I live in the land of bonkers. I’ve grown accustomed to giggling to myself at the sights and sounds (and sometimes smells too) of Phnom Penh on an almost daily basis. I’ve come to expect the unexpected and am becoming pretty unshockable.
But then today happened. Having had an enjoyable lunch in a rather trendy café 10 minutes or so from my office, I set off to walk back and that’s when it occured.
As I avoided the calls of tuktuk and moto drivers intent on making me use their services I gazed upon a sight that threw me. There, a few feet away, in the middle of the street was a man walking along wearing a jacquard weave, peach curtain. At this point I was only privy to a rear view and so I watched as he periodically spread his arms so the curtain flapped like a cape before wrapping it back around him.
And then he turned. And yes, you guessed it – curtain man was stark b*llock naked underneath his ‘cape’. He continued to flap his arms and twirl around, his manhood flailing around for all to see. And that’s the bit that was really odd – it seemed like no one apart from me actually did see.
And no, it wasn’t that they were doing that ‘we’re pretending not to see’ thing that I was doing at the time. The 30 or more people along the strip of road were genuinely totally unaware and/or uninterested in this poor chap.
I followed at a safe distance for a couple of blocks before curtain man wandered to the side of the road and behind a tree.
But this wasn’t the end. Oh no, he then proceeded to drop the curtain on the floor and perform naked backbends behind the tree, each bend resulting in his penis flapping up and flopping back down melodramatically.
At this point I wandered on my way battling with a mixture of emotions. Yes, I was amused, after all it’s one of those rare sights that threatens to knock the dead body appearing outside my apartment in Warsaw incident off its top spot on the WTF chart.
But more than amused I was confused and conflicted.
Why was that poor man in that state? He didn’t seem intoxicated, he was walking steadily in a straight line and wasn’t calling out or being abusive but something was definitely amiss.
Where had he come from and where was he going to? Did he have a home? Did he have someone to miss him?
And why did nobody out on the street apparently care? Have the atrocities of recent years numbed these people to this extent? Is mental health such a taboo subject that we totally ignore anything vaguely resembling it? Or is it something else
And all of that made me incredibly sad.
Back in the land of fish, I’ve been furiously googling to try to get help for curtain man. I even called a local mental health NGO (the only one in Cambodia I can find) but they don’t offer any outreach services and could only suggest directing him to the local public hospital (St Vicky was quick to point out that me doing this was not a good idea in case anyone’s worried I might go through with it).
Right now as I try to work out how to close off this post I’m reminded of my lovely homeless friend in Manchester, Dave. Seeing him sleeping outside my flat for the first time, so vulnerable out in the sub-zero temperatures of a Manchester winter broke my heart. I made him tea and butties and we struck up a friendship. Dave called me his ‘Anjel’ but in truth I think he was mine. He taught me so much about what is important in life just through his presence and his humility.
I can’t work out how to make a difference for curtain man just now but I know one thing, I’m not going to stop trying. I need to find a way that I can help him and the presumably thousands more ‘invisible’ people living with Mental Health issues out here.
If anyone has any ideas of organisations I might contact or how I might otherwise go about helping I’m really interested to hear.