This article in the Los Angeles times about the norries in Cambodia presents two things – a window to a form of transportation and a commentary on the aftermath of conflict.
The humble norry is a reminder of how much Cambodians lost, but it also speaks to their persevering spirit. All but left for dead under Pol Pot’s genocidal regime, they defied the odds to rebuild, sometimes literally: Witness the land mine victims who picked up their lives by crafting homemade wooden limbs.
“It shows how ingenious people can be,” says Ith Sorn, 55, who’s been driving norries for three decades. “Cambodians came up with this when they had almost nothing.”
The unique mode of transportation saw its heyday in the 1980s when other vehicles were scarce. “There were bombs and mines everywhere, roads were destroyed and rail cars a shambles,” says Kot Sareurn, 50, a union leader for 23 norry drivers in Battambang, a picturesque provincial capital along the tranquil Sangker River. “Norries helped a lot of people survive, get to hospitals, get food.”
Today, it is becoming mostly a tourist attraction with actual trains available in Cambodia along with buses and taxis. I know there are people who turn their nose up on jugaad. However, the point is that the people who are do “jugaad” like the one above are forced to do so because of events that they have had no control of. Land mines in Cambodia have maimed and continue to maim more people in the last 30 years than the headcount in most wars of the 20th century.
I think for tourists who visit such countries and are exposed to such indigenous forms of transportation (like the human rickshawwallah in Kolkata) they need to be a touch more sensitive when riding them, for pleasure or for getting across to their destination.