Archive for the ‘About’ Category

Reflecting on the Genocide

Monday, February 11th, 2013

Before going to Cambodia, I knew nothing about the culture, history, and barely the location. I remember writing a paper in ninth grade about Pol Pot and the genocide that occurred in the 1970s, but I couldn’t even remember what I wrote about. In history classes, I remember talking about the Rwandan genocide a lot more in depth and for a longer time than the short amount of time we spent on the genocide that occurred in Cambodia.

From 1975-1979, approximately 1.7 million people lost their lives (about 21% of the country’s population). With so many loved ones lost, especially so recently, it was hard to believe that the beautiful country I was seeing had seen so much violence. On our second day in Cambodia we visited the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum in Phnom Pehn. As we walked up to the building, I felt an instant shift in attitudes and emotions of myself and others around me.

The Gallows

The Gallows

The genocide museum buildings used to be a high school before the reign of the Khmer Rouge, but now house the horrible memories of torture and death. As soon as you walk into the courtyard of these three buildings, there is a plot of land that contains the graves of the last prisoners. Looking to the left of this are tall beams in the shape of a goal post with three huge pots in front of it. Our tour guide explained to use that these posts used to have wire hanging from the top beam where prisoners would be interrogated, tied by their hands, and lifted upside down until they lost consciousness. After losing consciousness, they would be dunked into filthy, smelly water (usually used to fertilize crops) where they would then gain consciousness again and continued to be interrogated. This is known as The Gallows. Every aspect of the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum is horrifying in the most disturbing way, but seeing and hearing about the Gallows instantly made me clench my jaw and a giant lump in my throat formed.

Recreation of the Gallows

Recreation of the Gallows

Each building housed thousands of prisoners throughout the reign of the Khmer Rouge. In the first building we entered, a single metal framed bed with no mattress stood in the middle of the still blood-stained tiles. On the wall hung a graphic picture of a tortured and deceased prisoner with a blood puddle still under the bed frame. You hear about so many horrible things, specifically associated with genocide, and I personally find it so hard to imagine other human beings being so evil and cruel. I know these things happen and I know they have

Picture on Wall next to Metal Bed Frame

Picture on Wall next to Metal Bed Frame

happened throughout history, but being so closely surrounded by the faces of so many captured, imprisoned, tortured, electrocuted, and deceased innocent people tore at my heart. Some people say they’re thankful for not living in poverty or even not living in a third world country, but I’m thankful my family hasn’t been torn apart by war and corruption. I can only imagine as a third party how much the genocide affected and changed so many Cambodian’s lives while living in fear for years and wondering if they will ever see certain family members again.

Barbed Wire Over Building

Barbed Wire Over Building

Walking past the second building we noticed barbed wire encasing it and asked our tour guide about it. She responded that a prisoner had jumped from a higher level to commit suicide and the Khmer Rouge wouldn’t have this. Death was in their hands, as they saw it, and no one would take “the easy way out”. The Khmer Rouge wanted to interrogate and torture whomever and whenever they pleased, and would shackle prisoners to their cells while waiting for interrogation. The cells were constructed of slapped together bricks that barely looked stable, but seemed to do the job of isolating each and every prisoner.

Isolated Cells

Isolated Cells

Everyone who passed through the walls of the Genocide Museum were photographed, documented, and numbered. The numbers indicated when and in what order they came and went. Some had the same number on the same date signifying the rate at which the prisoner before had been tortured and killed. Thousands of faces stare back at you as you walk through the second building. Women, men, and children of all ages seep uncertainty and fear from their eyes. Looking at so many faces and knowing what has happened to them made me question so many things about my life, the world, and the cruelty throughout history.

A Fraction of the Prisoners

A Fraction of the Prisoners

Intellectuals, educated people, professionals, Buddhists, monks, religious enthusiasts, Muslims, Christians, ethnic Chinese, Vietnamese, Thai, and many other victims were considered “potential opposition”. Survival during the Khmer Rouge was related to work, therefore the elderly, handicapped, and ill suffered large casualties. Factories, schools, hospitals, and other private institutions were shut down. Religion was banned. Temples and churches were burned. Cambodian society was transformed into fear and death.

A popular Khmer slogan reads, “To spare you is no profit, to destroy you is no loss.”

The Rules

The Rules

After the Vietnamese invasion in 1978, the genocide ended, but a whole new set of problems arose. The economy suffered greatly due to such a decrease in population and loss of institutions. Education, health, and many other aspects reflected the damaged country. In 1991 a peace agreement was finally reached and Buddhism was reinstated as the official state religion. Although today the country is doing much better, there are still effects of the genocide. Not only is the economy affected, but doctors, teachers, artists, and other professionals are still lacking in number. These are the people that help the country grow and without them stagnant growth is likely. Corruption is still relevant within the Cambodian government. I think if more people were made aware of the tragedies the Cambodia people have faced and how much any aid would benefit, there could be grater change.

I am so amazed and captivated by the strength I see throughout the Cambodian People. The genocide was so recent and so many families will never be the same. Every day people continue to go to work and do what they can to earn a living to support their family and their selves. There is never a day off. Their priorities differ than many Americans I know in the sense that they focus on how to survive day by day. Many Cambodians have relatives and parents who lost their lives during the Khmer Rouge. Dealing with loss is one thing, but dealing with a corrupt government and the fear of a reoccurring massacre is unsettling, but every Cambodian I met refuses the sympathy they deserve. I respect every Cambodian for their culture, work ethic, and dedication to life and family. When I look back on my experience in Cambodia, I instantly become happy and nostalgic. I want to spend a part of everyday being reminded of everything I saw and experienced while there because I know it will put my thoughts into prospective.

