Twenty large cement pipes face a dusty road in the capital’s Srah Chak commune, their gaping openings revealing channels purpose-built for waste or water.
But more than half of them carry very different contents — a family that has called the pipes home for the past two years.
Nol Linch, 64, is the matriarch.
She and her 67-year-old husband, their four children and spouses, moved to Phnom Penh in 2010 from Prey Veng province in the hope of a better life.
“I decided to move to the city to work, and I expected that I could earn more money to support the family and live in a good condition like other people, but my dream did not come true,” Nol Linch said, her eyes beginning to fill with tears.
Initially, her family had lived in a warehouse, but they were evicted by its owners. In the abandoned pipes nearby, Nol Linch saw a solution to her family’s housing woes.
Her grandchildren—seven in all, under the age of 12—tumbled in and out of the pipes in a game of hide-and-seek as Nol Linch’s daughter, Nol Sarin, 36, nursed the newest addition to the family — a year-old infant and the first grandchild to be born in the pipes.
Another of Nol Linch’s daughters is expecting.
Nol Sarin, who picks and sells morning glory, and her husband sleep on the grass outside the pipes so her baby and three other children can sleep inside.
“It is very difficult in the rainy season. We cannot have a full night’s sleep because the water pours into our sleeping place,” Nol Sarin said, showing the Post reporter the hole-covered tent that has been stretched over the end of the pipe to form a makeshift wall.
She and her family use an abandoned plot of land about 30 metres away as a toilet, and her children and husband often suffer from bouts of coughing or diarrhoea.
But what troubled her more than physical discomforts, she said, were conflicts with the people of the area.
Residents had looked down on the family when they moved in, Nol Sarin said.
“I argued with the people around here because they said bad words to me — that we lived in the pipe like animals and the pipe was not the place for human beings to live in,” she said.
Although local authorities and police officers have apparently given up on attempts to ask the family to leave, the possibility of eviction continues to weigh heavily on Nol Sarin’s mind.
“We don’t know where we are going to live, or maybe we stay on the street,” she said.
But for Nol Sarin’s younger brother, Kosal, 22, the only one of Nol Linch’s children who is unmarried, his address gives rise to another kind of fear.
“I don’t care what they (residents) say to me, because they won’t give me a house if I leave here. But I don’t dare to love or ask the woman to marry me because she will reject me when she knows I live in the pipe,” he said.
“I will ask someone to marry me when I have a suitable place or house to stay, but if I live in the pipe until I am old, I am happy to live alone.”