Thursday, June 2, 2011

A year in Cambodia


Anna took this picture the other day, as we sat aboard a little boat on the riverside, just before it floated along the river. It was a night of goodbyes, of laughter on a boat, of karaoke antics.

I've been in Cambodia a year. An entire year. How crazy is that?

The year flew by quickly, but certainly not painlessly. The first months were a novel love affair dotted with saffron monks, colorful wats (pagodas), too much dancing and island adventures, but soon that shiny veneer faded, little by little, partly because of my work, partly because of the need to cope with everything, to adjust. Six months turned into one year, into who-knows-how-long.

I came to Cambodia to learn human rights law. I honestly didn't know what that meant when I stepped foot in Phnom Penh, but I was intent on finding out. I brought with me expectations that the law would function in a similar way as it does in the States, that lawyers would, more or less, perform similiar tasks.

I was wrong. The work of international lawyers in Cambodia is so much more dynamic and flexible, more multi-facted than traditional law practice, at least as I know it. It has to be because there's not much of an enforceable legal framework, though, sure, there are many legal words, many ambitious laws, many would-be institutions that were created to enforce these mechanisms.

A year later, I have a better picture of what this work entails. I'm blown away by what I've been given the opportunity to do. I'm growing so much. But I also realize that I can only scratch the surface here. I'm a foreigner, after all.

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