He is so deeply in debt that he is considering returning to his job finding land mines. More than half of Cambodian households, his included, owe money to what critics say are predatory microfinancing institutions.
Some of Ms. Ma Syloun’s classmates, rich students from Phnom Penh, don’t understand why she cannot join calls for some group projects. To afford life in Phnom Penh, she works at a restaurant, seven days a week, for $80 a month. Since she’s studying on her phone, she writes her assignments on paper.
“They say they’ll take my name off the group work,” she said. “They say I’m lazy.”
She shows photos of these classmates, posing on social media, sipping icy drinks in air conditioning.
Ms. Ma Syloun brings rice from her village of Sna Ansa to Phnom Penh. It’s cheaper than buying city rice. Her father has sold a buffalo and cows for her education.
She acknowledges that her chances of becoming a lawyer are slim. Many white-collar jobs are secured through connections and under-the-table payments, the kind of inequalities that led many Cambodians to initially welcome the Khmer Rouge.
“In our country, without money and a strong network, you are nothing,” she said.
Searching for justice
On the outskirts of Phnom Penh, on a dusty road crowded with motorcycles and trucks carrying garment workers to factories, stands a cream-colored edifice set against a vast lawn: the Extraordinary Chambers in the Court of Cambodia.
There, over the past 16 years, what are known as the Khmer Rouge trials have unfolded, through a United Nations-sponsored process that was supposed to bring a measure of justice and catharsis to Cambodia. This, though, is hardly the Nuremberg trials, which delved into Nazi horrors, or South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which was meant to help mend the rifts of apartheid.