Monday, November 19, 2007

A letter from a young woman serving in Cambodia

hello all,
cambodia is hot!!! although im psyched to be away for the chilly
winter months...i wish i had a bit more of a fall experience before
plunging into absolute hot, stickiness. however, i cant really
complain as i have started discovering the lush pool havens amidst the
concrete. just trying to strike a balance between staying cool and
being respectful in terms of my attire.
the weekend brought some interesting new experiences my way. i took a
boat ride along the mekong river for a friend's birthday. it dropped
us at this funky bar called snowies, whose owner made a guest role in
the movie city of ghosts...never seen it, but heard its quite good.
following the birthday party we went to a club called heart of
darkness...which ended up being an extremely appropriate name.
i had heard a bit about the sexpat/sex industry in cambodia and
southeast asia in general before coming here...but wasnt sure how i
was going to react. for a little back story- i have never set foot in
a strip club and the only encounters i remember having with
prostitutes involve them approaching my dads car for a good time at a
stoplight (he respectfully dismissed their advances and answered my
questions that followed with grace) on our way downtown before 42nd st
was cleaned up. upon entering the club...i was face to face with a
seedy side of this beautiful city. i place no judgment on the
women...and in fact had some lovely conversations with several
prostitutes, who have excellent english skills, dancing feet and a
personable demeanor. also had to fend off one woman who cornered me in
the bathroom and practically begged me to have sex with her...that was
interesting to say the least. but my prostitute buddies sensed i wasnt
into it and came to my rescue. haha. after switching between staring
at ignoring the groping, touching, kissing, flirting, etc i had to get
some fresh air. the sense of entitlement and access seeping from the
sexpats pours made me feel sick and sad. knowing that the going rate
for a woman's body is no more than $! not sure what else to
say. the saddest thing is that these women's families depend on them
and this sex industry for survival. a friend took me down the street
to check out the walkabout hotel, which is in essence a 24 hour
brothel. the faces of the western men nearly hit the floor when we
walked in. i think the sight of a western woman, who maybe looks like
your mom/sister/wife, is a bit of a downer when trying to score a
khmer prostitute. so that was fun.
another unfortunate sidenote in regards to women's lives in cambodia
concerns the value placed on light skin and a quiet mouth. when out to
lunch with the teachers, the restaurant owner started poking fun at
ann, a particularly badass lady. i later inquired what it was all
about and she said that they are all trying to find her a man. when i
commented on how beautiful, smart and funny she was, her response was
that i was the only person to have ever said anything like that to her
and that it is her badluck that she was born with dark skin and a
sense of humor. we then launched into a great discussion about white
privilege and women's ideal appearance in the states. however, i dont
think that my feelings about waiting for a man who is looking for a
challenge to love really translates in cambodia, where money speaks
louder than words and women are meant to be seen and not heard (sorry
for two cliches so close together).
on a brighter note...spent all day saturday with the folks at sovann
komar. three children celebrated their birthdays. in addition, we had
a full moon celebration. we made boats out of bamboo (i actually cut
huge pieces of bamboo with a machete and some smaller knives) and
placed offerings (flowers, fruit, seeds, candles, incense) for our
ancestors on the boats. we then placed our boats into the river with a
sense of what we were thankful for and what we wanted in our hearts.
my boat was pretty small, but some of the dads made the most beautiful
creations. in an attempt to be creative i carved a sun out of bamboo,
covered it in yellow paper, and placed it on top the little hut i had
created to protect my offerings.
went to the "thrift shop"market today. that's how it was advertised,
but as thrift junkie, i was not so impressed. plus...the scene at the
market was a bit off putting as in between the aisles chickens hung
from hooks and animals innards were on display...including the penis
and testicles on an unidentified creature. nevertheless i purchased a
cute shirt/dress, my first since being here.
making friends is not no hard in this town...but i found a couple more
treasures this weekend, both ladies from the states. ali is from the
chicago area...funny that i become close to chi folks no matter if im
in wisconsin, south africa or cambodia. the other is charis. charis
invited me on a weekend roadtrip to kep, about three hours southwest
of pp. we'll be staying with a friend of hers for free and from her
descriptions will be out in the wilderness hiking and swimming!! fun.
plus, we'll come back for the last day of the water festival, as the
boat racing sounds incredible.
i will be spending my thanksgiving delivering toys, books and a
hammock from the children of sovann komar to an orphanage in an outer
province. i cant think of anything more appropriate and lept at the
opportunity in hopes that it will distract me from what im missing
back home. i think the leftover sandwich later thursday evening is
what i will miss the most...outside of family and friends of course.
that's all for now....gotta run to dinner with my pp ladies. instead
of asking how are you, khmers ask: happy, healthy? i hope you are all
happy and healthy,
katie xoxoxo

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