Now, the real thing….

Usually we find out how many COVID-19 infections were detected in Cambodia in one day in the newspaper the following morning, but today so many people tested positive the government announced at 2:30 PM that they had 576 infections already for today. To put that into perspective, we had about 350 infections for ALL OF 2020. That is a minuscule number compared to other countries but it’s a very significant shift for Cambodia where we don’t have a strong healthcare system. I suspect we’re in for strict measures to try to cope with the sudden increase.

Say what?

Does the government in Cambodia really think it necessary to build a special crematorium to burn the bodies of deceased COVID-19 victims? If washing hands for twenty seconds and spritzing with sanitizer can take care of the virus, wouldn’t burning the body more than have the same effect? The special crematorium will be just like the regular crematoriums except that it will only be used for coronavirus victims. Why make a special facility?

“No ticket”… Say what?

Last week the Cambodian government said that foreign diplomats, UN officers, staff at the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Asia Development Bank (ADB), and the World Bank (WB), as well as staff of international NGOs would be in a priority category to receive the AstraZeneca vaccine.

Maryknoll Cambodia is an INGO, but the government hospital I went to on Sunday morning said they were closed because they had such crowds on Saturday. At another hospital on Sunday, this sign was posted (above): “No ticket. Please go to your own embassy to take application form before you come here.” No one know what it means. What ticket are they talking about? The embassies say they don’t know about the form referred to on the sign.

The government of the Kingdom of Wonder….

A jump in the wrong direction….

Cambodia seemed to be blessed. It took a year to reach about 350 COVID-19 infections in the kingdom–and no deaths. Then on 20 February four Cambodians bribed guards and sneaked away from quarantine and started a surge of infections. In just five or six days 200 new infections were discovered and the numbers keep increasing.

Because of that all schools in Phnom Penh and Kandal Province have been closed and the prime minister has asked people not to come to the capital city.

Visit by Ministry of Social Affairs

Today a delegation from the Ministry of Social Affairs came to the Maryknoll Deaf Development Programme for an official visit, the first time they have ever done that. Each of the Maryknoll projects is under one of the mainline ministries, and we are under MOSVY (the acronym for the Ministry of Social Affairs, Veterans, and Youth Rehabilitation).
First the visitors went to our classrooms and the hostel where our students sleep, and then they came to our meeting room to discuss what they saw and ask questions. I was happy to see them and to see the government taking an interest in our doing what the government should be doing. The bad side of the visit is that we have to provide transportation for their group of eight and take them to lunch!

Dollars or Riel?

One of the actions of the Khmer Rouge under Pol Pot was to abolish money, specifically the Khmer riel, the national currency. Partly because of that and partly because of inefficient handling of monetary policy after the Khmer Rouge were defeated, the riel never regained the trust and acceptance of the Khmer people. When a new post-Khmer Rouge government was established, the US dollar became the central currency in use in Cambodia, and it has remained as a fully legal currency until now. Transactions can take place in either the Cambodian riel or US dollars, and they are freely interchangeable.

Now, however, mostly for reasons of national pride, but also to give the central bank more control over the national currency, the government is encouraging de-dollarization and increased use of the riel. Recently to support use of riel, the government has discouraged the use of US $5 and $1 notes. After a period in which they could be exchanged for riel at no cost, the government has allowed banks to charge a fee to accept the $5 and $1 bills to create a disincentive for using the smaller US bills although they still remain legal.

That measure has had its intended effect. The majority of $5 and $1 bills previously in circulation for small transactions has disappeared. A typical transaction today is paid only with riel, or if a larger US dollar note is used, any change under $10 will be returned in riel. For example, if a person offers a $50 bill to buy an $11 book, the buyer will receive in change a $20 bill, a $10 bill, and the equivalent of $9 in riel. Smaller amounts of riel paper notes are also given because the Cambodian monetary system has no coins.

These smaller U.S. bills are increasingly going out of circulation in Cambodia although they are still legal tender for all transactions.
These are the smaller Cambodian riel notes that are replacing the smaller US notes. The general exchange rate is approximately 4000 riel = US $1.00. I.e., the 1000 riel note above is the equivalent of US $0.25.
These larger riel notes are being used more also as more purchases are transacted in riel. The 10,000 riel note would be the equivalent of US$2.50. There is also a 20,000 riel note and a 50,000 riel note but they are used less commonly.

Politics and Theology

The incredible events in our nation’s Capitol Building are more than politics. They are also indicative of our theology. Here is a link to an article by Jim Wallis in Sojourners magazine. Read the full article and reflect on how to respond, but for me these were the ideas that struck me the most.

In addition to the political ramifications for our democracy of the attempted coup, there are also theological questions Wallis raised:

1. Truth is a central tenet of Christianity. “Does the truth matter to Christians and Christian leaders who supported Donald Trump?”

2. “[T]he biblical abomination of racism and its ideology of white nationalism…stands at the core of the Trump base…. This is no longer just politics, it is theological heresy, and one that needs to be exorcised from white Christianity in America.”

I encourage you to read the article.