How can you not like or maybe even love, Rick Campanelli? Rick The Temp back in the mid nineties. I didn’t know him then as that, but I sure knew him as a Much Music VeeJay. One of the women I work with wanted to now if he was as cute in person as he is on TV – fun that I was recently able to hang out with him in Cambodia. Yes that’s Cambodia. Not a restaurant on the Danforth. We traveled the Mekong together in a long tail boat, ferrying across to the North Eastern part of the country to a town called Stung Treng, we wandered through Angkor Wat together and had a few laughs along the way.
Stung Treng is a province and town that is at risk in so many difficult ways. Unexploded ordinance. Landmines, the drug trade, human trafficking, and corruption of various kinds can be found quite easily. So too can a beautiful and friendly people filled with grace, generosity and who cook wonderful food.
We spent the night in a hotel that had an elevator in it. That’s a big deal in this part of the world. Course it didn’t work as soon as more than four people were on it and it happened to be the only elevator in town. We had a few laughs with some Vietnamese folk about the overweightness of our groups together. They got off in a hurry and Rick and I stayed on. Not sure why.
It’s the kind of place where there are VISA and MC stickers all over the front desk and windows and yet when it comes time to check out of the hotel the technology doesn’t work. Cash is King and Queen in the many countries sin the Global South. You know the kind of place I’m talking about. Stung Treng is an area that is rife with Malaria and yet ripe for development. We visited a few communities and saw some incredible work being done by Speroway through their partner AOC. It’s a groundbreaking Agricultural facility that is dealing with contextual issues of various kinds built within even more complicated local context. Projects of these kinds only work when local issues and concerns are seen as relevant and essential to understanding before moving ahead with any kind of solution. AOC knows this after having worked for 20 years in Cambodian development.
Rick and I got to bond a little as we rode motorbikes through some rural communities visiting families involved in various AOC projects. We shared a few local Cambodian meals together and even a fancy drink or two. They came with little bamboo umbrellas in them. Pretty sure they call it Happy Hour there as well. We became better friends, broke through the surface and dug a little deeper as we wandered Pub Street together and plunged our feet into a fish tank full of hungry fish. A fish massage – fun, ticklish and a little creepy. Gara Ruffa fish proceeded to eat the dead skin off of our feet. We gathered quite a crowd. Actually I think that was mostly Rick. Think he may be a star in Siem Reap as well. We also connected a little over a few gorgeous thunderstorms, miserable tiger mosquitoes and large noisy Geckos. Bite your head off man.
Probably one of my favorite memories though was made as a group of us had a Khmer massage together. It’s a pretty traditional event. One big room. 7 foreigners. Barang as they call us in Cambodia. And 7 women with strong hands, beautiful smiles and all the right physiotherapeutic moves. We all felt a little more stretched, relaxed and laid back an hour later. 5 dollars. Not bad at all.
We travelled to Prey Veng and visited a school. It’s an area where the filmmaker Kalyanee Mam was born. She was the DOP on the Oscar Winning film called Inside Job. It was there we screened her new award wining film called: A River Changes Course. It’s a brilliant film about the strength of the Cambodian sport, international development and the will to survive. This area in Prey Veng is under water much of the year. It’s part of what’s called the “great greenbelt” in Cambodia. Rich, silty soil and lots of fish in the area. The child mortality rates here are some of the highest in all of Cambodia. Malaria, dysentery, lack of sanitation and toilets and so on. Difficult issues. Difficult solutions. Context within local context.
Rick was part of a school supply distribution team. He helped give away paper, books, pens and clothes to students in the area. We then watched the film together in the community schoolhouse. The electrical supply coming from a generator, the sound system driven in on the back of a truck. It was an amazing day.
As we made our way back to the longboat for the hot ride home over the flooded farmland, we talked about what we had just been a part of. We both felt the tension and Rick turned to me and said, “It just isn’t right. It just isn’t fair.”
Rick is right. There is very little justice when it comes to the global economic gap, the gender disparity we see around the world and the degree to which human rights are often ignored in so many countries. All of these things don’t only happen in places like Cambodia. They happen right here at home as well. Canada is not immune from these kinds of concerns.
The world has never been flat don’t you know.
All of this is so wrong, which of course makes Rick so right.