ALONGSIDE the road next to Sihanoukville’s main port, a team of six women are weaving a magnificent web that glistens in the sun. They are repairing crab nets for the port’s many fishermen.
“We cut out the old nets and tie new nets in to replace them,” says Pheng Srey Oun, 24. “If they do not replace the old ones, we don’t have any work to do.”
As we talk, Pheng Srey Oun walks backwards and forwards along the net tying the new blue netting to the back cords which run along the outside of the nets. Although a kilometre long, the nets are barely one metre wide. Once the 100-metre section they are working on is tied, the next section is rolled out.
They will continue until all 1,000 metres of netting is fixed to the cords. Then they will start on the next one. It is hot work.
“We have to work the whole day standing in the sun,” says Pheng Srey Oun. “We only break for an hour-and-a-half for lunch.”
“It is exhausting,” agrees her colleague Nget Noeun, 29. “We are walking backwards and forwards all the time.”
It is also badly paid.
“We earn 3,000 riel for each net we make,” says Pheng Srey Oun. Today she will make eight nets, taking home 24,000 riel for a full days work.
The women live close to each other. When there is work they get a phone call informing them to come to the port, if there is no call, they go moneyless. “The work is not regular,” says Nget Noeun. “When I don’t have work I stay at home raising my two children as I was divorced a few years ago.”
While the women are working, Khorn Chek sits beside several bags full of nets. Some are completed, some are waiting to be repaired. The former moto driver provides the women with the nets they have to fix.
“The fishermen hire me to take the nets for the women to sew,” he says.
“I earn between 10,000 and 20,000 riel a day. When they have a lot of nets for me to take to the women I earn a lot, when they do not, I earn a little.” Khorn Chek only knows of three places like this where women repair the nets. Initially he stumbled across them by accident.
“At first I was a moto dop driver and I did not know who can do this work, and I saw this team of women doing the work,” he says.
Now Khorn Chek has given up being a moto dop driver, spending the rest of his time carrying goods from the port towards the town. His choices for work are limited.
“It is hard work,” he says. “But we do not know what else to do.”
INTERPRETER: RANN REUY