Heart of Darkness
Cambodia, of all the places I have visited across Asia this one touches my emotions the most. Situated in Phnom Penh stories of violence, murder, lust and debauchery to name a few are common place.
The ‘heart’ is a place that reeks of evil, a place where anything goes. When I’m out and about talking about this area I describe it as a huge mish-mash. To me it had everything thrown in, the unexpected, the norm and the surreal.
An area well known as one of the longest running and most popular nightlife areas, it begins just a block away from the leafy green gentrified riverside. Bars, clubs, 24 hour brothels and secret little alleyways litter the streets, to me it was a scene of chaos and poverty. This sense of “normality” hung like a mist over me, tuk-tuk drivers interspersed with Hummers and other expensive car brands weave in and out amongst the three metre high plus mounds of rubbish. This surreal atmosphere accepted by the residents, almost swept under the carpet attitude, makes way for the real heart of this area, child exploitation-in every form.
Walking along the riverside a lady swept around her home, a small area of cardboard. It struck me how something worthless here was so important to her, her home, all that she had. A few hundred yards along locals exercised on gym equipment. Their view were ladies, watched over by their pimps, they were trying to catch some sleep on benches before a night of work. One lady had a huge bandage on her forehead. I asked about her. She was a victim of years of exploitation, she was a mother, HIV positive, she was dying. A little further along, music blared out as an aerobics class was in full flow, a baby in his nappy crawled around in amongst legs, while drug exchanges passed through hands nearby.
We moved on to the side streets, each with distinct numbers. As I stepped in my sandals avoiding the cockroaches and dirty puddles I noted the children running around bare foot. They were jolting in and out between the cars and tuk tuks. As a mother my immediate instinct was to shout watch out. I asked what are they doing here? I was told, “Laura this is their home.”
On that short walk that early evening I witnessed so much on those streets lined with various bars and massage parlours. I watched one little girl washing her hands in the left over dirty dish water kindly offered to her from a food vendor. Sleeping children being pushed about in buggies which were in fact their beds. Western men of all ages disappearing down alleyways with young boys, beautiful women, many of a very young age standing on the streets, somehow brainwashed into this sense of normality that I previously mentioned. This area was not a walk through and forget situation, my partners wanted to take me there, I suppose to break me in before we ventured deeper into the bars over the next few nights and into the lives of the women they reach out to daily. Women, mothers and sisters, the judged, the used, the trapped, the broken and the lost. It was not a walk to spectate, it was a taster of the lives affected by poverty, corruption, abuse and squalor.
One mother sat on the kerb at the side of the street. She cradled a baby in her arms. Older siblings danced around. A young girl of no more than 8 years stood wearing a pretty white dress. It was then, that feeling, a sickening in the pit of my stomach as the reality sank in. Repetitively used to earn money for her mother, this situation is common. Generations of this cycle pass down, there appeared to be no regret or anxiety featured as I looked into mum’s eyes, as she too experienced a childhood of abuse. Her children now sitting around, the result of her exploitation and the continuing cycle. I think of my daughter, the same age.
Further down in amongst the noise, chaos and rubbish sat a little bunny rabbit on the pavement. It was so tiny it would have easily fit onto the palm of my hand. I wondered why it was there, to me it was a symbol. God was showing me its vulnerability and exposure. Yes, it was lost in the darkness, trapped in the cycle, but it held no comparison to the children that are living on the streets of Phnom Penh in the heart of darkness.
Our partners are working tirelessly with these vulnerable women and their families. Personally speaking with them on a daily basis, building up relationships, sharing love, mapping out safe routes to a new and better life. Together in this partnership we strive to seek out, show love and rescue as many of these women and children as possible. At no point is this article stretched or exaggerated for effect. It is the true reality and the raw emotions I experienced during my time spent in the Heart of Darkness.
Please pray for:
- The safety of our partners as they continue to work in this dangerous area.
- Continued opportunities to work with the families and women in the bars.
- Strength as this work can be emotionally draining.
- Financial support to continue reaching out and working alongside the women.
Many thanks for your continued support.