Saturday, July 21, 2007

DC-Cam: So just what does an NGO's office look like? Here's a hint: we probably have more hammocks than you do at your job

So what the hell do I do every day and where do I do it? Some of you have asked this question, so apologies to those who have not.

To start with, and to give a little bit of background for those who don't already know, the Documentation Center began through a grant and a lot of work from Yale University's Cambodia Genocide Project. The project was largely the brainchild of a man named Ben Kiernan who wrote probably the most popular book about Pol Pot called "The Pol Pot Regime." He set up the center with Youk Chhang (the gentleman from the previous post) as the director and it has been operational ever since. Initially, DC-Cam worked on uncovering and recovering documents from the Khmer Rouge period. DC-Cam also exhumed and recorded hundreds of mass graves, documenting the number of people in each pit, the way that they died and who may have done the killing.

Same pic of Youk, but now with shiny new context!

DC-Cam now has produced dozens of books, monographs, scholarly papers, and translations relating to the Khmer Rouge. Walking into the office full of young Cambodians, you would little expect that most of them have written a scholarly book, and that many hold Masters degrees from foreign universities. Youk's philosophy is to rebuild Cambodian society through education, and the best way to do that is to have his employees go away and then bring back skills and experiences that they can utilize to develop Cambodian society.

DC-Cam is also the primary source of evidence that the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) will rely on for the upcoming trials (which, by the way WILL be happening...really).

So lets take a little tour of the office...

We don't have engraved name plates, but we do have thick steel bars!

First off, we all sort of work wherever there is space available. I have essentially stormed and conquered the desk of a woman named Farina, since she has left to attend a conference in NY for the next month. Woohoo my own space!

This is "The big table" (which I just christened as such).

If it looks like a chaotic mess piled high with papers, books, documents and reports, thats because it is. There are, at any given time, between 2 and 5 people doing research around this table which can be a little crazy.

Of course, no office would be complete without internet. So in this brave new world of connectivity, we have a whopping 5 internet connections for about 20 people. This necessitates either arriving at the office very early, or being very sneaky with the ethernet cord while someone is at lunch. We all just recieved an e-mail from the accountants that while normal monthly internet costs are about 350/month, we are now operating at about 1,045/month. Apparently we consume internet like voracious wolverines.

Since DC-Cam has most of the documents that the ECCC needs to operate, the co-prosecutors and co-investigating judges have "offices" at our building.

Funny story about these offices: they are two doors right next to each other that lead into the same room. I'm still confused about this.

Of course, we work hard, and rarely get a chance to take a breather.

I swear I did not take this picture after getting out of the hammock after a nap...really

Youk likes to plant stuff...seriously.

My struggles with picture orientation continue...

This bird is my nemesis.
Since Day 1, he has taken huge snaps at my fingers every time I walk by. I have reconciled our conflict by realizing that he lives in a tiny little cage that I walk by every day on my way to do whatever the hell I feel like doing. No wonder he hates me.
The publications office (so italicized since I'm not sure exactly what we call it) is where much of the actual putting together of the magazine occurs. Since we produce a lot of copies of the magazine in both English and Khmer, this room always tends to look a little crazy....except in this picture actually

So that's where I work. It is a constantly buzzing locus of activity for scholars, student groups, government officials, officials from the ECCC, members of other NGO's and geckos...lots and lots of geckos. On any given day, there may be a group of Teachers from the US passing through who want to know about our work with Cambodian schools to provide them with Boly's textbook (the first to address the Khmer Rouge period that is approved for any sort of use in Cambodian schools), a PhD candidate working on a thesis about the history of the Cambodian People's Party (the current oligarchic government party), or a co-prosecutor from the ECCC trying to find a particular document that can be used at the upcoming Tribunal.

My own work has me either glued to my desk or out roaming around the provinces, interviewing village and commune chiefs and conducting legal trainings on the Court. Of course, pictures and silly tales of such passings will be the subject of the next few posts. Never fear dear reader, my exploits will be available for your viewing pleasure (because I know you're all lazy and don't read!)

In short, it is an interesting place to be working.

Next: The world's weirdest NGO community (qualifier: I assume), meetings with court officials, and the many, many hours that it takes to get anywhere.