Unemployment and Poverty

Monday, February 11th, 2013

All over the world, countries are struggling with poverty and unemployment. Currently in the U.S. poverty guidelines for a household of three is $19,530; for four is $23,550; for five is $27,570; and for 6 is $31,590. The current unemployment rate as of January 2013 is 7.9, which has decreased over the years but is still considered high. The unemployment rate as of 2007 in Cambodia was listed at 3.5% which is much lower than the United States rates over the past years. The labor force in Cambodia, by occupation as of 2009 consisted of 57.6% agriculture, 15.9% industry, and 26.5% services. Although Cambodia’s unemployment rate is much lower than the U.S., Cambodians do not make anywhere close to the amount of money as Americans do and their jobs usually consist of street vendors or selling anything they can. The average income in Cambodia is about $1 a day and between $50-$80 a month, depending on profession.

Street Vendor in Phnom Penh

Street Vendor in Phnom Penh

Walking down the streets in Phnom Penh, you will pass many homeless people from all ages. Mothers asleep on a floor mat with their babies cradled against their chest are a common sight. Crippled, disabled, and sometimes suffering from diseases, many homeless Cambodians hold out their hand to you as you pass by on the street. It is so hard to see this every day. It is even harder not know what to do. Young children will come up to you on a daily basis and ask you to buy bracelets, books, and movies. If you say “no thank you”, they will ask why. It is a legitimate question, but so difficult to answer. Why can’t we help these people? Why do they have to suffer every day? Why do they have to worry about when they will have their next meal? These questions ran through my mind every day in Cambodia, and I still think about them now. The frustrating part is that I have yet to come up with an answer. I want to help these people, but how?

Although the U.S. struggles with unemployment and poverty, it seems less dominant as you walk down a street. Maybe it’s because we have government actions, or maybe it is just the areas I’ve been to. Whatever the reason I think it is important to acknowledge these facts. Maybe if more people are aware then more people will come together and think of new and better ideas that can help solve the problems of unemployment and poverty all over the world. At least I can be hopeful.

Final Blog Post: The Lingering Effects of the Khmer Rouge in 21st Century Cambodia

Monday, February 11th, 2013

Everyone has a story.  The tour guides, the landlords, the waiter at every restaurant on every street.  If you are a citizen of Cambodia, you have a story about the horrors that happened to you or your family during the Khmer Rouge.  Sometimes, people are open to sharing their stories.  While in the Mondolkiri jungle with us one day, our tour guide Mot recounted how his father was digging his own grave during the Khmer Rouge, only to be saved by volunteering to climb up a coconut tree and extract the fruit.  Sometimes, they are not.  When pressing Tra’s landlord for details on what happened to her during the Khmer Rouge, all she would tell me was that she went to the countryside, and then came back.  Either way, the Khmer Rouge is a time period for Cambodia that every surviving citizen remembers, however unwillingly.  The memories are not the only remnants of the Khmer Rouge period, however.  It has only been 34 years since the Vietnamese overthrew Pol Pot and his Khmer Rouge regime, which was the ruling party from 1975 through 1979.  In this blog post, I will further explore how the Khmer Rouge’s reign continually affects the Cambodia and its peoples demographically, economically, and culturally.

Demographically, Cambodia is currently experiencing the effects of a “lost generation”.  Anywhere from 1.7 to 3 million people died during the Khmer Rouge.  That is one eighth of the entire population at that time.  About half of these deaths were by executions, while the other half were from starvation and disease that occurred as a side effect of the Khmer Rouge.  Two major issues in modern-day Cambodia arise from these deaths.  Firstly, the elderly who survived Khmer Rouge now have no one to care for them in their old age, since their children were killed.  In Cambodian culture, it is a matter of course to take in your parents once they can no longer support themselves—in fact, having children is seen as insurance towards your future survival.  Because of the Khmer Rouge, however, a substantial amount of the generation of caretakers is dead, and parents who outlived them now have nowhere to live and no money to support themselves.  Therefore, the amount of homeless, elderly Khmer people on the streets has increased dramatically.

 

Bones and teeth of the lost generation from a mass grave outside of Phnom Penh.

Bones and teeth of the lost generation from a mass grave outside of Phnom Penh.

The second issue that arises because of this “lost generation” is tied in to the economic impacts of the Khmer Rouge; that is, there is a loss of skilled workers.  When Pol Pot was elected, he immediately rolled out his “Year Zero” manifesto, demanding that Cambodia return to an agrarian, pre-industrialized society.  Because of this demand, Pol Pot ruthlessly killed professors, doctors, lawyers, artisans, economists, and the like, to ensure that their intellect would not threaten his powers.  In the present day Cambodia, this genocide means that there are not enough seasoned, educated professionals in the workplace to adequately balance and manage the number of rising intellectuals.  In the words of the CIA World Factbook, “The major economic challenge for Cambodia over the next decade will be fashioning an economic environment in which the private sector can create enough jobs to handle Cambodia’s demographic imbalance.”  The Khmer Rouge killed who would have managed the rising number of new, educated workers in 2013’s Cambodia.  Because of the lack of private sector jobs, it is much easier for young Cambodians to employ themselves in garment factories, where it is nearly impossible to experience upward mobility within the company, therefore perpetuating the Cambodian cycle of poverty.

