Portraits of Cambodia – Mrs. L

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A Dam has so many effects, both good and bad. The effects on the people, who lives are at stake, are sometimes forgotten in the whirlwind that occurs before a dam project is given the go ahead. Here I tell a few stories of the people who will bare the brunt of the Sambor Dam across the Mekong River in Cambodia, if it goes ahead. 

Mrs. L is a fisherman’s wife. Credit: Nuala McBride

The Mekong River is the centre of this community, and as a consequence the fisherman play a vital role too. Wandering down by the river’s edge, with the sounds of it lapping on the shore, I spy the fisherman in action. Some are fixing nets, others on the boats tinkering. It seems so idyllic; but I know that in reality it’s far from it. New government laws mean fisherman have to now fish with nets that have 4cm holes, compared to the past 2.5cm holes; so large catches are harder to come by. The larger hole sizes adds to the sustainability of this industry, meaning the fisherman’s children will be able to continue in their father’s foot steps.

I spot a brightly dressed woman in yellow trousers and top with a vivid red jacket and hat, she waves at me. I stroll over to her and offer the traditional greeting; which she reciprocates confidently. She doesn’t show any timidness, that so many other people have shown towards me.  I ask whether her husband is a fisherman and she confirms that he is. She then informed me that at the moment he is away for two days fishing about 60km from here. Looking out at the river she then says how much she hopes that he’ll bring back a good catch. Sometimes he can go out and use up to 10 litres of petrol and return with so few fish that they don’t make any profit. One kilogram of fish sells for around 50,000 Riel (about $12.5); which is not enough to support the family. Nowadays, only about 30% of their income comes from fishing; so she has had to start growing crops as well.

Without me even saying a thing, Mrs. L chatters away telling me all about her three children who are 2, 6 and 10 years old. She beams as she tells me how she has a pig and two small chickens over on the island, where she lives. Mrs. L points out the island, that is only a couple of hundred meters off the shore. She grew up in this village; but when she married her husband she moved over to the island with him.

Mrs. L seems so confident and optimistic. Her bright clothes reflect her bubbly character that transcends the language barrier.  Not surprisingly, the mention of the word Dam, and this is bubbliness is all drained from her in seconds. She recognised the English word and without the translator gives me her opinion about it.

Like the others I have spoken to she stresses how this village is her life. She doesn’t know where she would go and states that no amount of money would be enough to make her move. This village and this community is part of her identity. She stresses how her support network is here, her friends are here, her family and her memories. The government can’t just wipe that away. Despite this, she recognises how powerless she is. She has no choice.

I don’t know what to say. There’s nothing to say. Everything she had said is indisputable. We both stare out at the pulsing river for a couple of minutes, caught under its power.

I thank Mrs. L for her time and wish her the best for the future. Just as I’m leaving, I remember the article and quickly ask if I could possibly take her photo. Mrs. L retorts that she’s not beautiful enough. I laugh and assure her that she most definitely is!

More articles in Portraits of Cambodia
  1. Portraits From Cambodia – A Village That Could Be Lost
  2. Portraits From Cambodia – Mrs. K
  3. Portraits of Cambodia – Mr. J
  4. Portraits of Cambodia – Mr. F
  5. Portraits of Cambodia – Mr. W
  6. Portraits of Cambodia – Mrs. L
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Deputy Editor 2016 -2017. I'm a Geography student here at Southampton. Also, an avid adventurer; who is always up for discovering somewhere whether it's new or old.

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