The Pacific Partnership Pre-Departure Site Survey team arrived in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, on November 11. It was the final day of an annual Cambodian holiday, the Water Festival, so the highways and byways were filled with revelers, and our mini-vans inched through the crowded streets for well over an hour. Sadly, as in neighboring Thailand, flooding is widespread this year; as I looked down from our approaching plane prior to landing, many areas around Phnom Penh were inundated.
During PP10, I wrote about returning Cambodian antiquities to the country, and how moved I was at the reaction of the Cambodian monks who received the Buddhist carvings. On November 21, people reflected on the most brutal period of their recent past: the Khmer Rouge tribunal begins to consider one of the largest and most complex international criminal cases in history. Cambodians are expressing relief, but also deep sorrow as many of them relive the harrowing experiences of life in the “killing fields” of the Pol Pot/Khmer Rouge government of the late seventies.
During the past week, our team separated into four groups and made our way to numerous towns between Phnom Penh and the seaport of Sihanouk Ville. Since many local NGOs, partners, and patients participated in PP10, we have been able to discuss what worked well last time and what should change for 2012. Previous partners are anxious to work with us again, and several new organizations, which did not participate in the past, are looking forward to 2012. Cambodia is a young (approximately 50 percent of the population is under 20 years old) and vibrant country. Motor scooters are the vehicle of choice and necessity, and the scooters serve as everything from the family vehicle (with four or five people perched precariously from end to end) to taxis (known as tuk-tuks) and small moto-trucks.
The U.S. Embassy in Phnom Penh has been instrumental in planning and executing our trip. Our out-brief on November 21 included embassy officers of the country team, representatives of the office of defense cooperation, which coordinates our efforts with the Cambodian military, and medical advisors from USAID and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). We are very fortunate to have a robust diplomatic presence in PP12 countries, and we are grateful to the hard-working men and women at the embassies who contribute so much to the Pacific Partnership mission.
I look forward to spending Thanksgiving with American friends in the region, then on to Jakarta for the Indonesian preparation for PP12. I'll provide an update for DipNote's readers in early December.
Related Entry: U.S., the Philippines Prepare for Pacific Partnership 2012