Souka Souka and the garbage dump

The last couple of days have been absolutely packed. John was recently saying that we’ve packed roughly 6 days of work into 3.

We left you last at Choeng Ek. We had visited there very briefly to scout the location and returned the following morning. After resolving a brief dispute about granting access to our ‘large’ camera and crew, we entered the site and filmed for much of the day. Thanks to Tom (our interpreter and all around production hand) we were able to gain admittance with freedom to do as we please. It was an experience torn with juxtaposing emotions. On the one hand, Choeng Ek is a surreal place, you walk between large pits where bodies were once stacked, and are often stepping on, or nearly missing, bones, teeth, used bullets and clothing. On the other, it’s a serene place that captures well on film. We were moved by many of the images there. Like our first visit to Tuol Sleng, we all felt an interesting mix of sadness and appreciation. Sadness for what occurred there, and appreciation for the beautiful landscape. This was also coupled with our interractions with children along the newly constructed fence begging for money, pens, books, or anything.

An interesting area in Choeng Ek is the ‘magic tree’. It’s a tree that was used to hang loud speakers which blared music during executions. This was done so neighboring villages wouldn’t hear cries and screams from the victims killed there. At the bottom of the tree remains many bones and clothing that were found nearby. You certainly have to be careful while walking around – a very different experience from the ‘museums’ we’ve known so well in the States.
john and jose film near the ‘magic’ tree
Near the entrance of Choenk Ek is a large tower. From a distance it seems like what might be a common monument found near other museums, after a closer look, you find it’s filled with a tower of skulls from many victims killed there. It’s a tower that reminded me very much of the Catacombs in Paris, both are places filled with human skulls. Chilling.
Tom, Jose and CoolJohn with Tom and Josechoeng ek signskulls at Choeng Ek

Our next stop (for the latter half of the day) was at the ECCC (Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia), where we interviewed Helen Jarvis (chief of public affairs for the ECCC). It was a great interview, she spoke about the structure of the ECCC and its goals for the coming trials. It was interesting to hear about her and the ECCC’s history. She mentioned that things haven’t always been easy for them, but they continue to move forward in their attempt to bring justice to major perpetrators in the Khmer Rouge regime. The interview was made a bit difficult by the noise from nearby construction. There is much going on in the Courts there. A fun shot we got as we were leaving was a video portrait of the guards that greet you when entering. Jose set it up on the fly and it turned out very nicely.
filming the outside of the ECCCjose and tom set up for an impromptu portrait

The next day we visited the ECCC once again to conduct some more interviews and to get more b-roll of the buildings, construction, etc. On the way back we stopped for food at a restaurant and were really taken by the staff’s kindness. We decided it would be fun (and visually compelling to certain aspects of the film’s story) to film some portraits of them. This, I must admit, has come due to our inspiration from recently watching “Baraka” a beautiful film.
the waitresses - video portraitour audience

The following two days were likely our busiest so far in the past 3 weeks of production, and likely our most emotional. It all started at sunrise. We woke up around 5am and were greeted by Tom who was ready to go with us to the infamous Garbage Dumps of Phnom Penh. We drove for roughly 15 minutes on two motos until we arrived. We stopped outside of the dump area and stared in silent disbelief. Before us were mountains of garbage, all of which was littered with people searching for plastic, food, or anything they might be able to sell.
sunrise over the dump
As the sun continued to rise we got further and further into the dump. As we traveled to the epicenter we were struck by the beauty amidst the darkness. There were so many friendly, beautiful people there working to find enough to sell so they could eat. We captured many wonderful video portraits while we were there. Also, as we continued to film, we learned more about the daily process of working there. The garbage comes in shifts, maybe 2 to 3 trucks come and dump (and people run to the trucks as they dump excited to find new things), then a tractor comes and pushed the garbage further toward the center so there is room for more garbage trucks to come. What was most striking was how people, bare handed, often very young (many children) would greet the truck, which spewed disgusting things from it’s trailer area. In fact, after leaving several of us admitted to nearly throwing up as we traveled to the center of the dump. And although Tom has visited there many times, he expressed much sadness in seeing so many Cambodian people having to live and work there.
Tom reacts to the dumpat the edgejose filming at the dumppeople clammering for garbagethe dump trucksa kid looks for treasure in the garbage
After leaving the dumps (around 11am), and after catching a quick brunch, we filmed the political parades taking place in the streets. Because of the election (which actually took place today – April 1), there were many people taking to the streets to encourage voting for specifics parties. Most of what we captured was for the CPP (Cambodian People’s Party). It was also fun to have Jose riding on the back of Tom’s bike for much of it.
jose on a motokids with CPP flags
After filming the parade we headed to interview Souka Souka, a former KR survivor who has since created 3 orphanages and schools for children once living/working at the dumps. His interview was especially touching, hearing about how he found many of the children at the dumps without families. Working for anywhere between 100 and 2000 Riel a day ( 4 cents to 50 cents) collecting garbage.
souka souka’s interview
After his interview we filmed b-roll around the orphanages, including the large wall the children painted, the kids in school, children playing games as well as Souka Souka playing guitar with several children. It was great to speak with several of the kids, they are extremely bright and very kind. You can tell they are receiving wonderful care and attention (as well as a great education) at the orphanage.
Tom at the orphanageJohn and Jose film with an audienceJonathan downloads p2 cardsSouka Souka and his band
After we left Souka Souka’s we rushed straight to the dumps again. We arrived with about 30 minutes of light and filmed some amazing images. As the sun went down, we were in the ‘burning’ area of the dump, where the garbage is being burned. It was not a healthy experience at all, but after complaining to each other about being there for 30 minutes, we remembered that many children are there every day. Below is a video of what it was like to film there:

working in smoke and firecrew at the dumpstwo boys in the smoketwo girls work in smoke and fire

Well, we’ve gotta run. Look forward to sharing more with all of you soon!

-Jonathan

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3 responses to “Souka Souka and the garbage dump

  1. Emily Severson

    I am interested in knowing if any of the orphanages you visit have access to the internet and if they do, if they would like to have some pen pals in the U.S.? I think the children in my class might really learn from having this opportunity.

  2. Hi Emily,
    I would imagine that most of the orphanages we’re in contact with would love pen pals. John and I will investigate further and let you know soon.

  3. Hi everyone. As usual, we are closely following your adventure/traveling experience. It helps to see your journal entries and read your reflections. The pictures are revealing and reinforce poignantly what you are describing.
    All the best,
    Pierre and Vickie

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