The kids squealed with delight, rocketed across the aisle to get a closer look and poked their fingers at the window. They thought we had arrived at the zoo. Actually it was a herd of skinny greyish-white cattle sauntering across the road, but it was the first big animals some of the kids from Stung Meanchey dump had ever seen. Amy, an American woman who runs the programme, met us at the gate. She had organized complementary admission, guides and a bus charter at a great rate.
Once there, the 42 of us were officially welcomed. Nobody paid much attention, however, as the monkeys took front and centre stage. Kids and adults whooped as the monkeys grabbed food out of their hands, ran up the trees and swung from the branches.
The guided tour started with a walk through the deer park. The animals were very people friendly and followed us around. One nudged Len and gave her a fright. The very brave types managed a pat or two, but nobody got much closer than an arm’s length.
The entire trek was about three kilometers past turtles, pythons, leopards, lizards and a host of other animals. We all know I can’t stand kids, but these ones were little troopers. Three and four year olds walked the whole distance without shoes and didn’t complain. The mother, DD and I took turns carrying a one-year old baby. I was careful not to drop her.
The highlight performance was the elephant who danced and played football. More squeals, shrieks and finger pointing. At the end of the performance the elephant went around to get donations. Even though the people from the dump don’t have much money, they gave Jumbo 500 and 1000 riel (12 to 25 cents) notes which he snorted up in his trunk and passed back to the trainer.
Then it was time for lunch and we headed for the outdoor restaurant. Rice, fish, chicken, pork soup, pickled vegetables. A wonderful meal – the best some of the dump people would have ever had – came in at $1.95 a person. I’d budgeted for double that and was impressed with the quality and the quantity.
After a rest in the hammocks it was time for colouring. The zoo people showed up with outlines of animals and crayons. Everyone – and I mean everyone – was intense as they picked the colours and decided how to begin. Dead silence. Total concentration.
Amy said, “We had a group of grade 1, 2 and 3 kids from a private school here last week. They refused to colour or play games because all they wanted to do was get on their iPads after lunch. These kids are much more real.”
Next it was animal question inter-active games. Some for the kids, some for the older ones. More shrieks and squeaks as someone got stuck with the hot-potato, didn’t know the right answer and was face painted.
Then it was time to line up according to size and the assembled were given zoo tee-shirts sporting different animals.
The trip back was a touch quieter than the one going there. When we got to the dump people filed off and thanked both DD and I for a day they would never forget. We decided to make it an annual event.
The cost for the outing was split between a private philanthropic organization and Down in the Dumps. At $135 each I’m sure you will agree that your money was well spent. Arlette and Cecile made donations so DITD sits at $545.23. Remember that donations make a perfect Christmas gift for those on your list who already have too much.