It's now Tuesday at 5:30 PM and I just got back to my hotel from a very wet motto ride through the city. I just finished my second day of work, a volunteer position that I basically created on Friday last week. The biggest news since my last update is the success of the meetings that I had last Friday. I had two meetings that day, both with people that I had established contact with while in Las Cruces, and was invited to meet with upon arriving in Cambodia. Once I arrived last week I sent out emails again to the contacts that seemed the most promising/positive and tried to arrange meeting times. My first meeting on Friday was at 9:30 AM and the first trick was figuring out how to get to the office. The day before the meeting I broke out my handy dandy city map and had a nice long chat with my new friend Mao, who works at the reception desk at my hotel. Phnom Penh is laid out is a relatively structured way, but there can be many surprises. After the city was torn apart after years of civil war with the Khmer Rouge, the French helped shape the city and established a numbering system for streets and buildings. The system is a little crazy and not super reliable. You will pass by buildings numbered 14, 17, 11, 11C, 11A...you get used to it though, just means you have to allow extra time to find a place and leave super early.
After the discussion with Mao I had a general idea of where the office was and drew a bit of the route on my map. I had to do the same with the other organization I was visiting later that afternoon. On the morning of my meetings I met a motto driver outside of the hotel and did my best trying to describe to him where the building was. The drivers know some street numbers but not all and don't have the luxury of the on-board GPS like the cab drivers in the U.S. Just a little behind those times. He figures out the street number and we started driving. I wasn't too worried since I had so much time, but as we continued driving I progressively became more worried. We stopped at the intersection of the road I was supposed to be on and the road the borders the river. At this point I knew we were supposed to be entirely across the city to the west. I pointed and tried to say, "Down this road, all the way, as far as it goes." He eventually got the message and we were on our way, by-passing various construction detours in our path. I arrived at my destination 15 minutes early and was met with smiling Cambodian faces. I had an hour long discussion with the country focal point and secretary general of Cambodia Against Child Trafficking (ACTs). Cambodia ACTs is a network of 12 local Cambodian NGOs which fight to eradicate child trafficking and sexual manipulation through grassroots education and legal efforts.
I took notes during the meeting and recorded it on a small tape recorder that I bought at a Sony store in Phnom Penh for the interviews. After the interview we continued the discussion and I asked if I could help in the office at all or if I could join them on any trips to the field. They were very accepting to both and I have now spent two full days writing policy for the organization and I will join them on a trip to some shelters near the Vietnam border. They are picking me up at my hotel tomorrow morning at 6:30 and we won't be back until around 10:00 at night.
The other interview I had was with The Asia Foundation, an American NGO based in San Francisco and Washington DC. I spoke with the Counter Trafficking in Persons Chief of Party and our discussion led to many future contacts with the UN, ILO, IOM, and governmental agencies. I have a meeting with the UNIAP (United Nations Inter Agency Project on Human Trafficking in the Greater Mekong Sub-Region) personnel on Friday and have been told about a library here in Phnom Penh set up by UNIAP with resources on trafficking to inform people of the issue. This will be a great place to start researching documents.
I've also been really enjoying the food. The local Khmer food is a fusion mix of Thai and Chinese (lots of noodles and fried rice) and I even had some Tex-Mex last night. I also bought a motorcycle helmet since I have a long ride to work everyday. The motto driver that took me to Cambodia ACTs the first day is now pretty much my personal driver since he's the only one who knows where it is. He meets me at my hotel at 8:30 every morning and is there to pick me up from work at 5:00.
I'm now off to find a new place to eat, maybe some Indian food tonight.