Young people gathering outside the palace in Phnom Penh

Young people gathering outside the palace in Phnom Penh

During the Khmer Rouge, the governments’ main goal was to increase the amount of agricultural production of rice.  The Khmer Rouge emphasized the importance of farming, and did not support cities or urban life. Now, 34 years later, this attitude still affects Cambodia’s infrastructure, specifically, its roads.  As people and the constitutional monarchy attempt to rebuild their lives after the Khmer Rouge, they have not been able to prioritize the necessary monetary funds it takes to keep up the building of roads and highways in Cambodia as quickly as the amount of vehicular transportation grows.  Therefore, the best roads in Cambodia are those that either the Chinese built for their own private purposes (exemplified as the road from Phnom Penh to Mondolkiri), or those that run from Phnom Penh to any other major city, such as Sianhoukeville or Siem Riep. These connecting roads are essentially cleared dirt or gravel paths, usually only large enough for two lanes.  The quality of roads is either vastly inferior or nonexistent when concerning any other places besides these major cities.

A typical Cambodian road

A typical Cambodian road

The effect of the lack of infrastructure on modern Cambodians is great— transporting ones’ self to and from work becomes long, expensive (in having to pay a driver monthly), and dangerous, especially when you must commute in a van that fits tens more people in it than intended.  Besides commuting to and from work, lack of proper roads also leads to inefficiency in the countrywide distribution of goods and food.  When cities in the same country cannot rely on each other for trade in food and goods, the overall country suffers, as each city must “fend for themselves”, making prosperity and an escape from poverty unlikely.

Look outside of the bus windows-- note the amount of people on the vehicle.  This is extremely common.

Look outside of the bus windows– note the amount of people on the tuk tuk. This is extremely common.

Another economic issue that spurred from the Khmer Rouge reign is the weakness of the Cambodian monetary unit, the riel.  During the Khmer Rouge, Pol Pot banned the use of money, and even printed its own banknotes (which never caught on as currency yet we saw at the Landmine Museum in Siem Riep).  In 1980, after the Khmer Rouge, the riel was re-introduced as a form of currency, yet with nothing to “back” the currency, inflation quickly took hold.  Comparing the 1979 6th issue of the riel, in denominations of 0.1 Riel, 0.2 Riel, 0.5 Riel, 1 Riel, 5 Riel, 10 Riel, 20 Riel, 50 Riel, to the 12th issue of the riel (2001-2008) issuing only 50 Riel, 100 Riel, 500 Riel, 1000 Riel, 2000 Riel, 5000 Riel, 10,000 Riel, 20,000 Riel, 50,000 Riel, it is easy to see that inflation is enormous and their money, weak.  Therefore, the U.N flooded the Cambodian economy with US Dollars in 1993, and today the USD is used as their primary form of currency for anything over 1USD—riel is used essentially as change.  When a country does not even have a strong currency, how is it expected to successfully function on a local, let alone global, scale?  The lack of a successful, self-backing Cambodian currency is a direct result of the Khmer Rouge.

Banknotes printed by the Khmer Rouge

Banknotes printed by the Khmer Rouge

The Khmer Rouge affected Cambodian peoples culturally not only by giving them a shared experience of trauma and genocide.  Firstly, it executed musicians and artists, which therefore caused Cambodia to lose many of its traditional songs, dances, musical instruments, and myths.  Oral tradition and other skill not written down were wiped out.  Even if tradition was recorded, the Khmer Rouge burned thousands of books as a symbol against intellectualism.

On a greater scale, the Khmer Rouge wiped out ethnic minorities.  As Pol Pot longed to reestablish the great Angkor Empire that once ruled Southeast Asia, he executed many ethnic minorities, as the only “pure” Cambodian “race”, as seen by the Khmer Rouge, was of course, the Khmer people—believed to be direct descendants from the Angkor Empire.  Today demographically, the Khmer people make up 90% of the population, with Vietnamese at 5%, Chinese at 1%, and other Cambodian ethnic minorities at 4%, collectively.  Cambodia is the least ethnically diverse country in Southeast Asia because of Pol Pot.  Much like the Native Americans in America today, ethnic groups in Cambodia such as Muslim Chams, are regarded by the majority “race” as “less than”, and are subject to discrimination and social isolation.  Because of the poor attitude the Khmers have about ethnic minorities, they are less likely to get hired by Khmer, further isolating the minority and lessening their chance for economic prosperity and an escape from the cycle of poverty.

Scenes from an ethnic village in Mondolkiri

Scenes from an ethnic village in Mondolkiri

Despite the Khmer Rouge’s horrific effect on Cambodia, the Khmer people continue to improve their country every day.  According to the CIA World Factbook, “Since 2004, garments, construction, agriculture, and tourism have driven Cambodia’s growth.  GDP climbed more than 6% per year between 2010 and 2012.”  Things are looking up for Cambodians.  More and more citizens are able to leave their villages in order to get work in the cities.  There is free public schooling, an increase in tourism and therefore economic boosts, and a worldwide increase in acknowledgement and education about the Khmer Rouge period.

I will conclude my final blog post with a memory:  During my second day in Cambodia, as we rode in a tuk tuk towards the garment factories, Dr. Rallis pointed towards the shallow pool of dirty swamp water that ran alongside our road.  In the brown water grew lotus flowers, which he informed us were considered by Cambodians to be the most beautiful flower.  Dr. Rallis stated that Cambodians consider the lotus flower to be a metaphor for the Khmer people.  The lotus flower grows in harsh conditions—dirty, muddy water.  However, it rises above its environment and blooms into a beautiful and usefully edible plant. While Cambodia still faces many struggles as it rebuilds, it’s important to note that the country has already made incredible strides and its future, while challenging, is hopeful.

Acknowledging the past, yet looking towards the future.

Acknowledging the past, yet looking towards the future.

 

Sources:

“Central Intelligence Agency.” CIA. Central Intelligence Agency, n.d. Web. 11 Feb. 2013. <https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/cb.html>.

