I am not a journalist!

I don’t write the news. I think I know how to put that fancy little accent mark over the “e” in expose, but I’m too lazy to do it. Journalists don’t use I when they write.

I do.

Why is it then that here in Cambodia everyone knows me as a journalist or a member of the press? If the press has meetings, secret handshakes, or mottos, I don’t know about them. I don’t have a press pass. I don’t want one.

The problem is no one knows what a freelance writer is. Here’s how I introduce myself:

“I’m Kelsey Timmerman, a freelance writer from the USA.”

Then whoever I’m talking to scratches their head as they try to figure out what a freelance writer is. I could explain the painful process of having no regular gig, but having to pitch and query, scratch and claw for every assignment. That even if I don’t find a home for their specific story that I will write it because that’s just what I do. That this Where Am I Wearing? story is going to be my first book.

But no one wants to hear all of that. So, screw it…

“I’m a journalist.” I accompany this with either a writing motion or a typing motion (I’m not really sure which sign language is the best).

People tend to be skeptical of journos. If I get a chance, I explain my quest to them, which isn’t always the most effective way to solicit their help. It is hard to relate coming to a country because my blue jeans were made here to a land mine removal manager who I’m trying to convince to take me into the field.

So to all of the people of Cambodia: I am not trying to infiltrate your organization. What you see is what you get. As silly as it may sound, I am here because my blue jeans were made here. My goal is to introduce whatever readers/listeners I am lucky enough to reach to your country, and to the people who make their clothes. That’s it. I have no agenda. Heck, I don’t even know what I’m doing tomorrow.

Why the testimonial?

I’ve spent my first 10-days here in Cambodia exploring NGO’s, land mind removal, Cambodia’s coming to terms with its troubled history, and anything else I think I need to know to have an accurate feel for Cambodia. I’ve accomplished what I hoped to accomplish, but it could have been easier. Some examples of the challenges:

The Maddox Jolie Pitt Project in Battambang doesn’t talk to the press. I could ask the fella there any question as long as it didn’t pertain to their project. He was polite enough about it and helped give me a feel for the area in general, but stonewalled me on everything else. I would have to email his boss. His boss never emailed me back.

MAG, a mine removal organization, told me on Friday that I could visit a site they are working on as long as I didn’t go into the mine field. Not a problem, I like not exploding. So, I take a 2-hour taxi ride to Pailin where, per MAG’s suggestion, I meet the local CARE staff who agrees to drive me an hour to the site. On the way they talk to MAG via radio. Now MAG is less than thrilled that I am coming. The closer we get, the more privileges I lose. Okay, but you can’t step off the road. And then, you can’t take photos. And then, you can’t ask any questions. And then, you can’t be here. Turn around. I wasted my whole day and 3 CARE employees’ time, for nothing.

Tomorrow I start chasing my pants. I have a meeting with the International Labor Organization setup through Levi’s. Levi’s has been great to work with so far. I expect this trend will continue.

Now it’s time to get down to business: Where were my pants made? How were they made? Who made them? What did they eat for breakfast (does that sound something like a journo would ask?)?

Miles says:

Just wanted to say I love your blog and can’t wait to read your book! Do you already have any publishing deals worked out? Any idea when it will hit the shelves? Good luck and I hope your pants find their birthplace!

Kelsey says:

Miles, Thanks for your support. No publishing deals yet. I was contacted by an agent who, after seeing this blog in its infancy, is interested in representing the book. And he wasn’t the first agent to show interest. I am very confident, especially after all the great material I’ve been getting, that this will be a book. As for my pants, I will be wearing them to their birthplace this Saturday.

Kent says:

Can you inquire as per my snowflake boxers?

Kelsey says:

I’ll be learning a lot about the garment workers of Cambodia and, hopefully, meeting quite a few. In a sense I will know something about your boxers. If you want me to track down the exact factory, find me an address. I searched GAP’s (they own Old Navy) website and couldn’t find an address. If you get me an address, I’ll get you a photo of the factory.

Kent says:

I read in a reliable source (random page on the internet http://www.bigempire.com/sake/garment.html) that the Gap is enforcing a few labour codes in the suppliers’ factories. Apparently, they tour them regularly to make sure things are kosher. If these inspections actually take place, I wonder if you could tag along.

I found an address for one of their factories:

Suntex Pte Ltd
N° 8, Chom Chao (St. 217)
12405 Phnom Penh, Cambodia
tel: 023 424 788

Kelsey says:

Cambodia has a very good monitoring program through the ILO known as the Better Factories program. Many of the big brands such as Levi’s, Gap, etc. support the program. Actually, the BF program might just be Levi’s, but I think GAP has a similar program.

And a somewhat related item…

Three Union leaders in the garment industry have been killed over the last few years. Recently all of the major brands ran a letter in the local paper calling for a more concerted effort by the government to investigate the murders.

Let your voice be heard!