And then there were five

What happens when two young Cambodians move into a Western household?

(Note, this was written almost two years ago. Half-hearted updates can be seen in italics)

Two young Cambodians have recently moved into our house. Culture shock, confusion and an element of chaos reign on both sides.We’ll be blogging about the experience as time, motivation and events allow.

But first the list of Characters:

Socheata* was the first of the two young Cambodians to move in. She is twenty years old and we have known her for about 10 years.

She is a resilient young woman who, when we first met her, was vibrant and energetic. Over her teenage years she seemed to lose her spark and appeared a little more withdrawn.

Socheata studies English five nights a week at a Phnom Penh university and has a one year work-experience contract at an NGO. She is paid a small salary for her work which finishes at the end of December. (This has now been extended, although university studies have paused- she has completed a foundation year but isn’t sure what to do next)

She has adjusted quite quickly to the routine of the house although her eagerness to please can rapidly move into a nervousness if she thinks she may have done something wrong.

Socheata does not have a relationship that allows her to live with a family member and her demanding, last living arrangement ended unpleasantly.**

Socheata likes to cook (although “not too much,” she says) and studying English. It is this last interest that provides much frustration for the two westerners of the household as the homework she brings back is riddled with the mistakes of her Cambodian teacher. Her English is, I guess, at an elementary level. (Her speaking and listening has improved greatly since she has been living with us.)

We provide lodgings and food for Socheata, and study and living costs when her job comes to an end.

Sarey* is the sister of a young Cambodian women who we have known for years. We were first told that she was 15. However when she turned up on our doorstep she looked 9, and we later established that she was just 13.

Sarey knows of nothing but country life and so the movement to Phnom Penh to live with a couple of foreigners is a big transformation, indeed.

She is most reluctant to try new things and new food and possesses a stubborn streak  which provides a constant challenge.(this has largely disappeared) Behind a look which borders on fierce when she is either bewildered or things are not going as she would like, there is a shyness but, like Socheata, a resilience often not found in children of the west.

Sarey is a quick learner and a strong student and especially happy in her new, Phnom Penh school. Already, she realizes she is getting a better education that she would in the countryside. She loves cooking and talking on the phone and is developing an interest in reading. She has poorly-developed English speaking skills although this should quickly change (it has!) and overall her English is at a low-elementary level.

Sarey’s family are unable to provide proper support for her and thus we are paying for her living and education costs.

Ann is an English teacher. She values peace and privacy. At the moment she isn’t getting either.

Sparks may fly…

…unless the newly acquired pursuit of yoga does its thing…

Philip is also an English teacher who sometimes lacks patience. (apparently) He likes reading, cooking and watching football.

The occasional nip of whiskey (it’s no longer an occasionally) and a glass of wine, and the hogging of the TV when the football is on is keeping him on an even keel. Just.

Vanna is a cat. Obviously.

Born in Thailand, Vanna, now six, was brought to Cambodia by plane when he was about two years old.

He likes hunting, sleeping, eating chicken and pork, and playing with yellow highlighter pens.

So far he’s casting a wary eye over proceedings but remains mostly calm and maintains his in-out-in-out-in-out-in of the house routine during the night.

* Socheata and Sarey are not their real names which will be kept private for confidentiality reasons. Socheata means ‘Well born, well grown. ‘Sary means the ‘state of being free.’
** Socheata’s and Sarey’s backgrounds will largely remain hidden.

21 thoughts on “And then there were five

  1. Pingback: Socheata Gets a Reminder of Cambodian Reality | cambodian beginnings

  2. a fascinating account of new beginnings for all of you. We visited Cambodia a couple of years ago and understand how hard it is for youngsters to make their way in life when their own lives have been troubled. Bless you for giving these two a helping hand.

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  6. I always check out blogs of people who like mine and this time I have struck gold. I’ve had a little look around but will have to come back as time allows. I too am an English teacher who has spent time in East Africa and SE Asia before settling in Australia till my daughter finishes school this year!

  7. Pingback: Sarey Goes to the Movies | cambodian beginnings

  8. Pingback: Sarey Goes to the Movies | cambodian beginnings

  9. norngsothearak says:

    You make my heart races !!!! with the kindness you’ve done ,though make little impact, yet it is seen by the goodness and it is indeed endless….!!!

  10. Pingback: “Women Can’t Handle the Heat,” So Earn Less in the Kitchen | cambodian beginnings

  11. I just found your blog and am eager to follow. I lived and worked in Cambodia (small district in Kratie) during the UN election and am so excited to return this Christmas. I will be shocked at how much it has changed since 1993 I am sure. I am a teacher as well who will be teaching in Cairo soon. Your life seems very interesting and of course, I am fascinated with anything Cambodian as it has such a special place in my heart. Take care and the best of everything to you and your new family, Cheryl

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