Sunday, January 25, 2009

Where to start?

Well it's been a couple days since I last blogged, and so much has gone on since then -- where can I start? I am a bit surprised, though, that no one's posted yet about our experience yesterday morning which took place before our designated daily activities, so I'll take this opportunity to tell that story.

The night before last, at around 2am, I was awakened by a complaining Faith -- "do you hear that?!" she asked. The faint sound of someone speaking on a megaphone was making it's way through our 2nd story window. We made little of it, and I quickly fell back asleep, though Faith (who was right next to the window) spent the remainder of the night disturbed by that and other unusual noises coming from the street.

The next morning, not thinking anything of it, we went down to eat breakfast on the terrace outside our hotel only to find hundreds of people milling about on the street in front of a barricade. Our fellow MIIS students promptly informed us that the last slum in Phnom Penh, which we had seen standing just the day before, and which was located about half a block from our hotel, was being evacuated and demolished. "Major human rights violation!" Sarah said.

Of course, most of us weren't terribly interested in breakfast, so many of us spent our morning trying to get in on the scene. Faith grabbed the video camera from the room and jumped on a few interesting people to interview (including a missionary working in the slum, a director of an art program in the slum, a BBC reporter, and someone from Human Rights Observer), and while I can't post the video here now (mainly because I'm not quite sure how!), I can give you the jist of what we learned from them:

Apparently the evacuation started without warning at midnight the night before, though many had expected it would eventually come as much as 3 years earlier, at which point the development company began negotiations with the families there to move them out. Basically, the land which the slum was located on is worth $44 million, and 120 families were living there. According to most lawyers, the families actually have a legal claim to the land, as they've been living there for longer than the required period of time. However, a development company named 7MG is now claiming the land and has offered the option of either $20,000 (only 5% of the land's market value, but up from earlier offers) or a new plot of land located 22km outside of the city to each of the families for their moving. Unfortunately, as much as $20,000 may sound like to a family living on less than a few dollars per day, it is not enough to find a place to live in a comparable location in Phnom Penh due to the rising property values and heavy development in the city, and to relocate so far outside the city would mean that these people would no longer have access to the jobs or schooling that is present in their current location. Additionally, no one is actually sure whether or not, and if so, how, 7MG will actually go about allocating that $20,000 to each family, and many believe that the "offering" was really more of a publicity stunt to pacify the media and human rights activists. A few families, not knowing any better, moved out awhile ago, and received compensation in the amount of $5000-$7000. And about a week ago, the company paid off some of the most well-known artists from the slum with $60,000 to move out early so as to reduce press attention.

Anyway, that is most of what I know, though if any other bloggers have further details please throw them in! Of course, this is not the first time a slum has been emptied either in Cambodia or elsewhere, and - as many of us have talked about here - it's important to recognize that this sort of thing is happening all around the world on a daily basis, even in places like the United States (albeit perhaps more subtle in form, or at least presented with a greater aura of morality and legality). Still, it would be a mistake to observe this as a uniquely corrupt Cambodian, or even third-world, occurence.

In any case, though, I'm running late for breakfast, so I'll leave it up to the others to describe the remainder of our day yesterday, which was pretty intense on its own! (torture center and Killing Fields, anyone?)

Will write more later! ;)