William Shawcross, The Quality of Mercy: Cambodia, Holocaust, and Modern Conscience (Touchstone, 1985), p115-6.

“International Economics – Historial Exchange Rate Regime of Asian Countries.” International Economics – Historial Exchange Rate Regime of Asian Countries. The Chinese University of Hong Kong, n.d. Web. 09 Feb. 2013. <http://intl.econ.cuhk.edu.hk/exchange_rate_regime/index.php?cid=1

Tourism in Cambodia

Monday, February 11th, 2013

Being a tourist can have many negative connotations associated with in. In the United States many natives get annoyed by all the people stopped with their camera popped up, holding up traffic in a crowded street. In Cambodia, however, for the most part the natives enjoy tourism and appreciate it because it increases business and revenue. There are many forms of tourism, but we mainly experienced mass tourism, ecotourism, sustainable tourism, and educational tourism while in Cambodia.

Experiencing different types of tourism made me examine the different perspectives of traveling to other places and being immersed into other cultures. Although I personally believe the best way to experience a different culture is to be surrounded in it, I do think there are certain approaches that are better than others. In my opinion, mass tourism limits your experience and perception of what you are seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, and touching. The main place we experienced mass tourism was at Angkor Wat. Many tourists who travel to Cambodia only do so to see the magnificent temples and once they have, they leave. There are so many beautiful and amazing cities and places to see and experience in Cambodia, but some only see Angkor Wat

Angkor Wat

Angkor Wat

as the one and only attraction. This mindset bothered me when I first found out about it because although the temples are a definite must see, you are not truly emerging yourself into the culture and history of the Cambodian People by just walking through the temples. The mass tourism I saw at Angkor Wat consisted of thousands of people carrying huge cameras and stopping every couple steps to snap a shot of the temple or someone they were with in front of it. At one specific temple there was a large Korean tourist group of about 20-30 that took turns taking pictures of each other in front of a temple in the same exact pose, holding there index and middle finger up in the peace sign. I watched this happen for at least fifteen minutes. It was intriguing in an annoying way. I know everyone experiences things differently, but I couldn’t help but wonder why they were more interested in posing for pictures rather than taking it all in, and trust me, there is so much to take in. I have to wonder if tourists like that care more about having proof they were there and saw the famous Angkor Wat temples rather than understanding the history and importance behind it especially for the Cambodian People.

Bou Sra Waterfall

Bou Sra Waterfall

Besides the mass tourism I experienced, we were lucky enough to visit some beautiful waterfalls and villages in Mondulkiri. Ecotourism is defined as responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves the well-being of local people. I loved seeing the massive waterfalls in person and even climbing a few in the process, but when it came to visiting the minority villages, something didn’t sit right with me. Eighty percent of Mondulkiri’s population is made up of ten tribal minorities. We were able to visit two of these minorities, but as soon as we arrived at the first village, I felt a sense of intrusion. Although most of the people seemed to enjoy our presence, especially with many younger children calling out “hello” and waving with a smile, I couldn’t help but feel like we were putting them on display. These people were doing their daily activities of washing clothing, feeding their children, and slaughtering a cow. Not used to these sights, most people prop up their camera and start snapping, but I felt odd documenting someone’s daily activities as if they were not normal. I did take a few pictures of the landscape and the freshly slaughtered cow, but even taking a picture of that made me feel uneasy. It might be me thinking too much into it, but I would not enjoy someone coming into my neighborhood or home and snapping pictures of me doing what I always do as if it were something unique or odd enough to show others.

Freshly Slaughtered Cow in Minority Village

Freshly Slaughtered Cow in Minority Village

Although visiting these villages made me uncomfortable, I did start viewing my experience from a different perspective. I understand that seeing how these families live is a learning experience and I’ve come to the conclusion that it is how you view your experience that determines the type of tourism you are involved in. The purpose behind your pictures and recollections to others shows what you have learned and why you learned it. I would never want someone to feel watched or odd for doing what is normal for them, but sharing the differences is the important part. Before traveling abroad, I never thought too much about someone’s daily activities being so different than my own, but seeing and understanding that it’s the small things like that that define a culture was something I want to share and carry with me forever.

Giving More Than They Receive?: Migrant Women in the Domestic Service Industry

Saturday, February 9th, 2013

Interested in societal perceptions of the term “migration,” I conducted a survey of 53 individuals and asked them to candidly state the first few words that came to mind when they heard the term. Most of the respondents told me their personal opinions on the issue in addition to their word association. The predominant opinions were very similar, each casting migrants in a negative light. Migrants are seen as a drain on the economy, as taking advantage of public resources, as illegitimate, and as criminals. These opinions are not surprising, for this is exactly the type of lens under which many are programmed to view migrants. In the first half of the twentieth century, migrants were viewed as “hordes” flooding our nation, while in the 1980s to 1990s the theme of “alien invasions” dominated the public consciousness: “immigration and invasion, in a paranoid register, became synonyms” (Davis 1998). This type of rhetoric has framed and currently frames the discourse on migration. The media, politicians, and pundits automatically vilify migrants and view them as creatures to be suspicious of. The wording of our federal immigration agencies boldly exemplifies this anxious and hostile mentality: Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Customs and Border Protection (CBP), with these agencies as part of the Department of Homeland Security. The word choice in the naming of these bureaus was deliberate. The language is very militaristic and places the government and its citizens at “war” with migration.

