Saturday, June 30, 2007

Lions and tigers and bears!

Actually, I'm afraid I missed the lion. Didn't see it at all. But in its place were elephants, monkeys, deer, birds...yep, I finally made it to the wildlife refuge.

The things I do to bring you people some pictures, it's insane. Caught the bus this morning with no problem and it dropped us (thankfully a French couple was also making the journey) probably 4 or 5 miles from the place. There were no tuk-tuks like Lonely Planet said. Just a couple moto drivers who spoke no English other than to say $6 each. Yeah, right. We started walking and they dropped it to $4 for all of three of us. They dropped us at the gates and then it was still quite a hike in, but we got some good quality exercise. It was also GREAT to get out of the city.

And the sanctuary itself was pretty cool. Once again, these are animals that have primarily been rescued from traffickers and poachers. As you can see from the pictures, there were a ton of different animals there. I've even left off many pics of smaller creatures. And most of the animals were within touching distance, or, as with the deer, you can actually wander through their pens. Even the tiger was within touching distance if you tried hard. I read the signs to learn about the harms that befall these animals in the wild, but I'm afraid my memory of the names of the creatures is quite lacking. And I tried to put labels with the pictures, but my blogging abilities are equally lacking I'm afraid. Sorry.
As we were leaving though it started POURING rain and we got thoroughly soaked, especially on the moto ride back to the road. Then we stood there in the rain for about 45 minutes waiting for the bus to come, but it all worked out just fine and I'm back safe and sound. Tomorrow I'm moving into another house, a woman from the GTZ office will be gone for 2 1/2 weeks and asked me to housesit and feed her cat. I'm kind of excited about having a kitty around, not quite Chey and Maggie, but something anyhow.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Theater of Absurdity

This is the term my boss frequently uses when referring to things in Cambodia, and I found it very appropriate. Not only for here; I think it could be equally applicable to several events that have occurred throughout law school as well, nights at the Garden in particular. But it is particularly applicable to the way in which the legal system works here. It is understandable that things cannot simply be plopped down by international donors and expected to work. It has taken "developed" countries decades to do the changing of mind sets, education of the population, etc. that will be needed here. When your entire education system (including all of the educated) was wiped out just 30 years ago, it takes some time to rebuild. But it leaves you currently with extremely uneducated persons, even those who have completed their law degree.

For example, they have been trying to organize a legal team for the Ministry of Women's Affairs for months. A woman named Savady is the head of it, and there were two girls who worked for the team. And then Doris is kind of the advisor of this team, but of course in practice she is the one working directly with the Minister. These two girls, who both have their law degrees, would rather cut and paste and stuff envelopes for the GTZ project. So they refuse to do any legal work, and get salaries (very small ones though) from both the legal team (Ministry) and GTZ. So the Minister has recently hired two new girls to work on this legal team with Savady and secured a room on the third floor for them to work in (we're currently on the first floor). Savady has decided that it is a violation of her human dignity to have to walk up three flights of stairs and refuses to work up there with the rest of the legal team. She has said that she will simply not come to work if that's where she has to work.

Now, one might logically say, that's fine, don't come to work. We'll find someone else to take your job who wants it. Problem: she's CPP (ruling party) and our Minister is FUNCINPEC (opposition party); therefore, if she isn't accomodated she can cause the Minister even bigger problems on bigger issues, effectively blocking her from being able to accomplish anything. So she stays, and nothing gets done with the legal team. This is just one example of the ways in which politics and lack of intelligence get mixed in with everything here.

