From the shelter of my guesthouse’s covered rooftop I look out over the street below. It is in chaos – pelting rain has sent all the street sellers into hiding.
I think back to the hostel I was at this morning. Two kids were rifling through the open garbage dump just opposite the hostel. I think they were looking for cans, like the woman who hovered over me last night. She was waiting for the remains of the 50c beer I was enjoying by the riverside.
I was in the company of young Frenchman who’d just ridden a single gear bicycle from the province of Kampot to Phnom Penh. I remember blowing her off in my desire to continue our heated conversation on the status of France.
That garbage dump would be floating down the street now, in the torrential rain.
I wonder about the families living in the kilometer long building the Frenchman took me to this morning. “My building” he called it. His building was so dilapidated it looked like the whole front had been ripped off.
He’d been spending his days photographing the families inside – families packed in like sardines – playing cards, minding children, cooking food, going about life.
I mentioned his building to another man I met this afternoon. I was told that legally the families should have title to the land2. Legally they should be able to make repairs, patching the leaks that I’m sure are letting in the rain right at this very minute.
But they don’t have the titles. So they don’t make repairs.
Before the rain had settled in I’d headed out to the Olympic Stadium for a run. The place was packed. Around the outside boys playing football on every square inch of space, girls filling in the rest with games of badminton.
On the inside of the stadium there was row after row of dancers, busting out synchronized moves to Rihanna. This is where I usually run, weaving in amongst the dancers, looking over the the Phnom Penh skyline, watching yet another spectacular sunset.
I learnt today that there are rumors the stadium will be demolished. The land is apparently too valuable to leave to public space.
On the way home I see another near miss on the road. I have seen just about as many motorbike accidents as number of days I have been here. My record refuses to break – I return to the hostel to yet another Frenchman, this time with injuries and stories of yet another collision.
Perhaps it is only the fragility of a hangover, but it would seem as if today is a day for open eyes, a day for being affected by the world.
1 “Cambodian architect Vann Molyvan designed this building, intended as a housing project for the booming middle class that emerged after Cambodia’s independence in 1953. The project was halted after the Khmer Rouge take-over in 1975, and never finished. Nowadays the decaying building is inhabited by hundreds of families, plagued by poverty, crime and prostitution.”
2 After the fall of the Khmer Rouge, “the Vietnamese made a bold, perhaps brilliant move: they rendered all prior property claims in the city null and void….Phnom Penh was opened up for settlement on a “first-come, first-serve” basis