The overarching negative public opinion, demonstrated in the survey, towards migrants is not surprising given the vocabulary used in migration rhetoric. However, one aspect of the survey was unexpected. None of the answers displayed a feminine connotation. Some of the responses were indeed gendered, including “Chinaman” and “Kumar.” The mentioned terms obviously refer to men, with the latter referring to the lead Indian-American character from 2004’s raunchy, slap-stick comedy Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle. The survey indicates disconnect between the perceptions and the realities surrounding migration. Female migration is not on the public’s radar, so to speak. According to Castles and Miller, a strong trend or tendency associated with contemporary migration is its “feminization” (2009). Women have always played a significant role in all regions and in most types of migration. Since the 1960s, women have played a major role in labor migration, with more women migrating relative to men. Economically motivated migration is no longer a male phenomenon; a female dimension is rapidly growing within the international division of labor, especially within the domestic service industry. This paper takes a gendered approach to migration while focusing on the role of migrant women within the global domestic service industry.

Michael Samers notes that the modern feminization of migration involves an increasing “demand for women to work in what might be called the three Cs—caring, cleaning, and catering” (2010). With those three Cs he is describing the general categories women’s labor falls under. Those general categories are embodied in the domestic service industry, which employs the largest percentage of migrant women (ILO 2011). Domestic service is the employment of workers, mainly migrant women, to perform the tasks of personal service and social reproduction. The International Labor Organization’s Convention No. 189 more generally defines domestic service as “work performed in or for a household or households” (2011). This work may include tasks such as cleaning and maintaining the house, cooking, washing and ironing clothes, taking care of children, elderly or sick members of a family, gardening, guarding the house, driving for the family, even taking care of household pets. This social reproductive labor is delivered personally, sometimes intimately, and often emotionally. Any person engaged in this nature of work within an employment relationship is considered a domestic worker. They may work on a full-time or part-time basis, employed by a single household or multiple employers, residing in the household of the employer or may be living in their own residence. The employer of a domestic worker may be a member of the household, for which the work is performed, or an agency or enterprise that employs domestic workers and makes them available to households. A domestic worker may be working in a country of which he or she is not a citizen. They may or may not have state authorization to work. The specifics of each worker’s situation vary, but the overarching characteristics of domestic service remain.

Domestic service performed by migrant women is inherently contingent and informal. Wages are paid in cash and thus not reported and not taxed. Works hours are flexible and no labor, occupational health or safety laws are observed. There are, of course, no benefits, no unions, and no government oversight. Workers toil “off the books” and are paid “under the table.” Domestic work is performed within the privacy of the home, yielding it largely secluded and invisible. These unregulated and informal conditions leave room for employers to use personal preferences and bias to make decisions about hiring, pay, and treatment of employees. The result is “a workforce that is extremely vulnerable, fearful, [and] uninformed of its rights” (Constable 2007). Their vulnerability is further reinforced by immigration policies, designed to recruit migrant women as contract laborers or temporary workers ineligible for the protections and rights afforded to citizens. Even more than other jobs, work in this sector mainly engages migrant women, usually the poorest among them. Undocumented women are particularly inclined to work within this informal economic sector because their legal status restricts them to certain types of jobs (Chang 2000). This dynamic further marginalizes and isolates undocumented migrant women.

Fifty-three million women worldwide are employed in the domestic service industry (ILO 2010). Why do women proliferate within it? Women who migrate into domestic service are motivated by various sets of reasons and circumstances. An acknowledgement of the women’s agency in making the choice to migrate is important. Migration can be viewed as a modernizing impulse (especially for women from rural areas), as a path to economic independence, or as a source of adventure and liberation. It can actually be empowering for women (Harzig 2006). In those instances, domestic service can be perceived as the “open door” of opportunity that could provide a promising future. Also, as Moya recognizes, “groups who become heavily concentrated in [an] occupation may have developed an advantage in it over those who were under-represented” (2007). They have wider connections and social networks and greater cumulative knowledge and information from primary contacts with family, friends, and fellow care workers; many women are already familiar with the occupation, placing domestic work as a preferable occupation for migrant women.

Demand can also be explained by the stereotyping of these jobs as “feminine” or “women’s work.” Care work has become an occupation that is assumed to be somehow naturally or fundamentally more suited for women. That assumption is thrust upon migrant women who are also seen to be docile, patient, and obedient. These stereotypes are justification for the perpetuation of gender inequality in the division of labor. This is often why women’s labor is under-valued and under-paid. Women are disadvantaged, compared to men, because of a range of factors which include: employers’ assumptions that they are not the primary breadwinners, the expectation that women are temporary workers who will leave to get married, women’s need for part-time work due to family commitments, and gender-based discrimination (Castles and Miller 2009). Together, this may channel migrant women to certain types of jobs or “occupational niches” (Moya 2007).

Overwhelmingly, these are women who have emigrated from poorer, developing countries to work in the richer, more developed countries. The arrival of these workers quenches a high demand for care work attributable to: neoliberal governance or the reduced role of government of richer countries in the social welfare services, the greying or aging of the population in wealthy countries, the rise of dual-earner couples and the limits in the number of hours able/willing to spend on domestic responsibilities, few citizen workers available or are willing to provide these services or are deemed too expensive relative to migrant women, the increase in the size of people’s homes over the last two decades and an apparently growing concern about the appearance of homes (Samers 2010).