Yesterday I visited the new National Assembly building, it's absolutely amazing. There's some hope (on my part if nothing else) that this new building with make the Parliamentarians feel like they have some power. The system is set up pretty well with a PM, elected parliament, senate elected by commune councils that are elected by the people. But in practice the PM, Hun Sen, pretty much rules everything. A Vietnamese leader who was recently visiting the country stated that it is important for Hun Sen to drop down because changes in leadership are necessary. This is coming from a Vietnamese leader! And not surprisingly, Hun Sen had a cold while that guy was here and wasn't able to visit with him. It's an interesting dynamic all around. And the story with the new National Assembly building is that the original bid was put in by a friend of the CPP (maybe a friend of Hun Sen's). Sam Rainsy, who is the leader of an opposition party and a parlimentarian got someone to put in another bid that was $20 million less. That contractor "disappeared" and his company withdrew it's bid. Kind of like Halliburton, only people play with AK-47s over here.
Just a few examples of things that occur in the theater of absurdity.

Friday, June 22, 2007

I have failed in my mission to provide an entertaining entry

Hello all. Things have been a little sparce around here lately, what with me not doing too much worthy of reporting. Yesterday I decided it was high time I do something more newsworthy, so I pulled out my Lonely Planet and discovered that there is a wildlife sanctuary about 35 miles south of here. It is sponsored in part by WildAid, an organization I once read about and fell in love with immediately as they are kind of a Greenpeace meets CIA operation. Very proactive in going out and stopping traffickers and poachers in this area. Anyhow, this sanctuary is animals who have been saved from such traffickers and poachers, and while I guess it's more like a zoo it's quite nice to see (according to LP). This sounded like the perfect place to get some pictures that would bring some life back into this blog. Not to mention that I'm more than ready to have some new scenery.
So it seems you can take a moto there, but the thought of 30 miles with a moto-dop was not terribly appealing. The LP recommended catching a bus to Takeo and then just getting the driver to drop you off there. So I got up ready to go this morning (after a late night at a party, more to follow) and headed down to the Central Market--the rumored home of buses. I asked a few people where the buses were, very proud that I had learned the word for bus, and everytime the crowd of 10 or so aggressive men who had gathered around would say "no buses" or "no buses to Takeo" or "only by taxi (moto, van, tuk tuk, take your pick here depending upon what the guy drove)." This went on at numerous places as I walked all around the outside of the Central Market, which is a great big dome building housing zillions of vendors selling anything and everything. I went up a few streets, finding more people who just insisted no buses to Takeo. I found one taxi driver who spoke decent english who stated that, while there was a bus to Takeo, it would not let me off at the sanctuary. But he would, of course, be happy to take me for $30. Growing angrier by the minute at all the people around me I decided perhaps it would be best to retreat and just go hire a moto from the Okay Guesthouse to take me there (I'd checked into this and it would just be $10). So I get a motodop to take me home and we end up on some random street, go a few blocks and low and behold, buses. And as we drive by, the Takeo bus pulled out in front of us. Had I been industrious I would have hopped off and ran after the bus, but I was a bit in shock. To top it all off, my motodop guy went completely the wrong direction and it took me 30 minutes to go the 5 minutes to my house. I even gave him names of all the things around my house in Khmer and he seemed to understand. But that is a specialty of some Cambodians (and Thais)...don't want to lose face by admitting they don't know something and before you know it you're in some new province. Then we got in a fight over how much money he should get because he used so much gas. Grrrr. So, my deepest apologies, but there are to be no tiger pictures this week.
I am instead going to spend my day packing up stuff and shopping (more browsing) at one of the big markets. Tomorrow I'm moving to a guesthouse/restaurant called Rory's Pub. Always had a dream of living in an Irish Pub some day.
Last night I met up with Tim and Agnieszka, the Aussie couple I met at the World Bank workshop. They were heading to a house party of some friends of theirs and invited me along. We had a few beers at their place (I kind of nursed one, still not 100% healthy), and then headed out to the house shared by 4 or 5 volunteers. I'm pretty sure that by the end of the night every volunteer in Phnom Penh, and nearby provinces, under the age of 30 who was out last night passed through that party. It was insanely packed. Finally met some of the U of Mich. folks, but only one of the law students. I ended up hanging out with these three med students from Toronto who are working at the Children's Surgical Center. They're going to be my new neighbors at Rory's, have an apartment right next door, so hopefully I'll be seeing more of them. Really interesting group of people there last night, and it was great to get to mix and mingle a bit. Well, I'm off to do my retailing, and I promise that next weekend I will try to do something that will shock and amaze, with good pictures.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Jungle fever

I haven't had much to report for the last few days because I haven't left my bed, let alone the house, much. But before I came down with this lovely fever, which seems to have finally subsided, I did do a little walking tour on Saturday. The pictures are of Independence Monument and the garden at the National Museum. I also visited the Royal Palace, but they charge you to take a camera in there and I was feeling cheap. The other monument I took a picture of (last picture) is the Cambodia-Vietnam Friendship Monument.

