One day in January 2010 I was hanging out with my Mum in her study while she was drinking a coffee. She was reading the news, and found something interesting. “Take a look at this story, apparently the police in Cambodia rounded up a bunch of heroin addicts and conducted a drug trial on them”. The story she found only went for a paragraph or two. “This is pretty interesting, I’d like to know more about it”.
She then got on the phone and called a bunch of editors and pitched the story. One of the editors agreed the story was interesting and then agreed on a price and word count.
“Want to come along?” she asked me. “Sure” “You can be my photographer” and she passed me a camera.
Then she booked two tickets from Hong Kong to Phnom Penh and we got on a flight later that day. When we got to the hotel, she immediately got on the phone and started calling people while I watched TV. She set up all the meetings in the hotel lobby. We’d go down, Mum would ask questions, get more contacts and basically get closer to the people involved in the story.
Eventually we set up a meeting with the founder of a harm reduction charity that provided shelter and clean needles for heroin addicts. Except this time the meeting was set at a bar. Mum and I grab a tuk tuk to the bar, wander in and sit down at a table. After a while the daughter of the person we’re supposed to meet turns up and sits with us.
“My Mum is a bit paranoid about journalists, I’m not sure if she’ll talk to you two”. I was honoured to have been promoted from Computer Science student to a journalist. We talked with her for a bit then suddenly her mother, a lady called Holly, came over.
“I don’t trust journalists, I’ve been burned by them in the past.”
“We’re not out to get you, we just want to know what happened. If you don’t want to be quoted or mentioned in the article that’s fine with me. I can even send you the article before I publish it.”
“That’s not good enough, I want you to swear on your son’s eyes you aren’t going to fuck me over”
She had a look at me. Made some joke and then said “Yeah sure, I swear on my son’s eyes I’m not going to fuck you over.”
She still didn’t seem to keen on us, but as we chatted and drank beers she started to trust us more. It probably helped that we weren’t looking to screw over her organisation. She told us to come over to her charity the next day and have a look.
The next day we went over to the headquarters and they took us out into the field to distribute clean needles to heroin addicts. We gave some needles to a group of men and they immediately started shooting up heroin. I started to take a photo but they wanted money for the photo. Mum didn’t want to pay them for ethical reasons so we don’t have that photo.
After that we went back to the Holly’s charity and interviewed two heroin addicts. I can’t remember who said what, so I’m going to merge their stories together.
“I was hanging around on the street when the police stopped me and forced me onto the back of a motorbike. They drove me to a government camp. A few other heroin addicts were there as well. We were there for two weeks, every day we were given meals and a dose of this Chinese medicine. I returned to using heroin after I was let out.”
That’s the story as I remember it. I should probably read the article Mum wrote in The Lancet again to see how much I got right.