 

Political analysis can also aid in explaining today’s migration of women into domestic service. Since the 1980s, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and other international financial institutions based in the first world have routinely pressured indebted governments to adopt policies which will maximize a country’s ability to repay its outstanding loans. These prescriptions have included cutting government expenditure on social programs, slashing wages, liberalizing imports, opening markets to foreign investment, expanding exports, devaluing local currency, and privatizing state enterprises (Chang 2000). These policies, known as structural adjustment programs (SAPs), are intended to promote efficiency and sustained economic growth in the adjusting country. In reality, they function to open up developing nations’ economies and peoples to imperialist exploitation. At the Fourth World Conference on Women and the NGO forum in China in 1995, poor women from Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Middle East spoke of increasing poverty and rapidly deteriorating nutrition, health, and work conditions that have emerged for women in their countries as a result of SAPs. When wages and food subsidies are cut, women as wives and mothers adjust household budgets often at the expense of their own and their own children’s nutrition. As public health care and education vanish, women suffer from lack of prenatal care and become nurses to ill family members at home, while girls are the first to be kept from school to help at home or join the labor force. When export-oriented agriculture is encouraged, indeed coerced, peasant families are evicted from their lands to make room for corporate farms. When women take on these extra burdens and are still unable to sustain their families, many have no other viable option but to leave their families and migrate in search of work. In the third world, women absorb the costs of cuts in food subsidies and health care by going hungry and foregoing proper medical care. Ironically, these same women continue to pick up the slack for vanishing social supports in the first world by nursing the elderly parents and young children of their employers for extremely low wages. Thus, there is a transferal of costs from the governments of both sending and receiving countries to migrant women workers from indebted nations. In both their home and host countries, and for both their own and their employers’ families, these women pay most dearly for “adjustment.”

Whether working as nannies or housekeepers, in child care or elder care, for the sick or the young, as cooks or nurses, third world migrant women providing these services are not just making a living in low-paying, low-status occupational niches that require little English or few professional skills. In a very crucial way, they too are part of the new transnational division of labor, their paid labor replacing the previously unremunerated responsibilities of first world women in the social reproduction of daily and family life. On a daily and intergenerational basis, they relieve professional first world women of much of the burden of the “second shift.” Such social reproductive labor has always been associated with women’s work and continues to be debased and devalued when industrialized or commoditized, that is, performed for payment by third world migrant women for their largely white, first world “sisters” in an exploitative gendered division of labor. Barbara Ehrenreich has very aptly dubbed this kind of work “outsourcing the work of the home” (2003). This restructured division of domestic labor is an outcome of globalization, or a consequence of the denationalization of economies and a renationalization of politics in the new global economy. This was not inevitable outcome, but it is the way the international economy has come to rely on the labor of migrant women in the domestic service industry.

 

What am I, a man or a resource?

-Ralph Ellison, The Invisible Man

 

 

References

C189 Domestic Workers Convention. Geneva: International Labor Organization, 2011.

Castles, Stephen, and Mark J. Miller. The Age of Migration: International Population Movements in the Modern World. New York: Guilford, 2009.

Chang, Grace. Disposable Domestics: Immigrant Women Workers in the Global Economy. Cambridge, MA: South End, 2000.

Constable, Nicole. Maid to Order in Hong Kong: Stories of Migrant Workers. Ithaca: Cornell UP, 2007.

Davis, Mike. Ecology of Fear: Los Angeles and the Imagination of Disaster. New York: Metropolitan, 1998.

Decent Work for Domestic Workers: Fourth Item on the Agenda. Geneva: International Labor Organization, 2010.

Ehrenreich, Barbara, and Arlie Russell Hochschild. “Maid to Order.” Global Woman: Nannies, Maids, and Sex Workers in the New Economy. New York: Metropolitan, 2003.

Harzig, Christiane. “Domestics of the World (Unite?): Labor Migration Systems and Personal Trajectories of Household Workers in Historical and Global Perspective.” Journal of American Ethnic History Winter/Spring (2006).

Moya, Jose. “Domestic Service in a Global Perspective: Gender, Migration, and Ethnic Niches.” Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies 33.4 (2007).

NGO Forum on Women: Beijing ’95 : Look at the World through Women’s Eyes. Bejing, China: NGO Forum on Women, 1995.

Samers, Michael. Migration. London: Routledge, 2010.

“If you marry a city man…”

Saturday, February 9th, 2013

“…you will be short of money, but if you choose me you will have dollars to spend, darling. You will have a Lexus and a villa…” sings 10-year-old Akai Math, whilst perched on a water pot on the banks of the Tonle Sap river. Akai’s song is a good illustration of the tone of A River Changes Course, a film that captures the dichotomy facing young Cambodians who weigh the Western ideal of luxury against the traditional wealth of their heritage.

The 83-minute documentary is the result of four years of tapping into the lives, aspirations, and challenges of three rural Cambodians and their families as they battle against the ugly side of development, and find it increasingly hard to live off the land (or water) as corporate development creeps upon them. The families’ lives are depicted in an unembellished style, which carries with it an intense authenticity. The film avoids narration and explanatory titles, except for those telling us where we are.Where the blare of the capital’s congested traffic and perpetual hum of sewing machines is the soundtrack accompanying one of the main protagonists, Khieu, silence is the backdrop to sixteen year old Sari’s monotonous chopping of cassava. A River Changes Course is a beautiful story of a country plundered by globalization.

Sari Math, one of the

Sari Math on the river with his father

A River Changes Course premiered at The Sundance Film Festival, which ran from January 17-27, 2013. It won the World Cinema Grand Jury Prize for a documentary.

Reflection Post

Saturday, February 9th, 2013

To be honest, I did not choose to study abroad in Cambodia because it was a place I dreamed of going to regularly.  I didn’t choose Cambodia because I knew a lot about it. I knew very little about the country other than that they had experienced a Communist revolution in the 1970′s under the name of the Khmer Rouge.  I chose Cambodia because it would take me out of my comfort zone.  That may seem like a rash or foolish way to decide on a destination, but that’s what I did.  I don’t regret my decision one bit.

