After I’d calmed down enough from Toul Sleng prison to breathe, we headed back to the bus. We had a little time left before the rest of our group reappeared, so J, N, and I dropped in to a shop that sold handicrafts made by women. The place was full of beautiful silk scarves, beaded handbags, little toys made from raw silk, pretty little bags… The women sat on the floor, piles of sparkling beads and glowing threads in front of them in little baskets. They were relentlessly cheerful and friendly, testing out their English, working away on their detailed projects, and they were all missing limbs.
On the streets of Siem Riep and the approach walkways to the Angkor temples, groups of musicians played traditional Cambodian music, a rhythmic, repetitive, hypnotic sound that blended with the heat and the dust. It was all minor keys and strumming percussion, the sound of mediation. (There are some mp3s here.) The musicians sold CDs, smiled and nodded when we dropped our spare change in their baskets, and they were all missing limbs and/or were blind.
Cambodia breaks your heart in so many ways. If you’re looking to help, here are a few organizations that could use your money.
- Adopt a Minefield works not only to clear mines, but to provide prosthetic limbs and training to landmine victims.
- Artisan’s Association of Cambodia provides support to groups making and selling fair trade handicrafts. The site’s a little weird to use, but if you click any of the icon thingies scrolling across the bottom, you’ll be taken to online stores where you can buy fair trade crafts – and Cambodian silk is really so pretty.
- Kiva is a site for administering microloans to small scale entrepreneurs; their Cambodia applicants are here. (Reader and guest blogger Lisa made a NEV inspired donation, and that rules.)
- Stay Another Day is a website that lists sustainable and community minded projects. Their Cambodia section is here. We visited a handful of these places while we were in Cambodia, some on purpose, some just because we fell in the door. If you’re traveling, make time for any or all of these places.