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The streets of Phnom Penh

Another day in Phnom Penh and who knows what's in store. Getting to work was quite eventful this morning as we drove through one of the worst roads I've ever been on in my entire life.

Unfortunately, as Martina was casually filming from the relative safety of our tuk-tuk last night, she had her phone snatched by a speeding motorbike. There are warnings of these petty crimes in all the guide books but you never quite expect it to happen to you.

A phone is replaceable, but Martina is understandably gutted that the photos and video footage of the last couple of days are gone forever.

I don't think I need to mention that this sort of petty crime is far more common on the streets of London and Rome (and on the rise in Malta) and we never feel threatened or in danger in any way in Phnom Penh. It is perhaps this sense of safety that allowed us to take our guard down and lose the phone. Pacenzja!

I've often referred to Cambodia as a country of contrasts where the rich and the poor, the powerful and the weak intertwine. This contrast also applies to life on the the streets where the roads in the evening are relatively quiet, whereas by day organised mayhem and chaos reign supreme with tuk-tuks and motorbikes weaving through oncoming traffic in a hair raising version of the game "chicken".

Maltese drivers famously drive in the shade, but over here in Cambodia they drive wherever there is an empty square inch. This has often elicited a somewhat falsetto reaction from me.

Tuk-tuks and motorbikes have replaced the beasts of burden of yore and they carry anything from mattresses to bales of hay, from live-stock to mothers-in-law.

It is not uncommon to see entire families of five sitting astride a small motorbike though the most we've ever seen was seven on a bike with the younger children having to stand to allow for space.

I have personally seen two live pigs strapped to the back of a bike, and Katherine actually spotted one whose passenger was balancing an intravenous drip as they zipped through the traffic.

Only today, we were overtaken by a motorbike that had burning stoves on either side with bowls of something cooking on them, taking the delivery of fresh home cooked meals to a whole new level.

It must be added that although the driving is insane, road rage doesn't seem to exist here and everybody drives relatively slowly and nobody ever really speeds. Unless they want to snatch a phone that is...

Zebra crossings here are a useless waste of paint, however, they do respect traffic lights and this is when street children usually come up to stationary cars to sell trinkets or beg for money.

I've said this before but DO Cambodia have a strict policy to not give money to beggars because we may be feeding a bigger monster and sending out the message that begging is an acceptable choice.

Instead we hand out little toys which they absolutely love because, at the end of the day, they are children and what child doesn't love a toy. On the downside, we are informed that a traffic light turning green and an SUV accidentally running over a child who may be too short to be seen beneath the bonnet is not uncommon.

Lessons at LRDE are happening as I write this and our speech segment is going particularly well with a new set of children who live on rubbish tips, and who have never had a lesson in their lives learning to say whole phrases and, more importantly, understanding what they're saying!

Hello. How are you? I am fine. Where do you come from? My name is. Simple, basic sentences in the grander scheme of things but an excellent foundation for us to build on.

In the afternoon at Sfoda we had a high level meeting with the director, the stoic Mrs Monninarom, and her assistant, Sothy. We discussed the situation at Sfoda which has improved vastly from the situation they were in this time last year and I would like to pause here to thank all our supporters who have made it possible for DO Cambodia to help Sfoda substantially in this regard.

Our meeting was extremely productive and we discussed future projects that we will be exploring to make the lives of the children we have grown to love a little bit better.

Alan Montanaro

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