Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Note to Self: On Working in Cambodia, Pt. 2

Can I confess that some days I am just so tired?  Land rights work in Cambodia is taxing. It is such a highly politicized area of law.

I'd like to share an exchange I had with a superstar American lawyer, who has worked on rule of law and land law issues in Cambodia for nearly 10 years, after having been in private practice in the States for a decade before.  Now based in Geneva, he was one of the people who warned me that land issues can be "toxic."  This first warning came about 9 months ago.  And I shrugged it off.  You see, while I certainly  am not an optimistic do-gooder, I did think I was a little tougher than that. 

I ran into him at a dinner party a few months ago.  I confessed to him that when I first met him that I did not listen, but (in the same breath) that 9 months can take a toll on you.  He advised me that it's okay to take a break from this work now and then, to leave the country, to re-energize, and to come back in some shape or form.  "There's no shame in it," he said.  This is a little sad, but it should be indicative of the state of things: we chuckled under our breath when he confessed that his recent work with domestic violence and gender issues in an un-named repressive country was a "nice break" from land law issues in Cambodia.  Seriously?

That's my mindset at the moment.  It has been for a few months.  I've  recently been offered an opportunity to represent refugees before UN bodies for a short period of time starting after my self-imposed summer vacation.  I was warned by the lead attorney that this was no break - that stories of rape and torture are often interwoven in these tales of displacement.  Still, I cannot help but think the experience might re-energize me, if not by allowing me to learn a new field of the law. (I'm not a refugee lawyer.)

But I am getting away from myself again.  The pictures of the women in Odisha!  Amazing, right?  Even when I am bogged down with the weight of Cambodia and land issues, I get really jazzed up about women and land issues, which makes me think that, no matter which path I take in the next few months, I may keep coming back to this work.
I'm looking back, to nearly two years ago when I moved to Cambodia.  It's been an incredible journey.

To be continued. 

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