash and it’s associated E-coli is now part of the water you’re wading through, and three, you can’t see where the trash piles are.
If I’d had my wits about me I’d have taken off my shoes and socks, rolled up my trouser cuffs as far as a I could, and just accepted I was going to get wet feet and lower legs for the 20 minutes it takes me to get home. I instead I did the stupid thing and thought: “well it won’t be like this all the way home, will it?” A large part of it was. So it’s another trip to the cleaners for one pair of pants. . From now on I ‘m taking my leather sandals with me.
A kid at an outdoor restaurant recently told me he wants to get a job as a security guard. At the outdoor restuarant he earns $40 a month (6 days a week.) As a security guard he coud earn $90.
Meanwhile here’s how lots of kids earn their money: I dont know how many of these kids there are in Phnom Penh, but at least hundreds, maybe thousands. In case it’s not clear, he’s hauling a a hand cart looking for recyclaables to sell.
Well, I’m back in Phnom Penh, and I’ve just done my first three classes of paid teaching at a new university. Hopefully some paid work will keep body, soul and bank account together and support the volunteering. I’ve noticed a few more odd things here. On a couple of street corners the residents have taken to piling their rubbish in the middle the side road just on the brink of a T intersection. In other words, if you are driving down the main road you don’t run over the pile of junk, but if you are turning into or out of the smaller side road, you have to drive around this big pile of garbage. I don’t know if they got sick of the amount of junk in their street, or if they are protesting at the city council rubbish collection not collecting from their street or what. (There actually is some kind of municipal rubbish collection here, but small amounts of general litter just stay where they are unless some recyclable collector finds them worthwhile collecting. The recycle collector guys mostly seem to go for plastic bottles, since everyone here drinks bottled water. Other trash just stays where it’s dumped.
I’ll try to follow the same route home from university each night, and see what happens to the trash mountain.