Cambodia IV, The Countryside

An ARI study tour would not be complete without visiting the rural areas and we did so by visiting our 2009 graduate Ven Ban in his village Trapen Tasom in Takeo province. Ban runs an organic farm with his family but it was originally started by his father after he had come back from a Thai refugee camp after the civil war. They welcomed us with fresh coconuts to drink from and delicious vegetable form the fields. The farm is a beautiful place with Ban concentrating on chicken raising. We observed his fields and learned about the huge differences between rainy and dry season farming.

Not everything was peaceful, though. There are still landmines in this region, with the latest ones discovered and removed from the farm just days before our visit. Another one was still somewhere hidden meters away under a pile of rubbish. Ven Ban’s father then told us about his escape from Takeo to the Thai border during the Vietnamese invasion that brought an end to the Khmer Rouge reign of terror.

This was my first time to visit the countryside of a South East Asian country and it was a big learning opportunity. To feel the hot sun and get the dust in your eyes gave me such an immediate impression of the realities of the grassroots farming Ven Ban and the people of his community are practicing each day. It is extremely difficult for him to promote organic farming, but through the support of many people he will manage to create a training center soon.

Cambodia III, Small World Family

Perhaps the most enjoyable part of my study trip to Cambodia was the “home stay” experience at a kind of youth community center called “Small World Family”. I went there with no idea what the young people who started this project two months ago were doing there, only to be surprised, inspired, delighted by what I saw.

It’s a bit difficult to explain what SWF tries to achieve. Basically, young people like college students can become a member and utilize the space for sharing ideas with others – ideas for businesses or social projects, for example. They are also free to use internet and get drinks so they don’t need to spend their money in cafés. Then, once they’ve come up with some plan they can further make use of the office space or facilities of the SWF building and expand from there. They also organize events and hold workshops. Some of the members actually live in the house and invest their money to pay the rent.

Everybody I met at SWF radiated with enthusiasm and energy. During the last two months these folks had cleaned the compound from ground up, sowed grass, planted trees, decorated walls… I felt as if I was meeting the most progressive young people of the whole country. They seem to be brimming over with ideas how to connect to young people and offer them opportunities. To feel their dedication to contribute something meaningful to their society was really uplifting after learning about the sad history of Cambodia’s Khmer Rouge time and the civil war that followed.

Most of the SWF folks were at my age, and I felt there was a kind of mutual understanding that this can bring despite cultural differences. During my homestay, two of the founding members of SWF, Theary and Chhunny, made time to show me around in Phnom Penh. Thanks to them I felt very comfortable. I did not expect such hospitality, let alone to be so touched by their passion. My prayers are with these great people.

These are some impressions from the Small World Family house. They asked my co-participant Mr. Tamura and me to sow some seeds and we carved our names into the bamboo vessels.

This link leads to Small World’s Facebook page.

Cambodia, II: Goel Community Weaving Project

The Goel Community is located in the countryside South of Phnom Penh and was started by Korean missionary Mr. Han Jung-Min.

Women who join this project can secure themselves a stable income by weaving and dying fabrics made of natural material. This fair trade and fair labor concept helps them especially during the dry season since farming activities are limited then. Mr. Han revives traditional weaving and dying techniques which had been lost during the Khmer Rouge time. To him, this project is not just a business but a vehicle for sustainable community development, as he slowly gives away all responsibilities to the Cambodian people themselves and sets limits to the commercialization of the products. I was quite impressed not only by the high quality and beauty of the natural clothes but also by Mr. Han’s approach to rural development which was quite in line with the philosophy of ARI.

We visited some of the women at work in their houses, so it gave us opportunity to get a few glimpses of their everyday life.

Cambodia, I: Ancient Ruins

When I close my eyes I can still see Cambodia: how the bustling streets of Phnom Penh rush past me on a tuktuk drive, or the views of white cows grazing in the green plains, each mist-shrouded horizon beckoning to follow a mystery, an ancient city perhaps, a group of obedient elephants, or a purple sunrise. I hear the chatter of crowded markets, the cacophony of traffic noise mingling with street vendors’ voices, the discussions replaying in my mind, conversations with people, at times disturbing, but mostly inspiring.

I chose not to prepare myself for this ARI-organized study trip, but to let myself be surprised. And surprising a journey this was indeed. It was my first time to a country in South East Asia, and the first time to what some people still call “the third world”. I’ve been waiting for this opportunity, to get a taste of the ‘real’ world, as I experience the Western affluance in which we “developed” people live more and more as mirage, a Scheinwelt (illusory world) of artificial fabric well-detached from the realities of the people from whom it sucks its wealth.

