On the Street

Having a mobility disability is not easy in Cambodia. The government’s social welfare programs are almost non-existent and are tremendously ineffective where they do exist. People with disabilities often have to fend for themselves, like this man in a wheelchair who darts among the cars stopped at a red light, looking for alms. The driver of my autorickshaw (like the white one by the wheelchair) got out and gave this man something.

Storm Damage

(Phnom Penh Post photo)

Today’s papers reported about damage caused by storms that swept across three provinces on Friday. 4 people were killed, 77 injured, and nearly 3,200 houses were damaged, 238 of them totally destroyed. This is not unusual in Cambodia where nature routinely makes itself known even though Cambodia is not directly affected by the big typhoons that cause so much damage in coastal nations like the Philippines, China, and Vietnam.

Notable Quotes

We must not be taken aback by their numbers, but rather view them as persons, seeing their faces and listening to their stories, trying to respond as best we can to their situation.

~ Pope Francis, speaking about refugees

Moving Up

This is a scene unimaginable just a few years ago when I first arrived in Cambodia—an appliance store, first of all, and then a row of water coolers and washing machines being offered for sale. When I came, an organization might have a plastic water cooler with a spigot and one plastic cup for everyone to use. Now the appliances above offer both hot and cold water. And as for the washing machines–there basically were none. Maybe some of the high executive families brought something in from abroad but they weren’t for sale here.

Bad Officials

The number of headlines in the newspapers that allege illegal and immoral activity on the part of officials here is amazing. These are three headlines I cut out of newspapers today. In case there’s any doubt, the Supreme Court headline is about officials grabbing poor people’s land. There seems to be something in Cambodian culture that encourages elected and appointed officials to see themselves as above the law and presented with an opportunity to enrich themselves at the expense of the common people. Of course it’s not all officials, but headlines like these are a daily occurrence, pointing out the misdeeds of ministers, the police, the military–anybody with authority.

Lower Middle Income Status

According to World Bank statistics, Cambodia was one of the fastest-growing economies in the world between 1998 and 2018. During that twenty-year period, Cambodia’s average growth rate was 7.7%, a really impressive rate of growth–and one that is continuing today even though so much of the economy is informal, like the women above selling on the street who pay no business registration fees or taxes. Results of the rapid growth have been dramatic: Cambodia has moved from a Least Developed Country status to a Lower Middle Income level and during the period of 1998-2013, life expectancy increased by 23%.

Corn on the Street

Corn, or maize as some cultures know it, is an interesting part of the food chain. In some places in Africa, it is the main food of the culture. In other places, especially in Asia, it is seen as mainly fodder for cattle. Cambodia, though, has a really delicious sweet yellow corn like this vendor is selling from her bicycle. When it is in season, big pots of corn are boiling all day long on the highway for motorists ready to take a tasty break. Within the city, vendors like this woman boil the ears and then stack them neatly in large plastic bags and peddle them from their bicycles. It tastes just as good on the city street as it does on the highway in the countryside.