Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Found: Cambodian Grrrl - self publishing in Phnom Penh

Anne Elizabeth Moore is the former co-editor and associate publisher of the now defunct site Punk Planet. Cambodian Grrrl is a diary of her time teaching zine production to a group of young female students at  Cambodia's Euglossa Dormitory for University Women

It is a tiny, slim thing, less than 100 pages long, and a heart-breaking account. Moore knows this, and is at pains to sustain a sensible, reportage in the face of the injustice, corruption, beauty and potential she encounters in Phnom Penh. It is fitting then that she owns the power of her encounter, promptly and honestly, at the beginning of the book, when recounting the moment she first introduces herself to the shy Euglossa students. 

"An means to read in Khmer. You will not say this out loud though, point out that you think it is funny that a writer would be named to read, until I put my hands up like a Sampea in front of my eyes, spread them, and pretend to be engrossed in the invisible text written across my palms.
"An," I say. "We will have a relationship based on reading"
And then, finally, you will laugh. And my heart will rend open like a ruby red grapefruit."

It is the closest to indulgent that Moore allows herself to get in an account that is all the more moving for its economy of emotional vernacular, and the encounter captures the shy and tender way Moore and the Cambodian girls go on to negotiate their ensuing relationships, across the divides of culture and language. 

Moore is conscious of her privileges - as a white, 1st world teacher, as a visitor, and ultimately, as a narrator. It's an account free of the West’s ugly, assumed sympathy-style discourses, and yet, for all her balanced narration, Moore’s love and respect for the Cambodian girls is there, vulnerable and implicit, a careful, complicated and abundant thing free of romanticism. 

There is no great reveal at the end, no gratifying final scene or promise of safety for the girls of Euglossa or their genocide-wracked country, but reading about the simple power of zines, unfolding, in action, in Cambodia, is an aching and radical thing. 


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