Last night I went to a dinner at the home of a law professor from the University of Michigan. I was hoping he could put me in touch with some of the law students who are here this summer, but he had a hard time remembering where they were working, let alone there names. So that ended up being a bit of a dead end. But I did have frog and some soup with baby shrimp in it. Still wasn't feeling too great so I didn't eat much, but the frog was actually pretty decent.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Raining cats and bullets?

I think I have survived my first monsoon rain here. Well, it's still raining and thundering and lightening, but I've at least made it safely back to the guesthouse.
I spent the day at the office working on the first part of the introduction to the Law on the Prevention of Domestic Violence. Doris is putting this together and currently has about 60 pages or so I think. Her English is quite rough so I'm trying to re-write it and then I'm working on incorporating the new civil and penal codes throughout, as well as adding concrete stats from reports and such to back up the information on incidences of dv, effects of dv, how the law works within the cultural framework here, etc. It's all pretty interesting.
Then about 4:00 the storm started and it went completely black outside. It was thundering so hard that it was setting off car alarms all around the building and the power kept cutting in and out (surprised actually that it didn't go out completely). And raining like crazy. If you haven't experienced a monsoon rain just picture the worst rain you've seen and add a few gallons of water a minute. Then we started hearing what were clearly gunshots. Apparently, sometimes when big storms come Cambodians feel it is a good idea to fire their guns into the air to ward of the storm. Yeah, works like a charm. So I apparently need to get a Kevlar rainjacket. I don't think it happens too often as Doris had not yet heard of this and she's been here two years.
So we waited until about 5:45 foolishly hoping it might pass but then had to make a go for it. There was only one moto out front so we decided to share it. Imagine three people crammed onto a small motorcycle in the middle of a huge rain storm; I was in the back and it was quite slippery with nothing holding me on. So we get going and the road in front of the Ministry is completely flooded, meaning that as faster cars and motos go by we are literally covered from head to two in a wall of water. It was really kind of fun actually. I had on a little plastic poncho so just my legs got soaked. Then our moto broke down and we stood there chatting and laughing, getting continuously splashed while our good driver got it going again. Last part of the story--the best way to get back to my little home is on a road that runs along the river. This was apparently one of the few non-flooded roads as it was jam packed. So there we were, crammed on this moto, constantly being run into and running into others. Miraculously made it unharmed, had my knees banged against cars a few times, but whatever. Probably good that the street was so crowded cars couldn't move very quickly. So that was my exciting first good storm. It's 7:00 now and still going fairly strongly, about at the level of a good thunder and lightening storm back home.
Tomorrow morning I'll move out of the guesthouse and into Doris'. Not looking forward to repacking all my worldly possessions but it will be worth it. Monday is a holiday so I should be going down to the beach but I'll miss all the buses out in the morning because of changing locales. I'm going to hang out with some U of Michigan folks though, and maybe my new Australian friends if they decided to stay in town. Was going to go out tonight to see a little of the local hotspots but the weather is keeping us all in.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Kompong Thom and phone

