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Happy Merry Christmas

amoores Icon Posted by Anne Elizabeth Moore

December 24th, 2007

Christmas has finally arrived in Phnom Penh, or will tonight at midnight, and I’m living with 32 smart Khmer young women attending college for the first time, set to become the first generation of women leaders in Cambodia. Tonight we will celebrate. They like Christmas because Christmas is the present holiday; I like it because it will allow me to tell them ghost stories. (I’ll start with a barely disguised tale you may recognize that I’m calling “The Scary Story of Ebeneza Scrooge,” which will allow me to overlook for one night the very deep fear these young women have of ghosts because, I will explain to them, it’s a holiday tradition.)

I’m three weeks into my two months here, teaching the basics of self-publishing to young women at the Harpswell Foundation Dormitory in a country where reporters are still lynched, beat up by military police, or forced into hiding for questioning the actions of the excessively corrupt government. Women are traditionally exempt from this treatment; they are not often given the choice, or education, to become reporters. Every night, our conversation turns (admittedly through force) from questions of what might be the proper age to marry, to whether or not women should marry at all; from the correct number of children to have, to whether or not you wish to have them; and from what we are told to be when we become adults, to what we ourselves want to be.

There are problems. Racial and class-based divides are so entrenched as to be difficult to address, much less overcome. And while these girls may be getting ready to take over the country, the country is most definitely not getting ready to cede power to them. A paucity of free speech arenas allows for little hope this will change in the near future. And perhaps most significantly, they can be the most educated girls in the world, but will still not have the economic power necessary to get ahead in a poor country where jobs are often gotten through bribes. Hell, they don’t even have the economic power for motorcycle helmets, and with estimates of 12,000 of these per year (I saw, for example, three yesterday) this ain’t nothin’. (More can be found on Camblogdia.)

But: the Spirit of Christmas is with us, or at least the way I personally choose to translate it for the Buddhist-raised ladies. We have our chance to learn. We have our small acts of democracy. And I imagine we have the support of WIMN readers across the rest of the globe. So on behalf of the girls of the Harpswell Foundation Dormitory, Happy Merry Christmas. We wish you many presents.

EDITOR’S NOTE: As metioned in our holiday appeal, Women In Media & News, the media justice organization that sponsors this group blog, is offering a free copy of Anne Elizabeth Moore’s brilliant new book, Unmarketable: Brandalism, Copyfighting, Mocketing and the Erosion of Integrity, as a premium to donors who dig deep. We have other nifty giveaways, as well, but Anne’s snarky yet razor-sharp skewering of commercial cooptation of independent cultural will make Unmarketable one of the most important — and entertaining! — books you’ll read in 2008. Check it out!

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