It is sort of difficult to get to the areas in which indigenous peoples live in this province. One of those areas is Siem Pang in the north, directly at the border to Laos. The other area is in the east and we learned that it would be very difficult to get there in the rainy season and impossible to get there within our tight schedule. So we decide to visit various communes and villages in Siem Pang. There is no road to this area and the boat it the only way to make it. At the same time it is about 100 km from Stung Treng town and we do not have much time. So what we need is a fast boat. We are lucky, because what is available here is called fast boat and really deserves the name.
Those are fast boats. They are imported from Thailand and Laos and designed for maximal speed. Those boats have powerful engines and can easily make 60 km per hour. However, they are extremely sensitive when it comes to waves. They are mostly used to cross the border to Laos and this is what most tourists do when they come here.
We meet very early in the morning with the PoLA guy and leave to Siem Pang. We agreed with the owner of the boat to pay him $ 60 for two days and both ways. This is kind of expensive but the only way to make efficient use of our time at this point.
It is raining a bit once in a while and at this speed this makes it kind of difficult to take pictures.
After only a few minutes we are almost alone on the river and rarely see even a house on the banks.
Once in a while we see other boats. This necessitates that we reduce our speed, both because those boat’s waves make it difficult for our boats and because some of those boats are overloaded to the extent that the waves of our boat might cause them to skip.
Finally we arrive at the district town and talk to the district governor. This is only of limited interest and we do not get much out of that. However, it is important not to bypass the government, since we are working for some kind of government organization. Furthermore those guys make significant efforts to make possible our interviews. The conversation with the governor takes some time. He advises us to see one of the few local NGOs first, since it will take him time to contact villagers and Commune Councilors.
This is after our discussion with members of this NGO. This organization is actually called “youth with a mission”, which made me kind of skeptical. I saw already in Rattanakiri that there are countless Christian missionaries trying to persuade indigenous fellows to change their mind, culture and religion. So I ask what their mission is and they tell me yes they are Christians. However, they want to serve the community. I really do not want to make them look back but maybe their understanding of what constitutes community is something I do not particularly like. However, we had a good discussion and I learnt about the local situation.
I want to point out that I keep writing extensive minutes of all those interviews and that I am more than happy to make them available. However, it maybe not appropriate to do so on a web site, since I would have to ask for permission. But if somebody things this would be helpful I can send soft copies, of course. This is basically true of any interview I am conducting here.
This is a buffalo. Those animals are among the most valuable possession in the rural areas, since they make possible to efficiently working the field. They can be found all over the country and bigger proportion of those buffalos tend to indicate a wealthier population. Interestingly, very often particularly indigenous people tell me that buffalos is what they need because without them they cannot produce enough food to feed themselves over the year.
This is the main road in the district town.
Later on we have interviews first with the commune council and than with the local population. Unfortunately both the Council and the people attending the meeting are mainstream Khmer and Lao. So regarding my research there is not much I can get out of that. And I am kind of unprepared to deal with mainstream audience. So the only thing I can do is to ask general questions about decentralization and the general situation and the relationship between members of different ethnic groups and so on which really does not contribute much to my research but cause me significant stress. After all, it is always me who has to lead the discussion and make sure it keeps running in a meaningful way. The translator is in the favorable situation that he has “just” to translate. So he does not have to prepare anything and he does not have to do anything afterwards, when I spend hours typing the minutes. I tried to encourage him to ask follow up questions, but this is disastrous, because he does not accept that politics and research is not the same. So when he has the chance he will deliver a forceful speech about the rights of Khmer citizen which generally is not a bad thing. However, I tried to explain him that what we are doing looks like conversation but really is not supposed to be conversation. He does not care to keep judgment out of what he is saying but rather does not say anything other than what he thinks is good or bad. So again I am left alone with the conceptual part of this work. Moreover, he really does not make much effort to understand what we are actually doing here. I gave him books and all the stuff that took me month to collect but he is unwilling to read it. It is kind of scary that he is in charge of the translation and that everything that the interviewees or I say gets filtered through his poor understanding. However, he had a great time because he can relax anytime except for the translation.
In the evening we go around with this government guy and have some food at a small restaurant at the river.