I've gotten a cell phone now so if any of you have a calling card you've just been itching to would be a great time to break it out. I've yet to figure out how much it costs me; I know calls I receive from here are free so my foolishly optimistic little fingers are crossed that it's the same for international calls. I'm just about positive however (at least with Verizon) that it's just .25 to text me, and .10 to receive a text from me. So my number is 011-855-12-971-203. Dial away, my friends (wow, can't even use that now without cursing John McCain, how very sad). Not saying a phone call from you will lock in a souvenir, but it will certainly increase your odds ;-) Send money and I'll guarantee at least a keychain. Oh, and I'm 14 hours ahead of PST, so please keep that in mind...this gift thing works the other way as well. (Not sure the texting works since I didn't get the one Stacie says she sent).
Anyhow, I've just returned to Phnom Penh from the provincial town of Kompong Thom (which is also the name of the province, very confusing). It's pretty much smackdab in the middle of the country. I went with members of GTZ for a workshop on domestic violence. The primary purpose of the workshop was to gather district officials, NGOs, provincial government, police officers, and line ministerial people so they can put together a service directory. So that, for example, when the governor of the province has someone come to him with a domestic violence situation he can look in this directory to know who to call. But since they had them all gathered it was also a good time to do a little training on what domestic violence consists of, the stages of it, and what services can be offered at all levels. There were a little under 100 people there and they all participated quite a bit.

On a positive note, everyone was very interested in using the legal remedies to address the problem. The new domestic violence law has been very well publicized and officials seem almost eager to use it. GTZ is focusing more on the social side of things though, so it was a little troubling for them not to have people responding to the question of what can we do for the victim at each of these stages with examples of social services. It's great that they're recognizing that the perpetrator should be punished, this represents a positive change, but now they need to start thinking about helping the victim as well. After the participants were redirected they did start to throw out service ideas that are offered and could be offered, however, such as counseling, medical assistance, etc. Please note this whole thing was in Khmer so I was relying on members of GTZ to translate for me when they could. So I pretty much just got the gist of it. But it was interesting to see how the Ministry of Women's Affairs has provincial and district departments (the provincial department for Kompong Thom was in charge of this), and how things work throughout the countryside. The pictures here are from Kompong Thom and the workshop. The billboard is produced by GTZ.

Tomorrow back to the office, and meeting with a poverty specialist from the World Bank at some point. This weekend I'm moving out of my favorite little guesthouse and into Doris' house for the week since she'll be gone and it's free. Yep, have my own house complete with security, cook, cleaner, laundry, driver. It's a rough life I lead.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

The legal stuff (skip to next post if not interested)

I just wanted to make some points about the legal system, and the World Bank workshop this morning that might not be too interesting, but I want to have down in text anyhow. First off...the things I learned on my first day. For those who are unaware, much of Cambodia's law has come from UNTAC (United Nations Transitional Authority for Cambodia). So they are just now going through a huge period of reform/creation. When I say I sat and read the civil and penal codes for the country I'm referring to drafts created by the Japanese and French respectively. The Japanese have created a criminal procedure code as well as civil procedure and civil code (haven't looked at these last two yet). They are incorporating the current system in Cambodia as well as making changes, but just trying to put something concrete down so that there is a system to actually follow. I read the entire criminal procedure yesterday and it was incredible. It includes everything on how the judiciary, prosecutors, judicial police, etc. are to operate. Pretty much the entire legal system. The French have produced the penal code setting out more specific definitions of crimes, etc. They very kindly have only given it out in Khmer and French, but Vanny has been working on a translation so I've read what he's done of that. I'll be looking at these in conjunction with the law on domestic violence as it does not provide for penal remedies, just civil in the form of a temporary protective order and some sort of administrative remedy that I'm not too sure about yet. It was extremly poorly drafted it seems (pre-Doris) and is very rudimentary. So hopefully it can be combined with the draft penal and civil codes to produce something that will work.
Underlying all of this, of course, is that the judiciary is corrupt. Today, at the World Bank workshop, the WB's country manager stated that only 18% of Cambodians believe judges to be trustworthy. And similarly only 29% believe police to be trustworthy. Makes putting together a legal system rather difficult. Regardless, the draft codes are currently in the National Assembly and Senate and are likely to be approved soon. I forgot my little flow chart on how something becomes law here, and it's interesting enough to deserve a thorough explanation, so I'll do that next time...but I can sum it up by saying separation of powers doesn't exist. Essentially once Hun Sen says go, everyone goes.
Speaking of, he did an interesting thing at the World Bank workshop today that deserves some explaining. Yesterday another thing I read was a recent report from the UN Special Representative Yash Ghai who is really at odds with Hun Sen. But one thing he was very concerned with is this granting of land concessions. Apparently about 70-80% of land is state-owned and the government as part of its economic plan has been granting land concessions to businesses it theoretically believes will improve the economy. But Yash Ghai reported that many of these concessions are going to family and friends of the powerful, while the poor who could benefit most from such land remain landless. Today Hun Sen announced that yesterday he rescinded five such land concessions to businesses and that land will be re-distributed. Very interesting, and I can't wait to find out what these "businesses" did. Would be really something if he truly rescinded the concessions because they were not efficiently using them.
More on the World Bank workshop: The basis of it was a concern with rising inequality as Cambodia sees rapid growth. Over the last three years the country has seen an average growth rate of 11.4%. But it was noted that between 1994 and 2004 the living standard for the richest 20% gad grown by 45% and that of the poorest 20% by only 8%. So World Bank was asked to do this study/report on this and discovered that most of that growth in inequality had occurred from 1993-1997, after which it leveled off. Sooo, disaster averted I suppose. So the workshop focused on decreasing the gap and development as a whole. Okay, I'm getting bit by mosquitos and apparently Dengue Fever is a real risk here, time to retreat for some repellent.