I come back with many new impressions, and I let them sink in with their inconsistencies and superficialities with which I perceived them, not yet able to grasp the deeper truths this country holds. I have nothing but gratitude for the hospitality of people and their smiles.

First gallery: Ancient Ruins of Angkor Thom and Angkor Wat

Der Blick von oben

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Man sollte die Dinge, die einem durch den Kopf schießen, besser sofort aufschreiben, und nicht hinterher, wenn alle geistreichen Formulierungen des Moments schon wieder vergessen sind. Man sitzt dann wahrscheinlich zu Hause zwischen den vier gelbstichigen Wänden und kommt vor lauter Enge und Dunkelheit auf keinen klaren Gedanken mehr. Oder man entflieht der Klaustrophobie der Tôkyôter Mietswohnung in ein geschäftiges Café, wo einen schnatternde Hausfrauen ablenken. Man sollte also dann schreiben, wenn einem etwas einfällt und auffällt: wenn man sich in die weiße Plastiktüte, die auf dem Highway von vorbeirauschenden Autos verwirbelt wird, unwillkürlich hineinversetzt, oder wenn man an den bewegten Schatten, die das Abendlicht an den Betonturm gegenüber wirft, den ersten Herbsthauch erkennen kann. Das alles hätte ich mir sicherheitshalber notieren sollen.
Heute sitze ich zum Schreiben in einem MacDonald’s-Lokal mit einem Becher Eiscréme. Die Dotour- und Starbucks-Cafés in der Puppenstadt lassen schon um neun Uhr die Rolläden hinab, also bleibt nicht viel Auswahl, wenn man abends sich noch für ein, zwei Stunden zum Schreiben nach draußen begibt.

Heute zur Mittagszeit bin ich mit dem Flieger aus Amsterdam zurückgekehrt. Der Flug dauerte nur zehn Stunden. Ich hatte am Fenster gesessen wodurch ich den regen Luftverkehr über dem Kontinent gut beobachten konnte, ein Spinnwebennetz aus Kondensstreifen, das sich laufend verflüchtigt. Es war das erste Mal, dass ich andere Flugzeuge am Himmel so deutlich erkennen konnte, die mal in gleiche Richtung wie wir flogen, manchmal in die entgegengesetzte. Weil sie weit weg waren sahen sie aus wie kleine silberne Pillen, die wie Kometen lange Schweife hinter sich zogen. Ein Flieger kreuzte unseren Weg, er kam von rechts und sauste über uns hinweg. Ich sah seinen weißen Bauch. Der Schatten der schnurgeraden, zweispurigen Bahn, die er im Himmel hinterließ, blitzte kurz auf den Tragflächen auf.

Über mir das Netz, unter mir Wolkenlandschaften und hellgrüne Felder. Das nordwärts gerichtete Guckloch erlaubte den Ausblick auf die Küste, die Westfriesischen Inseln, Jütland, und – mit einbrechender Dämmerung – die Ostsee.
Solange es hell war bot der Blick aus meinem Fenster genug Zerstreuung. Als die Nacht ihren dunklen Vorhang davor schob, vertrieb ich mir die Zeit mit Lektüre: Orhan Pamuk, Uno Hôichi. Das Musikprogramm an Bord (ich flog mit KLM) war gut, vor allem die Auswahl an afrikanischen Künstlern und europäischen DJs.

Bevor ich für ein paar unbequeme Stunden schlief, schaute ich noch einmal hinaus. Die skandinavische Nacht verwandelte ihre Städte in Goldschmuck, den jemand auf schwarzes Samttuch geworfen hatte: Von oben erschienen die Straßen als goldene Ketten, Marktplätze als Broschen mit blauen Kristallen, dazwischen schimmernde Juwelenstücke in stockdunkler Leere. Die Nacht war kurz. Am Vormittag waren wir über Japan. Vom Flugzeug aus wurde die Enge deutlich, mit der die Menschen hier auskommen müssen. Wo in Europa auf weite Feldflächen einige wenige geordnete Häuschen kommen, drängelt sich in Japan eine Siedlung an die nächste. Selbst auf dem Land sind die Gebäude grau-monton, ein Gegensatz zu den weißen Mauern und roten Dächern in Europa. Ringsherum ist die Gegend dunkelgrün, wegen der vielen Wälder und Berge, und dazwischen je nach Jahreszeit grün, gelb, braun gefärbt Reisfelder. Die meisten, die ich beim Anflug auf Narita erkennen konnte waren gelb. Es ist Erntezeit.

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