Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Cook-off at Charthmei

My first attempt at simple video production -- showing a life skills class in cooking at Charthmei Primary School:

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Ay, there's the rub(ber)

I want my children to know where things come from, how they're made, of what, by whom.

Revision: I myself want to know these things, and would eventually want my children to know too.

The other morning, I went on a whim with a couple of coworkers to visit a rubber plantation and factory in a district nearby. It reminded me of the (too few) times I have seen a cashew factory, a silversmith, large-scale brewery and how it felt to see how things are actually made.

A boy working on the rubber plantation.
He dropped out of school last year after 8th grade.

The rubber floats down long white tile tunnels and is
processed through this squisher thing

Then it's cut up and spit out into these rolling bins
and washed yet again.

Various treatments, and the rubber comes out in basic blocks.
This guy puts the blocks into a compressor... then they're squished and packed.

I have a simple memory of a diagram in a magazine. I think it was made for children because I imagine clear language and bright colors. The diagram showed a picture of a house cut down the middle, with its insides exposed. Each room had its typical goods -- toasters and bananas and spoons in the kitchen, table and chairs and sofas and lamps, clothes in the bedroom, cars in the garage, garden furniture on the side patio. And then the diagram linked each item with its birthplace somewhere in the world. Growing up in the United States, in Orange County (a capital of consumerism?), I knew logically that things had to come from somewhere, but I never really wasted any time considering where, how, by whom.

Now it absolutely fascinates me to see these processes at work and wonder in awe at how much we have created and then wonder in partial dismay at how much that we've created is necessary and good.

I'm certainly no ascetic and I have a hard time going for broke with "green" "sustainable" "fair trade." It's partly a suspicion of catch phrases and key words, but I also have a hard time living my life to save the planet (maybe it'll change when I have children?). It's a goal too far removed from my everyday experience to mean much to me.

However, it appeals to my sense of beauty and authenticity, and some simple human empathy to try to buy quality things made in clean and well-lit places where people are treated like humans.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Early in the morning

Early in the morning, at first light, before the cans and bottles man comes rolling down the street, squeaking his dishsoap bottle horn and before the background sounds of moving and building and living commence, I like to get up and steal a few minutes from the waking day.

On my balcony, overlooking colonial rooftops and banana trees, this time of day is nothing but calm; nothing but promise and potential. The early morning breeze blows everything fresh and clear and new and magically, mercifully, my mind is quiet. My cup of tea is warm in my hand and my heart is full with contentment.

If my whole life could be mornings.

Still, it's reassuring to look on as the day is born. As people get out onto the streets to sweep and exercise; as motorcycles begin to whir by; as pots and pans and voices begin to filter in through the windows.

Exuberant, belligerent, demanding, the day begins.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Dance like no one's watching.

I just had to give a shout out to my new favorite nighttime activity (and exercise regimen):

crazy dancing.

I have been known to bust-a-move out in the real world. But despite my actually-talented-dancing-since-she-was-3 sister's tendency to half laugh, half gag, I've always had a special place in my heart for wild dance parties at home with friends or... all on my own.

Becky, this is for you.

Numbers and narrative

Here's a little snippet from a Cambodian newspaper about a local agricultural development project going on in my province:

"Mr. Lang Seng Houn showed figures that among 192 villages from five provinces, 14,300 families benefited from the project. the number of farmers who cooperated is 7,300, the living standard of 500 families changed greatly; 5,900 families experienced an average change, and 800 families got poorer. The number of women who have changed their attitudes and abandoned their old habits is 3,500, and the number of youth under the same category is 900. And 1,500 of the poorest families who sold their labor to have some income have changed their living standard and have become independent farmers; the livelihood of farmers in general is better. Generally, they can earn 80% more from the increase of the agricultural production and from the reduction of other expenses. They have stepped up the basis for this to retain the continuity of their production teams, and 718 teams have saved money - they have 6,000 families as members so that they are able to link their products to markets. Each family earns from Riel 1.4 million to Riel 2.6 million [approx. US$340 to US$635 per farming season] from their agricultural products; those are 427 families in Kompong Chhnang, Svay Rieng, and Kompong Cham. Their income is from paddy rice, from the breeding of chickens and pigs, and from the planting of vegetables and other crops."

I'm not against counting, measuring, or quantifying, but there's something about just numbers in the context of development (or in any social science, really) that's always made me suspicious, that inevitable makes me hunger after details, images, narrative. Two things bother me -- first, how easily numbers can be manipulated and subsequently distort the truth, and then, the way that numbers seem so inadequate to describe some experiences. I guess at its essence, translating the human experience into 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9, must reduce things at some level.

When I read this paragraph, I want to believe these families are happier, more stable and secure. An increase in family income of almost $300 seems unconditionally good. But still, it doesn't seem real unless I can also believe in the picture of fat pigs rolling around in the new pig sties; of the family of 8 who used to run out of rice by June and now has excess to sell; and the younger children who now go to school because their parents can survive without the money for their labor.

Thursday, July 3, 2008