Coolest job on earth

Okay, I'm still not exactly sure what I'm going to be doing for the summer, but I think that's just how things work here. As projects and problems come up I'll just be diving in. So for those not interested in international stuff I'll sum up my last two days sans NGO and legal language. Then I'll do a separate post about all that for those who care (um, is Amanda the only one? ;-)) And for those who are just checking this for pictures of cute Australian boys (Stacie), I've been selfish and not taking pics, just keeping them all to myself ;-) Okay, I haven't really met too many people. A few at the guesthouse but they're always leaving the next day. Today, however, I met a couple from Australia who are working at the university here and I will hopefully be hanging out with them this weekend. Maybe tripping down to the beach.
Let's see....Sunday I just took it easy: sleeping in, a leisurely (and very hot) stroll down the riverfront, discovering the Pencil (great grocery/everything you need store). Then Monday morning Doris came to "pick me up" (consisting of showing up on a moto and me getting one to follow her). Oh, and Mom-she gave me a helmet that I wear everytime I ride the little motos around. Hotter than hell but given that I feel I've already nearly died three times probably a good idea.
We went to the Ministry where she introduced me to everyone. The legal department is very small, pretty much just her and a Cambodian named Vanny, but we share an office with a GTZ domestic violence project--a German organization similar to USAID. Tomorrow I will be going with them to a village where they will be doing a training workshop on Thursday. Little field trip just to see what a grassroots training program might look like. So Monday Doris gave me background on how the Cambodian system works (details below) and then I got a whole stack of reading material including all penal and civil codes (again details below) and the domestic violence law. Umm, a gecko just ran across the computer screen...that was strange. Anyhow, moving on, I spent the rest of Monday reading and learning a ton.
Today was where the amazing comes in. This morning we attended a "workshop"put on by the World Bank in conjunction with the Cambodian government introducing the World Bank's report on equity and development in Cambodia. Of note from this meeting--the Prime Minister Hun Sen was the keynote speaker, preceded by the Country Director for World Bank who I was able to briefly chat with on the coffee break. The German and US ambassadors were present (only ones we recognized, and they jetted after Hun Sen's speech), as well as all sorts of just cool international development people. Then I went to lunch with Doris and a woman who is just starting work for the Asia Foundation and has been working here in the area of trafficking for the MoWA (where I work).
Then I went to a meeting of the Technical Working Group on Gender, presided over by the Minister of my ministry herself. Here there were to be presentations on trafficking, domestic violence, and something else. But only the gentleman presenting on trafficking showed. And it was pretty high up people who didn't show. Someone from the MoWA and someone from Ministry of Justice. There was also no AC and the power cut out 5 times. Far cry from the too-cold AC in the conference room of the Intercontinental Hotel at the World Bank deal. But it was interesting to get a little look at the "functioning"of a co-ministry working group. Pressing issues were brought up to address and the next meeting and in choosing between early July or the end of August for the next meeting, they chose August. Which means all of those issues will probably be moot by then. But whatever.
So that's been my job so far. I'm setting up meetings with people from different agencies so I can explore as much as possible this summer, and it looks like I'll be working on putting together an introduction to the domestic violence law, suggesting changes for the upcoming draft laws on education and trafficking, and looking at the labor laws to see where gender can possibly be incorporated. Not sure what will come of all that, but it's a good starting point. Hope everyone is well.

