A few days ago we had a birthday party for my son Paul. He got wonderful gifts and had most of his friends come and play to their hearts content. At the party, we had two birthday cakes because we did not know how many children would be coming. As it turned out, with the other junk food, the group of 10 year olds could only manage to eat one cake so we had another full cake remaining.
The next day my Mom recommended that we take the cake and cover it up so that we could eat it as snacks during the week. Who likes to eat old dry cake? No one. So I had some inspiration. Why don’t my son and I go out at night and give big pieces of cake away to poor street kids. I asked my son and he thought it was a good idea. So at night we headed out.
I usually do not go out very late at night for security sake. I was surprised what I saw on this Monday evening. There were plenty of kids (under ten years old) running around the street, but most of them were kids from families which had a nice house and plenty of money. They were not street kids, but they were children who were unsupervised and just playing along the streets. Along every street, mostly in the area which had more poor houses, there were open bars everywhere. There was a mixture of a few drunken guys in the bars, children playing or watching TV, and scores of prostitutes. The prostitutes far outnumbered any other group of people along these darkened streets.
In the dark shadowed areas there were also groups of guys sitting on the ground, usually in a circle, drinking. In only thirty minutes we saw several fights between drunken men spilling out onto the street. Since I was with my son I only stayed to the main streets and stayed out of areas I knew to be more dangerous like dark allies or areas which high concentration of bars and brothels.
As we spotted the poorest kids, usually noticeable with no shirts or dirty and torn clothing, we would stop and my son would give them cake to eat. It was really good cake. It was a vanilla cake with fruit and cashews in the center with a sweet icing. The kids always came running quick to get some cake. They were all polite and every one of them said thank you for the cake. Cambodian’s rarely show gratitude, so this was unusual behavior which showed they truly were grateful. My son told me we should at least tell them “God bless you”, so he helped talk to the kids even though he told me he was quite nervous.
We drove for a while, only looking to give cake to the poorest kids. Most of the kids were going around collecting any scrap metal, bottles or soda cans they could find so they could sell them. They were digging through garbage wherever they could find it. As my son and I drove on we came across one of the main sewer junctions in the city which is so smelly. At this site there was a huge garbage dumpster; the size that big trucks haul. From a distance I could see several kids climbing through it. We stopped and offloaded the rest of our cake to these kids. As we were standing and talking to them, a cyclo (a pedal powered cart that serves as a taxi) crashed into the massive dumpster. Clearly the driver and the passenger were drunk. The driver kept saying to his passenger (who was clearly passed out), “So you are trying to poison me aren’t you? I will kill you!” All the kids digging through the garbage and my son and I backed away. The cyclo driver could not figure out how to get unstuck so he continued his drunken tirade while trying to get the cyclo unstuck from the garbage pile. Eventually he got away and continued down the road. As he pulled away, I saw him pull out a huge knife (with an 8-10 inch blade). All I could do was offer a prayer as they continued swerving down the dark street.
Our short trip around the streets of Phnom Penh was a good lesson for my son and me. All around us we saw, under cover of darkness, the sin of the world. Kids, who should be in bed or in their homes with a loving family, are running around the streets completely unsupervised. Men were drinking until completely plastered every few yards; some in dimly lit open bars and some under trees next to piles of garbage. The most painful to see were the prostitutes; they far outnumbered the rest. Dozens of young girls sat waiting for customers in hundreds of doorways in their skimpy clothing. The sad thing is that nearly all of these girls are prostitutes by choice. They are a product of a sinful and self-destructive culture and lifestyle which is in desperate need of complete transformation. Under the cover of darkness we can see how much work needs to be done to save this nation from self-destruction.