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I didn’t know what to expect for my, then expected, trip and what looking back I now call an adventure.  I knew it would be hot.  I knew what kind of clothes I would be wearing. (I packed six shirts, 2 pants, one light jacket for the plane, two pairs of shoes, toiletries, a book, and my malaria pills into a carry on bag that held plenty more room.)  I didn’t know what the people would be like.  I could only imagine that the food would be something like the Chinese food in America. And on Monday, December 17, 2012 I met the country and the people that I would spend the next month getting to know.

I have to say that the first thing that struck me as strange, and by strange I simply mean different from home, was the way Cambodians drive.  I’ve never experienced anything quite like it.  IMG_1234There are lines painted on the roads and stop signs at intersections, but they don’t seem to matter.  I thought that this would cause panic and chaos among the multitude of cars, tuk tuks, and motor drivers.  I discovered however, that there is a different attitude regarding driving in Cambodia than there in in the United States.  At home, lane space and traffic signals are obeyed and enforcement of unlawful behavior is regularly enforced.  American drivers are quick to inform a fellow driver of their errors on the road.  In the almost four weeks that I spent in Cambodia, I don’t think that I ever saw a driver respond angrily to being cut off or having to slow down for the vehicle in front.  There is just a different attitude towards life events in Cambodia than there is in America.

I think that this difference in attitude goes back to one of the main differences between Eastern and Western societies.  The East faces life with an attitude of collectivism.  The West is much IMG_1884more individualistic.  I grew up with the belief that life is what I make it and that only I could improve my own lot.  It was a big shock to experience a culture and a people who believe in something very different.  It’s not that Cambodians, along with many other Asian cultures, don’t believe in succeeding, quite the opposite. They just believe in achieving what goals they have together.  The family is the most important thing.  Many families are quite large and the children begin helping, no matter the profession, from the time that they are physically capable. It’s not an uncommon site in Cambodia to see young children attempting to sell trinkets (to bring extra income for the family) or helping bring in fishing lines.

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While I did chores around the house or ran errands for my parents, I was fortunate to not have to help my family by contributing money. The majority of families in Cambodia do not have the luxury of only the parents having to work.  In the cities lively hoods are earned in restaurants, on IMG_1164motors, washing clothes, and selling everyday goods. Just outside the cities and way out in the countryside people survive on what they can grow, and sell, from the land.  Often times it is just enough to get by on. They live in the now and try to just deal with today.  When asked what they wanted to do in the future, only the young adults or children could express dreams and aspirations.  Those adults who survived the Khmer Rouge or were born shortly after the genocide rarely expressed an interest in the future.  Many of them still fear their government and potential retribution for speaking their minds to anyone but their closest friends.

It wasn’t until I traveled to Cambodia and met the people there that I realized just how fortunate I was to grow up in the United States.  I realize the previous sentence could be taken in a negative way.  I am not saying that growing up in any other nation would have been horrible, quite the opposite. I am simply expressing gratitude for the life I was given and the opportunities I was and am fortunate enough to have experienced.  Life in Cambodia can difficult for some, as life anywhere can be.  Many people could list off the things they would like to see improved upon, but Cambodians, largely, do not see their lives as any worse than anyone else.  They know that at the end of the day they are not alone. They have their family, however large or small, and their neighbors and friends.  Life in Cambodia is about more than the individual and that thought is something I plan to keep with me no matter where I go or what I end up doing.  IMG_0991Thank you Dr. Rallis for providing this trip, it that has truly changed my life.  Thank you to the Cambodian people and my fellow travelers who taught me so much about life and myself.

Oil and Natural Gas Race

Saturday, February 9th, 2013

Of all the Asian countries, Cambodia is not one usually on the tips of people’s tongues.  All that could change though, if the numerous oil and natural gas deposits are found and extracted.  Oil and natural gas are not newly discovered resources.  Starting in the 1950′s and 1960′s Chinese and Russian geologists discovered oil seeps throughout the country. Oil extraction was postponed for most of the 1970′s due to the Khmer Rouge’s communist revolution that killed one in four Cambodians.

Companies from all over the world, Chevron, JOGMEC, and others have production sites both 1I06011_S_SOUTH_CHINA_SEA_-_GULF_OF_THAILAND_3_0_3_550x300inland and off shore. Chevron has already drilled 18 wells and invested over $160 million.  There is even a possibility of a joint offshore production between Cambodia and Thailand due to oil deposits on the border.  In addition to oil, there are believed to be enough natural gas deposits located offshore to encourage drilling by France’s Electricite de France.

While these oil and natural gas reserves can help create jobs and create much-needed revenue for Cambodia, it bears mentioning the dangers that come with extracting such substances.  Long hours on rigs, volatile materials, and heavy equipment make for dangerous working conditions.  According the Cambodian National Petroleum Authority, there are already safety measures in place should an emergency occur.

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Hopefully, Cambodia will be able to develop its oil and natural gas sector in a manner that both benefits its people and keeps the surrounding environments.  There has been no shortage of examples of the horrific damage that oil spills can cause a country it’s wildlife.

 

 

Dance the Night Away: Gangnam Style

Saturday, February 9th, 2013

In Cambodian culture, it is highly unusual to see any forms of public displays of affection. Even married couples don’t walk down the street holding hands or touching. This might seem odd, especially if you’re from a country, like the United States, where PDA is an everyday occurrence in many forms (sometimes more than we are willing to witness).

