I started this post the completely wrong way the first round. I wanted to write a “the system” and “big brother rules the west” post, and denied it. Starting from scratch now, I realised that I can’t possibly compare two systems I barley know anything about (because they’re so friggin huge). I can only try and share my feelings of freedom that I get in this place. Since Cambodia is stricken with high percentages of poverty and since Ive only been here for a couple of days, I don’t even think it is possible for me to claim to have a glimpse of understanding what the life in Cambodia is really like. However I can show a certain understanding of how westerners feel especially if they decide to stay here and open a business. It is like there is no one is intervening with their choices. They want to build another building on the land they are renting and only the landlord just has to agree if he really cares. They don’t have alcohol selling or cigarette selling liscences, some places here even sell drugs to tourists. They can do what they want, and can decide to build up they’re own guesthouses. Thanks to globalisation, or the system, or the banks, or materialism, or whatever reason you might come up with, the fact is that Cambodia has a high rate of poverty, and when you’re here you see it inevitably. It makes you think about fairness, global capitalism and those who do not reap the benefits all the time.
But once you see that the only real way to help is action in your environment, then all the westerner owned guesthouses here have the chance to do something really good for Cambdians. I’m not making any claim that all of them do this, but The Siem Reap Hostel for example provides things like maternity leave at full pay, pay 50% over industry standards, 2 weeks paid vacation in addition to 18 days of public holidays and they have tuk-tuk drivers that work at fixed but fair prices. All this is not usually part of the Cambodian industry culture as it is in europe. Thus by setting such an example more Cambodian organisations might implement benefits for its employees, and the people’s overall suffering is reduced.
What however makes me feel like a hypocrite, and is a little worrisome to Cambodian culture, is the arrival of western tourists. The great amount of consumption that comes with every western humanoid is evident at every market. T-shirts, wristbands, fake watches, those loose pants with elephants on them, little Buddha statues or heads, little toys and bits, charger cables in all different colours and shapes, iPhone cases, cameras, more pants with elephants, lumberjack shirts (in friggin SEA), suits, silk, scarfs, woodcarvings, knives and catanas. Every stall in the markets is filled with stuff that we can buy and put on fridges, family members, or the back of some display shelf. And of course, I did my part and bought some stuff for the people at home, but do we need all this stuff? I partly feel I bought the stuff for people at home because I fear the experience wasn’t real if I don’t bring little trinkets that contain the memory, somehow. Or is it because I wanted to show someone I was thinking of them buy giving them stuff? I want people at home to be part of my trip. That is also why I am writing this blog. I want you to feel part of it. But does it help our planet on? No it doesn’t, more stuff means the more trash, more poverty and more suffering thanks to the lack of resources because there is an associated cost.
Then when you’re in the situation you are faced with the dilemma: do I buy some little thing from this woman and give her a faction of the money to send her children to school, or do I contribute actively to society at large and not buy anything at all and only what I really need. Short term or long term solutions? Then also the latter would seem like an excuse, that possibly sounds altruistic but essentially also serves the ego. So do I drop all my plans and build a school, make nobody pay, and just take out loads of bank loans to run it? I feel like doing something significant now, but how? With little life experience and expectations that I still feel attachments to, i.e. finishing with a masters degree, I feel like it is not my time to be able to dedicate significant time and energy into a humanitarian project. Its pretty selfish actually, but I feel that at a point in the relative near future I will be able to dedicate some new skills to those who need it. I could work in the online education community and then travel to involve developing countries. Or I can work online and then volunteer in different communities around the world. Whatever or wherever it is, I will give love, effort and passion to this world and its people.
You may giggle at this goal, but be honest, it is very gratifying to give and then reap smiles and happiness. And wanting to be generous and charitable but feeling unable to do so, makes you crave the freedom this places provides to do something that will make any stranger smile.
So now entering my dream world of living in a sustainable country town that runs on a decentralised resource based system, rather than currency, free from needing to rely on corporations, governments or banks, I would like to make a little addition: it should be placed in a country with a still developing infrastructure. When societal change is happening as fast as it is in low-income countries at the moment, it provides a great window of opportunity for contributing to this change in a mindful, sustainable manner, rather than perpetuating this system of wastefulness and coonfusion. So education programs should be immediately accessible at no cost. And if the town structure works, it ill be copied, if not: well better luck to the next ambitious person that tries. But the chance of it being copied is probably higher in a country where there is little bureaucratic systems holding back change. At least that is my theory, don’t quote me on this.