Advertising | Metro Eireann | Top News | Contact Us
Governor Uduaghan awarded the 2013 International Outstanding Leadership Award  •   South African Ambassador to leave  •   Roddy's back with his new exclusive "Brown-Eyed Boy"  •  
Print E-mail

Paradise lost?

Last update - Thursday, July 2, 2009, 15:50 By Robert Carry

A lengthy journey by motorbike and make-shift ferry brought me to Mekong Island and the home of my Cambodian friend Narun – an orphaned Khmer Rouge survivor and former soldier turned motodup driver and family man. Most Cambodians survive on less than a dollar a day, and although Narun’s family had a solid roof over their heads, they had little else. There was no running water or electricity and, I would quickly discover, sanitation was of a sort not seen in the west for centuries.

 I didn’t want us to arrive empty-handed, so Narun and I visited a market in Phnom Penh at the start of our journey. A tropical climate meant we were spoiled for choice in the fruit and vegetable stakes, but this was no Tesco. Meat was butchered and displayed on plastic sheets laid out on the grimy, watery walkways without any refrigeration. Flies crawled over bristly pig hinds, stunned plucked chickens and the roaring, red-fingered women who sold them.
Nothing really appealed so I gestured for Narun to take the lead. He pawed his way through several piles of assorted body parts before selecting and bagging up a few cuts that cost practically nothing. Even so, his children skipped on the spot and his wife beamed shyly when I handed over the bag of food.
Narun showed me inside his one-roomed house which acted, more-or-less exclusively, as a communal bedroom. I dumped my bag beside the blanket I would sleep on, laid out under a mosquito net, and headed under the house to the sandy patch of earth between the teak stilts which acted as the living area of their home.
As Narun’s wife busied herself frying meat and steaming rice in the semi-outdoor kitchen, one of his daughters returned from a mission to round up the neighbourhood kids so they too could come and stare at the oddly pale young man who was visiting their home.
Narun’s youngest daughter remained where she was, staring gauntly from a hammock strung between two of the uprights. “She sick,” said Narun, nodding towards the shrunken child who had charged out to greet him only to return to her hammock, coughing pitifully as she went.
 “No doctors on the island?” I asked, already presuming the answer.
 “Have clinic near to where we took ferry – on the mainland,” Narun answered. He dropped his head and stroked his daughter’s hair and I didn’t need to ask why the child hadn’t been taken there. It was because her father couldn’t afford it.
As darkness fell upon us neighbours started arriving en masse, bringing various dishes and treats with them for the celebration the arrival of a stranger apparently warranted. I asked Narun if there were any shops nearby where we might get a few beers to help oil the conversational wheels, which had ground to a halt due to the fact that Narun was the only other in our number with any English. A young man was duly dispatched and returned with a grin and a slab of beer cans. We had a good time by the light of a fire – we had mimed conversations, stuffed our faces with nameless foodstuffs and got fairly hammered.
 When it came time to hit the hay, I stumbled up the steps of Narun’s house and crawled under the mosquito net. Drunk as I was, though, I got very little sleep. There’s no more heartbreaking a thing to listen to than the sound of a mother trying helplessly to calm a sick, coughing, whimpering child in the darkness.
At first glance the simplistic life lived by Cambodia’s rural poor could almost be paradise. It’s a verdant country which generously provides all the fresh fruit, vegetables and meat one could eat. But scratch the surface and you see exactly how valuable the technological and economic advancements made elsewhere in the world really are.
The cost of paying for medical treatment for Narun’s daughter came to US$40 US – a virtual pittance for someone in the west. Unfortunately, it’s more than a month’s wages for the average Cambodian, and in all likelihood her illness would have gone untreated had a random foreigner not wandered into the picture at the right time to earn some easy karma points.

To be continued...

Latest News:
Latest Video News:
Photo News:
Kerry drinking and driving
How do you feel about the Kerry County Councillor\'s recent passing of legislation to allow a limited amount of drinking and driving?
I agree with the passing, it is acceptable
I disagree with the passing, it is too dangerous
I don\'t have a strong opinion either way
Quick Links