We parked our bikes on Pokambor Avenue, found a table facing the street and immediately ordered iced coffee. Sister Srey was quickly becoming one of our favorite places to grab coffee. It was a short bike ride from our hotel, the drinks were served in mason jars with miniature cookies and the menus were inside recycled Little Golden Books. They even had several vegan and gluten-free options, the vibe was so Portland that it felt like Fred Armisen or Carrie Brownstein might walk around the corner at any moment to put a bird on it. It was cute and fun, and the coffee was strong.
We were waiting to meet with Pisey from Women’s Resource Center Cambodia. She had heard about Dan and 88bikes and arranged a meeting while we were in town to find out if she could get twenty bikes for the women in her program. As we waited we watched the tuk tuks and motorbikes cruise by as another day of city life unfolded in front of us. Directly in front of the shop a disabled amputee was selling paintings of Angkor Wat and asking tourists for donations. We had seen his stand out of front of Sister Srey each day, but I had yet to see someone buy something from him. Every so often he would walk up and down the long farmhouse style tables that lined the entryway of Sister Srey holding his basket out in front of everyone hoping someone would give him some change.
We enjoyed our drinks and lunch – I’ll admit it – I had a lentil burger, call me a hipster, but after a week of Khmer food it was just what I needed. Pisey still hadn’t shown up so we ordered more drinks and looked at our pictures from our endowment earlier that day. Time passed and a petite girl, no more than four years old, walked up the alleyway next to Sister Srey and turned to walk down the sidewalk in front of us. She was so small and precious and Ellen smiled and waved at her. She waved back and the exchange continued, just like it would with a toddler in line at the grocery store. The next thing we knew the girl promptly walked back to the alleyway. As soon as Ellen was waving goodbye the girl reappeared with a boy, maybe eight to ten years old, and an older man. The man expectantly shoved a basket in front of Ellen’s face as the small children stood waiting right between the man and Ellen. We had been duped, I felt cheated, afflicted and helpless all at the same time. Torn and trapped by her own selfless nature Ellen grabbed some small bills from her bag and skeptically put them in his basket. As soon as he had the money the man and the two children purposefully walked away in the opposite direction.
Ellen did nothing wrong in this situation, she was taken advantage of and at then end of the day the kids probably got something to eat that night. Life is complicated and sometimes its ugly, this is why I’m thankful for organizations like Friends International and the Child Safe Movement, which is committed to changing behaviors and helping people understand how to respond to and prevent child abuse.