The Tree People: Episode Two
Okay, so on Monday morning at 09:30 Nick – the tuk-tuk driver and translator – and I will be at the tree. Unless Lin changes her mind between now and then, she will have the four kids and her one green-plastic-bag of possessions lined up and ready to toss into the tuk-tuk.
We told her to find an apartment and the Down in the Dumps Fund would pay the rent as that way they wouldn’t have to sleep on the concrete under an awning in front of a shop. There I go spending your money again.
Nick and I trudged through a tenement with Lin that rented for $50 a month. She was quite excited because the place even had a bathroom with a shower and toilet, a first ever in her life. But because she doesn’t have an identity card the landlord won’t let her move in, even though we would pay up front. The catch 22 is that the only place you can get an identity card is in the province where you were born.
Lin decided she wants to go to live with her sister. Why go back to the province, which is what the Khmer call their home towns? Tran has been beating on her particularly badly lately and her face looks it. How thrilled the subsistence farming sibling is going to be to see Lin and the four kids rock up remains to be seen. We are going to take a 50 kg bag of rice and other basic supplies to enhance the welcome.
“She wants her son to go to school when they get to the provinces,” translates Nick – Jivi is about six, but looks four – “and it costs about 1,000 reil a day (25 cents). But you can go to the school and pay them.”
It is going to be a long, dusty ride to the provinces. A similar trip to the jail – a story for another telling – left me infected with a particularly hideous case of conjunctivas. Hells bells, on Monday I looked worse than I did from slip, sliding away in Saskatchewan. Fortunately the antibiotics kicked in. Five days later I could still be a poster girl for domestic violence, but that should clear up in another day or two.
My friend Winston – we share a twisted sense of humour – commented that conjunctivas is a free gift you get from hanging out with the poor. I told him not to forget the lice, the fleas, and the scabies, all of which I’ve had at one time or another. But I digress.
What to do, what to do? I can’t not go to the provinces, but an hour and a half to get there and the same to get back on dust swirling roads is running the gauntlet. Eureka: swimming goggles. They fit over my eyes snugly and will keep out the dust and dirt. Who cares if I look like a bug? Wrap my krama – the Khmer scarf I always wear – around my face to filter out the worst of the dirt and the problem is solved. Or so I hope.
Perhaps some way we can help will present itself when we see the lay of the land. But, frankly, I doubt it. On Street 110 at least the-family-who-live-under-a-tree get enough to eat and tourists give Lin a bit of money for Siva, the withered baby. In the isolated provinces, however, she won’t have that option and a lot of people there go hungry. Maybe we can organize an identity card. When Lin ends up back in Phnom Penh – which I have no doubt she will – at least she will be able to get an apartment, thanks to the friends of the dump.
On the flip side of my life of contradictions in the Kingdom, I’ve decided I won’t bother with the BBQ at the Australian Embassy tonight. Why? Because I’ve been invited to a party the second secretary and his partner are throwing on Saturday nigt. Their penthouse apartment overlooks the river and a live band will be playing.