Inside a nightclub with only the men dancing and not touching and women

Inside a nightclub with only the men dancing and not touching and women

While in Cambodia, the other students and I were able to experience a few popular nightlife spots such as Heart of Darkness and High club. Heart of Darkness is a little bit more touristy than some of the other nightclubs, like High Club, which is primarily (if not all) Khmer. When comparing these two clubs, and how Khmer people dance and dress to an American club, there are many differences seen. Since it is not in Cambodian’s culture to dress provocatively, or even show much skin, their attire when going out is more conservative. For anyone who has been to a club, or even a bar, in the United States, Americans dress rather provocatively. Here, the tighter and shorter, the better (as some people might see it). In Cambodia, during the day, the attire is usually longer, baggier pants or capris and a shirt that has no cut. For many women working in markets, a popular clothing option is a matching shirt and pant pajama duo. This might seem strange, or even unreal, but for some reason Cambodians love their printed tops and pants.

Standard Cambodian Woman's Day Attire

Standard Cambodian Woman’s Day Attire

Inside Heart of Darkness

Inside Heart of Darkness

The popular attire for women going out to clubs in the U.S. seems to be a short, tight, low-cut, and sometimes backless dress. Although Cambodians dress more modestly than most Americans, they do dress less conservatively when going out than during the day. At both Heart of Darkness and High Club, there were more men than women there. High Club, which is mainly Khmer, seemed to be the place for young Cambodians looking for a fun and popular place to dance and drink with close friends (as well as get away from their parents and their more conservative attire). Here women were wearing shorts, skirts, and tighter dresses. A lot of what I saw women wearing were outfits Americans would be willing to wear when going out for the night. They are definitely not as revealing, but a lot more so than by their everyday standards.

Aside from their attire, their dance style is much less provocative compared to American standards as well. Although women and men do dance together at Cambodian nightclubs, they do not touch. The women usually stand in one place and shuffle their feet or move their arms slightly, while the men mostly dance with their arms in an ecstatic and jarring way. The only time I saw the women and men touch was at High Club when they played a few slow songs. This is also different than in American clubs, who usually do not play any slow songs especially with the expectation of men and women to slow dance.

Heart of Darkness is much more Western than High Club with a lot more tourists. Even though Cambodians do not touch while dancing, here the tourists danced more provocatively together than the locals.

Another interesting difference to point out is their music. Although they do like their Khmer music, at nightclubs their song selections usually consist of remixes of American songs with a lot more electronic elements that give all their songs an up-beat fast-paced characteristic. One of the most popular songs at the time was “Gangnum Style”. On New Year’s Even alone we heard this interesting song a total of twelve times. Even though Cambodians appreciate popular longs and American songs, they still have a deep connection with their Khmi music. Whether you’re sitting on a bus, waiting in a hotel lobby, or just walking down a street in Phnom Pehn, you will hear Khmer music all around. In every hotel lobby I sat in, the t.v. would be set on a distinct channel where Khmi people sing or even play a music video. Like the U.S., Cambodians have a top ten list of popular song titles.

Watching, hearing, and being surrounded by such a different culture is truly amazing. You can physically see what is important to a culture by the way they dress, what they eat, how they interact with one another, and even the type of music they listen to. Even though there are many differences between Cambodia and the U.S., it is an eye-opening experience to be involved and appreciate everything Cambodian culture has to offer to an outsider.

Garment Factories

Friday, February 8th, 2013

Take a minute and look at the tags of the clothes you wear.  Where are they made? Chances are that the majority of our clothes are not made in the United States.  Most likely, they are produced in Vietnam, China, Cambodia, or Bangladesh.  The garment industry employs over 300,000 people in factories surrounding Phnom Penh alone.  The shift from Chinese sweatshops to those in Southeast Asia, particularly Cambodia, are due to the rising costs of business.  Well known brands such as H&M, Puma, Nike, and even the Dallas Cowboys sell wares that are produced in sweatshops on the outskirts of Phnom Penh.

While some people might see this development as positive job growth, there are many serious concerns that should be brought to light.  In the Summer of 2011 there were mass faintings in garment factories in Cambodia.  One of the largest occurred in a factory where H&M clothes were being made. The fumes produced by the chemicals in the fabric were, and still are, hazardous to the workers’ health.  On top of that, these workers are in the shops for about 12 hours a day, seven days a week.  The possible future effects of breathing in these toxic fumes is unknown, but you can bet it’s not a life-prolonging outcome.

The workers in these garment factories are women, usually between the ages of 18 to 35.  Many of them come from the countryside looking for more work than the subsidence farming that their families survive on.  They make very little money.  There is small comfort in the fact that there is a minimum wage law that requires factories to pay at least $61 a month.  Their total income is even less than that after they send money home to their families, pay for transportation to the factory (some drivers charge $10 a month).  Workers are legally allowed to join unions.  However, factory owners, usually Chinese or Korean men, intimidate workers into remaining independent or joining a union that they favor.

IMG_1007The housing that these factories provide, if they provide housing at all, is poor in quality.  Single rooms are rented to multiple people (some families).  There is no running water in the rooms.

I am not attempting to provide a solution to this serious issue.  I am hoping to educate.  There is a reason that many European and American companies do so well.  They provide affordable clothing and are able to keep costs consistently low.  But at what human cost?  I’m not suggesting that people drop everything and boycott many of the companies that they regularly buy from.  That would place an exorbitant financial strain on many people.  I am simply asking that people take the time to find out where their goods are being produced, and in what manner.  Cheap anything is not easy and if it is, it is rarely in a fashion that is beneficial to its makers.

(Remember that name brand clothes are rarely worth the price we pay.  I may be biased, but I have found thrift shops to be a fantastic source of inexpensive clothes and accessories. I leave you with the ever poetic lyrics of artist Macklemore to inspire you to raise your own self awareness. Click “thrift”.)