Friday, June 8, 2007

Wahoo...I'm here!

And waiting for room number two to be cleaned for me. Room number one was a closet in the basement with no window, I'll take pictures before I move out. For just $2 more I get windows, room to stand up, and a shower that isn't directly over the toilet. What a deal!
Flights over were fairly uneventful but I met two characters in LAX that are worth some describing, mainly because we all had a long layover together there. First was Trang, lovely young Vietnamese girl who was dressed well, umm, like a hooker. Barely there shorts and knee high boots and a tank top that showed off her hot pink bra. As I was sitting on my luggage waiting to check-in (ticket counter didn't open until 9:00 and I got there at 6:00) when she sauntered my way and decided we should be friends. She was a very nice girl however, and it was fun just to watch everyone stare at her as they walked by. Not much else to do when you've forgotten your Ipod (stupid me). But it was friend #2 that was really something. Sitting waiting for the flight, Randy from Illinois took the seat next to me. I then learned all about his truck driving (including a recent exposure to some sort of deadly gas that he believes he'll need a lawyer for, of course), his best dog ever that played with his coon and ran off with a new puppy (don't they all), and then, when it couldn't get any better, his mail-order Chinese wife who ran off with all his money. They'd corresponded for a year before he flew over to meet her, seemed nice, they got married, he visited a few more times before he could get her to the US, and then she ran off once she got her. Poor guy. I'd have felt more sorry for him if he wasn't flying to Manila to meet the sister and family of his buddy's Phillipino wife. Hopeless romantic. Just hope it all goes well for him.
Well, better go check on my new suite. Going to meet up with my boss this evening so I'll have a better idea of what work I'll be doing. Pictures and stories to come.

Monday, June 4, 2007

And still in Coeur d'Alene

Well, the Cambodia trip got off to a bit of a rough start, seeing as how I'm not there yet and I should be. Thursday afternoon I arrived at the airport, packed and well prepared. Got checked in and found out the flight would be a little late. No problem, had 2 1/2 hours to kill in Seattle before my flight out of there to LA. So we boarded our plane about 20 minutes late and sat there for a few minutes before the pilot announced there was something leaking and they'd have to have the mechanic check it out. 30 minutes later the mechanic arrived. Probably another 30 minutes later they decided they needed to deplane us. 3 hours later, it was apparent there was no way I could make it to Seattle in time to catch my next flight. Which then meant no way to get to LA to catch my flight out of there. And the soonest I can get a new flight from LA to Phnom Penh is this coming Thursday. A little frustrating, but on the plus side I now have a week to kick back a little, unwind from the DC/NY excitement, and do some of the North Idaho outdoor activities I love so much.

Saturday I went up and gathered horses and did a trail ride at the ranch. Then I headed up to Sandpoint to hike Scotchman's Peak on Sunday. That was a great time, even though I found out how terribly out of shape I am! Beautiful views all the way up, and then a friendly mountain goat at the top. Apparently Mr. Scotchman is the peak's mascot, and has discovered that people are a good source of salt. It all makes sense now--I didn't make it to Cambodia this week so that I could have the experience of being licked by a mountain goat.