Archive for June, 2010|Monthly archive page

Good night, moon

By Nicole Meadows

We walked out of the Siem Reap Night Market, and were serenaded by an a capello band of tuk tuk drivers and fish massage attendants.

“Oh, I remember you!” said one female to me. We had passed by the night before.

She had a perky ponytail, bangs and shadow, a pink long tank over leggings. She assured me she wasn’t going to make me, her friend, buy a massage, and I believed her.

She asked where I was from. “America,” I said.

“Oh! United States!” she said, and then pinched my cheek. We exchanged names. She lit up at hearing them.

She had a sparkle in her smile – a tiny white rhinestone embedded in her canine. I complimented it. She complimented my lip ring and pinched my cheek again.

She plucked a small white flower from the pool of fish and handed it to me. It was a jasmine flower, mles.

The flowers were on the water because of Vesak Day, celebrated on the first full moon in May. It is a holiday for the life, enlightenment and passing of Buddha. We saw flowers for sale in the market earlier, and a guy had pointed out to us the bright, round moon behind the grey iridescent clouds.

I had been told of the many traits common to Cambodians, sincerity and genuineness included. I received gifts of both tonight – my new friend squeezing my shoulder and wishing us a good night and good day. I know that tomorrow will be great.

In Seam Reap’s prison: To each its own

By: Kema Hodge

Visiting the prison in Siem Reap was an eye-opening experience in many ways. This prison was unlike any I had ever seen or could imagine.

For one, the prison did not have any electricity. Andrea Ross informed me of that fact prior to our visit. Only those who run the prison have access to electricity by way of generator.

As we walked inside the gate, I noticed pleasing aesthetics. The prison grounds were covered in beautiful, well-maintained flowers, bright plastic decorations, and religious ornaments. All I could do was take pictures as I stood in awe while prisoners freely walked around tending the grounds. They were neither chained nor escorted by guards. They simply wore prison uniforms.

By that time, I was completely out of my element. I didn’t expect much coming into it, but the little that I did anticipate was off.

Once we were signed in, Andrea, Nary, the guard, and I headed to the sewing room. I wanted to talk to women who were learning how to sew while in jail. This surprised me as well. I don’t think that American prisons allow or offer an opportunity for their inmates to learn a skill that will give them a chance at a better life. Yet, all around us were rooms that were open to inmates for classes such as English, musical instruments, and crochet.

As I sat in the small room with no AC unit, no lights, and no form of electronic technology, I was reminded once more that I was not in America. These women were technically considered “dangerous,” yet they, too, did not have handcuffs. Despite that, I showed no fear as interviewed them.

After speaking to them all, I realized that I was sitting in room with two murderers, an accomplice to armed robbery, and a Madame – a woman who previously ran a brothel. Each took the class for the same reason: They hoped to be able to leave jail with an employable skill.

I left the prison with this sentiment: To each country its own. Because, as I also realized on day one, Siem Reap, Cambodia has its own, unique way of doing things.

In Siem Reap’s prison: One woman’s story

By Kema Hodge

Walking down the cement sidewalk, I thought about what words would be exchanged in a room full of prisoners.

Andrea Ross and a woman named Marie helped to start a sewing class for the women at Siem Reap’s prison. I was there to interview them and ask why they chose to take this class, but I was also very interested in knowing why they received time.

Nary, a Journey’s Within B&B staff member, joined us to translate.

The first series of questions I asked were simple questions pertaining to personal information, such as: Name, age, reason for taking the sewing class, and so forth. When I ran out of basic questions, I dared to ask the one that intrigued me most: “Why are you in prison?”

Nary explained that the women did not have to answer the question and then patiently listened while the first woman opted to tell us her story. Even though I did not understand the Khmer she spoke, I followed the expression in her eyes. First, it was shy. She probably didn’t feel fully comfortable telling us her story. Then, her eyes grew big like she was getting into the yarn she spun. As she progressed, I noticed that her eyes revealed sadness, bitterness, and regret.

I turned to Nary when the story was finished to hear her translate. In short, the woman claimed she served as a lookout to her husband’s attempted armed robbery. After turning herself in, the police gave her 18 years.

Shocked by the length of time she was given for being a mere accessory, I expected to hear more inhumane sentences. However, no one else there had received nearly as much time as the first. Even the two women who were convicted of murder only received ten years. 

Corruption or lies? I doubt I’ll ever find out which. My guess is that it’s a little of both going on at Siem Reap’s prison.