Kompong Thom

5 Nov

This post is no longer available on this blog.

This post is now part of J.’s book, Letters Left Unsent, available on Amazon (click the image below to visit the Amazon purchase page).


11 Responses to “Kompong Thom”

  1. Reg Naylor 5 November, 2011 at 2:10 am #

    Most of us have these moments when we failed. These failures can keep us going forward with a more ‘grace’ to ourselves and others.

    Reg Naylor

  2. maithrigoonetilleke 6 November, 2011 at 6:56 am #

    Beautifully written and so very true.

  3. David Week 7 November, 2011 at 2:20 am #

    I’m interested by the positive tone of this post. Many of your more recent posts seem cynical. Time of day? Time of month? Time of life?

    Three days ago I was at LAX. UA had lost a bag of mine, and I had already checked into V Australia for the long haul back to Australia. I went to UA to pick up my lost luggage, and the V Australia staff warned me that it was a long trip from Terminal 3 to Terminal 7 and back, and to watch the time.

    When I got to the UA baggage services, I was second in line. First in line were two large male surfers and their smaller female companion. The two men, and one especially, were upset about some damage to a boogie board sustained in a flight from Hawaii. These guys were being very aggressive towards he woman behind the counter, taking out their rage on her, instead of on the airline. (Or instead of acting like adults.)

    I’d call it abuse.

    The UA staffer was doing her best to remain calm, but several times had to stop mid-sentence to collect herself before continuing. She was shaken. The female surfer kept telling the woman behind the counter that it was not her fault; but I noticed that she was not confronting her two large asshole friends.

    Finally, the woman called for backup from a senior management upstairs.

    Here’s all the thoughts that went through my mind.

    • This is bullying.
    • They should not be taking it out on a powerless frontline worker.
    • It’s a boogie board; this is a human being.
    • I should intervene.
    • Gee, that woman is on the other side of the counter: I am on this side.
    • It’s not my job.
    • If this escalates, I may miss my plane.

    In the end, I did nothing except thank her warmly when she went to get my bag and hand it to me. And if I review my actions, I think there is sounds “risk management” logic behind what I did. But somehow, it doesn’t sit right. I should have said something.

    I think we’re presented with these dilemmas every day. We can’t always get them right. On reading your piece, I’m motivated to follow up with UA.

    PS: I’ve been to Kampong Thom too, to see a prison. I think everyone would benefit from seeing the inside of prison.

    • J. 7 November, 2011 at 3:40 pm #

      Ah, David… like most everyone else I know in this business, I ride the emotional boogie board. However, unlike most, for better or for worse, I let you (all) in on how that ride is going from time to time.

      Long ago I made it a personal practice to never ever ever get tense with frontline service staff (like airline check-in clerks).

  4. Luc Lapointe 7 November, 2011 at 10:59 pm #

    Dear Anonymous….!

    I have read a lot of these types of post recently ….maybe the flavor of the season. I think that most professional (doctors for example) would wish to have this kind of freedom. Keep on experimenting with the hummm what do we call them now?!? (bottom of the pyramid, unskilled, poor, illiterates, etc) and if you don’t get it right the first time just keep on trying. Just imagine if an obstetrician would have that kind of freedoms with people’s life and future. If there success rate would be 98% ….would you use this obstetrician knowing that for every 100 childbirth ..he/she would drop 2 babies!?!?

    I don’t know you other than reading your post once in a while but I think that your last paragraph really sums up the whole story — “….Pride in grants successfully won, targets successfully achieved, strategies successfully carried out, promotions successfully attained.”

    It would have been different to read that after two decades your pride would reside in making a difference, having an impact, disengagement strategy, etc but it seems that not taking yourself seriously also involves the people that count so much on the professionals like you. Maybe there is light at the end of the tunnel – with private aid at the point of eclipsing official aid there will be place for innovation and changes to the way aid is currently being delivered.

    I don’t think that this will come out of the HLF-4 on Aid Effectiveness but maybe the “bottom of the pyramid” will turn into “the foundation of the pyramid” – semantic ….yes but with a global population at now 7 billion, development strategies that lack vision in a world with depleting infrastructures, increasing food prices …maybe we should take our self more seriously!

    With 2012 around the corner…maybe the Mayan got it right….the end of the world yes.. The end of the world as we know it.


    • J. 8 November, 2011 at 2:11 am #

      and… you’re on about Busan. Again.

      and… as usual, I can hardly discern a logical link between your lengthy comment and the post you’re commenting on.

      and… you’re right: you don’t know me.

  5. solemu 8 November, 2011 at 12:48 am #

    Confident humility: I love those words…

  6. jytc 10 November, 2011 at 3:37 am #

    This was actually one of the first posts I read on your site, and pretty much the reason why I keep reading. I love the writing style here – you usually take a more professional tone when discussing professional topics – but this is what really made me think that you had something truly worthwhile, and different from other aid bloggers, to share. Thanks!
    Perhaps it’s because I’m studying Orwell in my high school english class, and therefore I relate everything to him, but this is very reminiscent of his essays.
    Hm, sorry to go on about style and not about content. But it is really the way you frame your content that makes it that much more impactful.

  7. Els 6 July, 2013 at 5:29 am #

    Dear J.,

    It is a beautifully written article and a recognizable situation. And although I agree that this feeling of “self-importance” or “I already do enough” plays a role; I often find myself ignoring those situations like you describe in which I could do good, out of fear of what will come next. “If I offer them my hand, they will want my whole arm” – if I help them now, they will keep coming back to me, so where will it stop?

    Of course, it occurs to me that while now I draw a line here and say no further, I could probably do that a bit further on – just draw a line there. And yet, I stay within the limits I’ve set myself. Because it feels safer; people will know where my limits are and won’t ask me (much) more. And when I feel like a coward, I can somehow – like you describe – appease my conscience that I already do my part. But that doesn’t feel like the whole story.


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