Srey, the Cambodian word for girl, is used as a prefix to the girls’ first names. Srey - Tales of Urban Girlhood is a story about being a girl in an urban disaster zone. It is about city, identity, food, packaging, vulnerability and violence. But also about speed and strength.
It is about literally living in the garbage, at the bottom of a global consumer culture, and still continue to be a girl. Through the girls’ stories, we get a lurid picture of the value chain: A product is removed from its packaging to serve its purpose in a safe weekday - while the plastic it was wrapped in soon will be floating in a water-filled hole in a landfill. The plastic forms a floor, which collapses under a small foot and the story of a girl ends. Other plastic pieces are picked up by other girls. Are sold and reused. We meet the girls struggle to grow up and build a life in the darkest shadows of the economic miracle Cambodia. We meet girls begging on the streets, selling ice, collecting garbage at dumps, and harvests vegetables in the city. We meet young women who work in bars, that offer manicures, dream of entrepreneurship, a faithful husband, a new motorcycle. We meet a mother who has decided that her child should not have to remember the violent everyday life which is hers and a student who knows that if she just manages her time properly, she can break the cycle of hunger and disease.
Srey – the Cambodian girl - contradicts the Western fantasy of the Asian dollwoman. It challenges the feminist assumption that there is one female subject that needs to be represented in politics and boardrooms. They show how girl is an inadequate name of an identity that is complicated by nationality, class, ethnicity, avalanches of garbage and genocide. As clearly as they show us that there is not a universal “them”, they demonstrate the need for a global “we”. For we are related. We are all interconnected through debris, dreams and transactions. In every moment.
The book is in English, with summaries in Swedish and Khmer, and includes 70 pictures from Phnom Penh.