“Oh you’re a journalist. I better watch what I say”.
While travelling I’ve had many people say that to me. I laugh it off, but deep down I know they do probably watch what they say. They probably aren’t as open with me as they would be if I worked in a supermarket as a check-out girl. Sometimes it’s left me with strange feelings. But two days ago I remembered why I wanted a career in the journalism industry and just why I can’t wait to get back to being a full time journalist – whenever that happens to be!
I was picked up from the Eighty 8 hostel in Phnom Penh and taken to the bus station by a local Cambodian driver. While I waited for the bus to take me to Sihanoukville the driver asked me where I was from.
His English was amazing. I replied ‘England’ and asked how his English became to be so good. To some that might be a rude question to ask, but I was genuinely interested. He was a fifty-something year old local Cambodian man and I was surprised to hear the American accent that came flowing out of his mouth so effortlessly when he spoke.
He began his story.
He grew up a few hours outside of Cambodia’s capital and moved to Phnom Penh almost 25 years ago not being able to speak a single word of English.
He began his working life as a tuk tuk driver, which after several years led to him being a personal driver & chauffeur to three American journalists over a 9 year period.
His employers, the American journalists, paid for him to learn more English. And he did. He studied hard and improved so much so that he himself later became a journalist.
He told me he loved the job. He loved telling people’s stories, giving the local people a voice and sharing it with the rest of the world. He spoke so passionately about his job, about his career.
But he left the profession.
He told me one day he got caught secret filming a government-outsourced organisation who were tearing down housing. He claimed it led to many people being left without homes, without any warning. The footage he had filmed was seized. He told me he was beaten and ended up with bad head injuries.
He told me of the struggles and pain he went through.
He then went on to tell me that his wife was so fearful of the family’s safety that he eventually left journalism.
He left the one job that he loved doing more than anything else in the world. He said he left because he was fearful of how the media was controlled.
I told him I recently left my job as a journalist in England to come travelling. As I sat there in the local Cambodian bus station thinking about what this brave man had told me, what he had been through, I felt a lump in my throat as I tried to hold back the tears.
I was reminded of why I wanted to become a journalist in the first place.
- To share people’s stories.
- To give the underrepresented a voice.
- To uncover the truth.
- To be real.
- To educate.
- And to inspire.
I’ve been travelling around Southeast Asia for 3 months now and it’s changed a lot about me. Today I was glad to learn one thing about travelling.
It hasn’t changed my interest for people. Or perhaps I should say my ‘noseyness’ for people and their stories.
To the driver I briefly met in Phnom Penh, you probably won’t ever see this, but thank you. I didn’t catch your name but thank you for two things:
- For sharing your story with me and reminding me why I love doing what I do.
For reminding me how important freedom of the press is.
Now it’s to get some sleep on this 4 hour bumpy bus journey to Sihanoukville, which will probably take 6 hours!
Current location: Blogging from a local bus to Sihanoukville in Cambodia.