Monday, June 6, 2011

It says "Lawyer" on my door. Guess I don't have to go back to school in August.

On my third day, I had my first day at work. The office is on the outskirts of the city, so it's a 15 minute drive without traffic, 30 minutes during rush hour. I take a tuk tuk to work, which is essentially a motorcycle with a golf cart attached. It's the coolest (literally) way to see the city, as it combines the open-air rush of a motorcycle with the stability of a car (well, a car-like thing). The only problem is that I'm swallowing enough exhaust smoke each day that my lungs now probably look like they belong to a Charles Dickens factory worker.

The drivers here are INSANE. Think about this: the majority of the population is under 30 years old. All of these people are driving. It's like an entire road system made up of reckless teenage drivers high on the thrill of getting their licenses, with no middle-aged people around to tell the whippersnappers to slow down. There are more motorcycles than cars, and they weave in and out of traffic in a manner that makes it look like they're writing cursive with their wheels.

When I arrived at work, I met the head of the legal aid group. He showed me around the office, and introduced me to the different clinics. We have four specialized areas of practice in addition to a general legal aid office: the women's law program, land law, juvenile justice, and a program focusing on settling civil cases for victims of the Khmer Rouge. The second of four big trials of KR leaders is going to start at the end of the month, so hopefully the interns will get to attend parts of the trial. I'm going to be splitting my time between juvenile justice and land law, although I'll also get the chance to sit in on the other programs from time to time. I'm really excited about my assignment, because the land law program is dealing with a lot of environmental issues and property disputes, especially illegal logging happening in the north, which means I'll get to visit some of the provinces later in the summer. With juvenile justice, there's no established juvenile court here; if you get arrested for something (most commonly, petty theft, which has a sentence from anywhere between 6 months to 15 years depending on the judge), you're thrown into adult prison. We're going to be working with kids so that they know their rights in the courtroom. There's also a program designed to combat child abuse, educating parents that there are other ways to discipline and letting kids know that they have legal protection against abuse.

They showed me to my office, which I'll be sharing with a couple other interns. It says "Lawyer" on the door, which makes it really difficult for me to remember that I haven't really passed the bar, interviewed a client, or even watched enough episodes of Law&Order for me to be considered an attorney. I was the only one there on my first day, so I spent some time familiarizing myself with the legal system, and catching up on Cambodian history since 1975 so I'll understand more of what's happening with the Khmer Rouge trial.

Some pictures of my office:

This poster caught my attention. It says: "Only the senior Khmer Rouge leaders and those most responsible for committing serious crimes will be tried. Ordinary KR soldiers have nothing to fear."

In the evening, I tried one of the most famous Cambodian dishes. It's called amok, and it's fish cooked in curry with coconut over rice. I'm not a fan of coconut, but I definitely wanted to try it since it's such a staple dish here. The fish and the curry sauce come in a bowl beside a pile of white rice, so you get to control how much to put on. A little definitely goes a long way; I only scooped a few spoonfuls of the sauce onto my rice, and it was almost overpowering with flavor. It's pretty good, but you have to be ready for a really intense, distinct taste.

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