Dated on Jul.29, 2003 from Phnom Penh
/ Shadow of terrorists /
The anniversary of 9.11 is drawing near. On the day of the event in 2001, at 8 p.m.(in Cambodian time, and 10 p.m. in Japan), I saw every scene of the terrible incident shown on the NHK news. The high-definition TV screen showed so much detail that I even saw people asking for help behind the lattice windows. And the scenes still come back to my mind along with the fear. Two years have passed since then. The way the U.S. is alarmed is reflected on the huge concrete walls built around their Embassy in Phnom Penh. 'The fortress' is so big that it actually takes up some part of the public road. The pretext of protecting democracy and freedom that they used seems to be even affecting citizen's daily lives in an Asian country. An outstanding boarding school located in the suburbs of Phnom Penh was closed down after some source pointed out that the facility was financed by Al-Qaeda and was being used for training terrorists. It was a big surprise to learn that one of the members of the terrorists was arrested in Kampot. I also wonder if Japan is really secure.
/ Election finishes without much trouble butc /
We heard election campaign cars all day in the town before the election. There was a campaign office of Cambodian People's Party next door to the inn where I stayed. The campaign car came back every night and it was surprising how young the workers getting out of the car were! They were wearing T-shirts too big for them, which had been provided by the political party. They only looked like junior high or high school students. They were even talking about how much they got paid. But still, an election is an election. In the past decade, Cambodia has held several elections. Having watched every election in the past years, I have become convinced that people were becoming wiser.
A former Kampot governor muttered, "If I lose this time, I will have another chance. But people are always watching us and that is the hardest part about an election." Observers from each political party were watching the voting, and each ballot was very important. We made rounds at polling places, ballot gathering stations, and counting stations and we noticed great enthusiasm and also several problems. I heard about several difficulties; the ballot storage was protected by seal on doors and windows with the authorities' signature on them; when there was a power outage at midnight, they turned on the light of motorbikes and guarded the ballots; on a rainy night, they played cards in the outer corridor waiting for daybreak. I asked them, "Don't you hate mosquito bites? Then they answered, "Mosquitoes don't bother us. It's men that we are most afraid of." Democracy is something we should obtain by effort. We saw a man at a polling station, who was angry because he couldn't find his name on the register. He didn't go check the electoral register when he should have. To have democracy, people should realize that they also have obligations to do. ASAC staff members voluntarily joined the International Supervision College and became watchdogs this time, too.
/ The scariest things /
In the evening, it rained cats and dogs. The sound of rain was so loud that we couldn't hear anything else. After a while, the sound ceased, and I heard the TV news from Japan say that there was a big earthquake in Miyagi. And the next morning, the news reported another earthquake in the same area. I told Cambodians about a Japanese expression; Earthquake, Thunder, Fire and Father. These are the scariest things, with the scale in that order. Then the Cambodians said, "It's the shooting that we are most terrified by. And then follows robbery, hunger, fire, and teachers in the old days. But above all, it's Pol Pot." It seems like the terrible memories still linger in their minds. These lively conversations are one of the best things in a long journey. This time I visited 16 schools and met a lot of people. We have got more supporters in Cambodia as well as in Japan and now I find that our business has started running more smoothly than ever. In the past when there were no telephones, it took a lot more time to meet people. Now telephones are available in most places. Road conditions have been improved a lot. But on the way to a school which was going to be rebuilt, funded by the International Volunteer Savings Aid supported by Japan's Ministry of telecommunication, I bumped my head on the car's roof many times.
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