Stop Covid-19 System

This shop has a string up to keep customers from entering and it also displays a “Stop Covid-19” QR system poster for recording those coming to the shop.
A QR code poster for an NGO. A customer uses an app on her phone to scan the QR code, and her presence at this site at such and such a time is recorded in a government database.

More than 155,000 shops and institutions have signed up to participate in the “Stop Covid-19” program which seeks to record who visits a site in order to assist contact tracing if necessary should a Covid-19-infected person visit that location. When introducing the scheme, the government downplayed any concerns about privacy but there are no restrictions or limitations on the way the government can use a person’s personal information if the person uses her phone to scan the QR code at a store.

Human Rights Watch has warned: “Cambodia’s QR Code system is ripe for rights abuses because it lacks privacy protections for personal data. These concerns are heightened by the government’s stepped-up online surveillance of Cambodians since the outset of the pandemic, putting government critics and activists at greater risk.”

Mine Awareness

Yesterday was the celebration of Easter for much of the world but in Cambodia it was the International Day of Mine Awareness. The Cambodian Mine Awareness Authority put out a fact sheet for 2020, noting 10,051 landmines, 135 anti-tank mines, and 33, 312 other ERW (Explosive Remnants of War) were collected and destroyed. Small as the numbers are, that is the good news. The bad news is that in 2020 there were 65 casualties (17 deaths). That is on average a casualty every 5.6 days from munitions put down 50-60 years ago. Still killing and wounding….

Another year…

Normally during the period of Holy Week and Easter I post here photos of our Holy Week services at St. Joseph Church. That pattern was disrupted last year by the appearance of COVID-19 in Cambodia which caused the cancellation of our services with just a week’s notice.

At that time we thought…”Next year will be different and we’ll be back together.” But that didn’t happen. Instead our Covid situation in Cambodia is much worse this year than it was in 2020, and so once again we didn’t have any liturgies to show you here.

What we do have is this:

The government is really getting worried now about COVID-19. In the first thirteen months of the pandemic, we had 375 infections up to February 20th. Since then, because of some suspected playboys and infected prostitutes who flew in on a private plane, widespread community transmission has started and as of today we have increased to 2,700 infections in just six weeks.

The government’s response has not always been the best. The upper newspaper in the photo talks about all the people in the past year who have escaped from quarantine facilities because of bribery, incompetence, or lack of attention. The second newspaper talks about a newly instituted curfew from 8:00 PM to 5:00 AM. Cambodians don’t go out at night so it may not be that effective, but then the punishment for violating the curfew is just to have your motorcycle impounded for two weeks.

You need a bag…

A couple days ago I pictured the 800,000+ Cambodian riel that I got for US$200, but looking at it from above didn’t give a good sense of what a stack of bills that is. Here is a photo from the side–$200 worth of riel, most of it in large denomination bills.

Rough going….

[Photo from Khmer Times]

Many, many small vendors and owners of street stalls are in bad shape because of COVID-19. They depend on foot traffic on the streets around markets and schools and other busy places. But there are few people around today.

It was never very good to begin with for those informal business owners. Here are two quotes from an article in Khmer Times:

“Since the February 20 community outbreak [of COVID-19 in Phnom Penh], there have been very few customers,” he laments. “I used to earn $10 per day, but now I can make only $5.”

Cheang, owner of a small food shop

Navy says before the outbreak of the pandemic she was able to save $3 per day after paying all her daily expenses. “But, now I can hardly feed myself and my small son,” she says.

Navy, owner of a coffee and drinks shop next to Cheang’s shop

Things are really bad now, but note their average daily income BEFORE the pandemic: $10 a day for the food shop and $3 a day for the drinks shop. That’s a good indication of life in Cambodia where the large majority of the economy is in the informal sector.

You need a bag, not a wallet

COVID-19 conditions are getting worse by the day here in Cambodia—we’re going into the first wave that the rest of the world went through at this time a year ago—and I would not be surprised if we have a major lockdown within the next week.

Part of my getting ready for that possibility was making sure that I have enough riel for spending on things. The government is trying to de-dollarize the Cambodian economy so the US dollar is still legal but the smaller US bills ($5 and $1) are being phased out of circulation and riel is now needed for less expensive transactions.

The current rate of exchange is US $1 = 4064 riel so when I gave two $100 bills to the exchange today, I got back more than 800,000 riel. Even getting most of that in really high-denomination riel notes, I had a stack of riel almost two inches high.

Will the spirits be offended?

Many times over the years Catholics have come to me wondering what to do with old, sometimes damaged, religious objects they no longer want. Maybe it’s just old palm from last year’s Palm Sunday, or maybe it’s a rosary broken into three pieces, or maybe it’s a saint’s statue with the head broken off. All of these things, what the church calls sacramentals, become part of our religious environment. And sometimes they take on a much bigger role, almost like something magical.

For Catholics I’d say just be respectful in a minimalist way. If it’s an old statue, wrap it in an old rag and smash it with a hammer and then put it in the rubbish. That’s better than throwing it out with old watermelon rinds and beer cans after a summer picnic.

The Buddhists seem to have similar qualms and anxieties about disposing of old objects used in Buddhist spirituality, e.g., old spirit houses or holders of various kinds of offerings. Near many wats (Buddhist pagodas), especially on the back side, people dump old spirit houses, household shrines for ancestors, and other devotional objects–not wanting to offend the ancestors or spirits but also wanting to get rid of no longer useful objects.

Something New…

The main reason for this website is to help people get a sense of what Cambodia and mission is like. You will never get that full sense until you’ve been here a while but seeing pictures–and especially videos–can give a good feel for daily life in the Kingdom of Wonder.

I’ve also been experimenting with videos for church work in this time of pandemic and thought maybe I could combine these two interests in some short videos that I might make occasionally.

Here is a first test video, just showing the front part of our house which is the Maryknoll office and home for Fr. Kevin Conroy and me.

Well…. After trying to upload the video I found out this may not work as well as I had hoped. The maximum length is about one minute and here in Phnom Penh it plays in a jerky fashion. Maybe you will have better Internet connections where you are. This project needs more work!

Scenes at the market: 6

These are scenes from a small vegetable and fruit market near the Maryknoll house. It’s a wet market (as opposed to a dry market with clothing, motorcycle parts, jewelry, etc.) and I always find the wet markets more picture worthy. I’ll post some pictures from the market here this week.

There are several little alleyways leading off the market. On one of them, this man spreads out a few vegetables and fruits for sale, probably cheaper than 50 feet away inside the market because he doesn’t pay any fee for his piece of the pavement.