Friday, February 24, 2012

Day 3 Reflection

"Everyone needs music in their lives" -Arn Chorn Pond

         My day started bright and early to Bobby McFerrin's Dont Worry be Happy in Khmer.  Rohan and I ambitiously set the radio alarm for five in the morning, in hopes of catching the sunrise over the Mekong.  We set up camp on the roof of the hotel.  However, little did we know that it would be nearly a hour before we would get any glimpse of the sun.

         However, our day was far from slow.  By seven we were speeding down the highway in our massive bus that could fit 30, en route to the E.C.C.C.  Apparently, the travel agency assumed that due to the average Americans weight, we wouldn't be able to fit into a normal 10 person van.  The E.C.C.C. is the joint international and national court set up in 2007 to try senior leaders of the Khmer Rouge and those most responsible for the crimes committed between the years 1975-1979.  A converted military complex, the E.C.C.C. facilities were state of the art, with live video conference and instantaneous translation into English, French and Khmer.  Unfortunately, the court was not meeting in session today, but we were able to see where the accused Khmer leaders were being held, and listen to a presentation by a co-prosecutor.  By 10.30 we were back on the road to meet Arn Chorn Pond, founder of Cambodia Living Arts (CLA).

        Cambodia Living Arts is an NGO committed to keeping alive the rich history of music and art in Cambodia.  During the three and a half year reign of the Khmer Rouge, nearly 90 percent of all artisans were killed.  After surviving the genocide as a patriotic flute player and forced child solider, Arn Chorn Pond was able to escape to the United States were he attended high school and college.  Despite a fear of ever returning, Arn was able to return to Cambodia and start the CLA.  "The art saved me,"explained Arn, "and now I save the art."  Arn charismatically led us through a slew of classrooms interspersed throughout the Bassac Slum, one of the poorest sections of Phenom Penh.  Arn explained that for many of the students, especially the young girls, CLA is the only thing between them and the hundreds of prostitution rings that surround the slum.  "Its life and death for them," explained Arn.  After trying our hand at a Cambodian Xylophone, and being serenaded by an archaic two string guitar, we headed back to the hotel for a quick rest before dinner.

          Arn had kindly invited us over to his house for homemade dinner.  On the bank of the Mekong, Arn's beautiful home lies on the outskirt of Phnom Penh.  Due to the small dirt roads we were unable to take our gigantic mega bus, and were forced to take three tuk-tuks.  We bounced and bumped our way down the crazy streets of Phnom Penh in our motorized cart.  Once at Arn's house we helped pick fresh morniglory and other greens for dinner.  We then visited a bustling food market in the nearby town, where we we able to practice our Khmer with curious street vendors.  As Arn's artist friend cooked the meal of fish and vegetable soup, we took a dip with Arn in the Mekong river.  Jumping off the eroded river bank we crashed into the thick mud and warm water below.  Careful not to open our mouths, we dunked our heads into the murky water where you could hear what Arn described as the singing fish. 

         At last dinner was ready as we sat around in a circle watching the sun set.  Arn told us his story.  Full of energy and passion Arn explained his goals for Cambodia.  If only more people visited Cambodia; not for the prostitution but the culture and the art.  The U.S. dropped thousands of pounds of bombs on Cambodia during the seventies, but where is the U.S. now.  Each one of those bombs could of paid the 400 dollars necessary to send a girl to college for a year in Cambodia.  But you dont make change with money said Arn, "but with relationships".  Only through more cultural exchanges between our two countries can we create the necessary relationships for overcoming the devestating effects of war. Arn a Cambodian-American, believes in a promising future for both his countries, one full of music, art and laughter.

-Daniel Kunin

1 comment:

  1. How fun to read your reflections and see your pictures! The trip looks amazing. Yijin, you're going to be exhausted when you get back. :) But it'll be worth it. ¡Felicidades, estudiantes! Sra. Conner