For the most part, my life in Cambodia is not nearly as “exotic” as people living in cities like Chicago and Cleveland might think it is. I ride my bike around our small town, I work in an office with cement walls (though of course the lack of air-conditioning and high temperatures can make it interesting at times), and I order the same things at the restaurant at the end of my road.
Overall, though, things are pretty easy here, unlike what many think. Take, for example, the time I broke a pair of sunglasses. Actually broke them—snapped the frame in two. In the US I could have spent money to send them somewhere where they would inevitably get lost or I would get told it would cost more to fix them than to buy new ones, and I’d be lucky if I saw them again in a few months. Here, I walk to the end of the road and for 6 and a quarter cents someone welds them together for me in less than a minute.
Our bio-diesel truck broke the other day. The number of parts we needed to replace would mean considering the car totaled in the US. It cost us less than $400 to fix the truck and fix it well.
Overall, it is pretty easy to get things done here. Life is not “hard”.
But then random things happen, like the time an ant colony set up house inside my computer and my screen went black as hundreds of little ants emerged between the keys. The man at the computer shop who fixed it said, “Oh, that again. Ants ate your motherboard too?” Turns out he was able to fix the computer for a few dollars with a quick clean of the computer innards, and tada! I was back typing away, ant-free, in no time.
Then more difficult stuff happens that makes you depressed, annoyed, angry about being here. . . and all of the rest of the “ease” of living in Cambodia doesn’t seem all that easy any more. A few weeks ago, when I was staying in Phnom Penh with a group of teachers who were visiting Cambodia to learn about development issues, I woke up, and my phone as gone, as were two other phones from the other instructors staying the room. Someone had stolen our phones WHILE we were sleeping. Yikes!
I ran downstairs in my pajamas, upset that I would be losing the phone number I had had for 5 years and feeling strange that someone had been in my room while I was sleeping. I told the men behind the desk that I assumed it was someone with the key to our room, as I know I had locked the door, and they set about trying to find out what happened.
It turns out the guesthouse had video surveillance, and the person who had picked the lock was the prostitute staying with the older Australian man across the hall. When the staff came to knock on the door to try to get the phones back, the Aussie said, “She stole phones?!” then turned to her and said, “That is disgusting.” Too bad we were all too flustered by the situation to tell him that HE was disgusting.
The poor girl. Ugh—it broke my heart. She was clearly not a professional thief, or she wouldn’t have walked over two laptop computers before stealing our cheap and old phones. She let me come into the room and asked everyone else to leave and then gave me back our phones, while crying and holding my feet, saying she was supposed to leave that day to see her sick mother and she needed the money and she was so, so sorry. Sobbing. Both of us. Broke my heart. I told them not to arrest her. The hotel did anyway when she went downstairs. She won’t get a fair trial. It’s Cambodia afterall, and life here ISN’T easy for most. You can buy whatever you want: a computer cleaning, glasses fixing, ANYTHING. . . IF you have the money. If you don’t you will sit in jail, because you tried to steal a phone to get some cash to see your mother. And the man who bought you, the guy who has all the choices in the world, sits there, takes out cash to give to you (as he has been with you for the last few days and owes you money), and then puts the cash back into his wallet and says, “You have been a bad, bad girl for stealing their things!” and walks away.
It’s a pretty freakin’ hard place to live afterall.