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The accidental humanitarian

CAMBODIA | Sunday, 4 April 2010 | Views [406]

The unintentional theme for today was contributing to the disabled or less fortunate in Cambodia. On my way to get a shot of Wat Phnom in the morning sun, I saw two fellows collecting money from walkers-by. I didn’t understand what the fuss was until I was a lot closer. One of them looked as though his right brow had gotten very swollen and had drooped down over his eye. He looked like Quasimodo. It was difficult not to stare. Instead, I came to an abrupt halt, opened up my wallet and donated a dollar bill. Now that I look back on it, it may have been just as insensitive to stop in your tracks and offer money as it was to ogle, but hindsight is 20/20. Wat Phnom is set on the only hill in Phnom Penh and there is a small park around it. When I arrived, I was observing all of the locals who had come to visit or to play games. There was even an elephant saddled up to give rides. He seemed to be at ease with the crowds while he munched on his sugar cane. This was a pleasant scene and I smiled as I handed over a dollar for my temple ticket. A second later, I turned around and there was a one-legged fellow on crutches who had a carton of books and postcards strapped around his shoulders. Now, it is my understanding that the government does nothing for these unfortunates who are missing appendages for whatever reason, so at least browse what they have for sale before you label them as beggars. This one had a photocopied history book that I was interested in, and when he told me that it was only five dollars, I purchased it. The visit to the temple itself was uneventful, only the interior walls had some gruesome paintings on them, including what looked like a torture scene. I wondered what inspired them to paint it that way.

Just south of the temple I stopped at NCDP Handicrafts which is a project that employs people in rural areas in the handicraft industry. Like Artisans d’Angkor, they work a lot with silk. So I had a difficult time finding souvenirs in my price range, and I know that it is a cultural thing, but the saleslady hovered over me as soon as I entered the store. I grabbed a few modestly priced items, paid and got the hell out. My next stop was the seeing hands massage place where I asked for a Japanese massage. I don’t think of this as charity at all. I applaud the fact that someone could set the visually impaired up with a vocation so that they could support themselves. The masseuse seemed to focus on the soft tissue in between the vertebrae on either side of my spine. It was amazing that he was working at those chinks in my armor based solely on the sense of touch.

This evening I went to the local night market for some food. I was the only white face in a huge crowd of Cambodians and I could tell that they were curious as to what I was doing there. Hell, I just wanted some grilled meat. A tuk-tuk driver told me that he would take me somewhere where I could get some food and drink. I don’t know whether he was trying to get me away from the market or whether he really wanted the fare because I could not get him to go away. He finally took the hint, but before he turned to leave he zipped my camera pouch closed and told me to put my backpack on both shoulders. That left me a bit shaken. When I was ordering some grilled chicken a fellow came up to me and asked for some money. I absentmindedly handed over some change, even though he didn’t look like he was suffering from any disability. Maybe boredom or laziness.

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