Hear Khmer, Speak No Khmer, See Big Problem (6/7/13)

Let me first begin with a summary of my laborious work schedule thus far:

Wednesday (first day): Sat in the office for a couple hours, waiting and reading  Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (a very good book). WOMEN directors were all out of town. “Come back tomorrow.”

Thursday: Sat in office for a couple hours. Power went out, not much we could do. Began to feel like I’m half in Cambodia and half in my book (which takes place in New York). “Try again tomorrow.”

Friday: Read through some documents. Finished my book. (I hate finishing good books.) Directors  were out of town again. “See you Monday.”

Things should pick up next week.

However, Chris and I did have the opportunity today to accompany a few of our staffers out into the city to do HIV testing. Though no one spoke English, I was fascinated by the process! The testing took place in a small dark room with covered windows in the back of a restaurant. Looked pretty shady. At first I did not understand how anyone would know that testing was taking place there, but then realized that this particular restaurant was a hot spot for prostitution.

Few of the girls my team tested looked older than 16. Many seemed to know each other, and when the WOMEN staff handed a big box of condoms to a man who followed them, I could only assume he was their manager. Most of the girls were surprisingly giggly and in good spirits as their fingers were pricked and results revealed within five minutes. They were then handed a tooth brush and detergent, though many only laughed when offered condoms.

With nothing better to do, I accepted the invitation to be tested: HIV free- woot woot! Any other result may have put a serious damper on this trip.

One older man came in for testing. When he was informed that he was clear of infection, he shook all of our hands. It occurred to me shortly after that I had just congratulated a man who has likely paid for the company of girls my age or younger. Nevertheless, it is absolutely a positive thing that he was tested. Still attempting to sort out my feelings over this incredibly brief interaction.

One final note: as the title of this post suggests, my near complete lack of language is a pretty obvious problem. Everyone seems impressed by the few phrases I can spit out, but I am pretty much useless outside of English editing at this moment. No volunteer in the U.S. could get by without English- why am here without a hold on Khmer? I really want to learn though and have been practicing with several of my Cambodian neighbors. My vocabulary includes: hello, thank you, yes/no, dog, vegetables, numbers 1-19, condom (learned that one today), chicken and beef, and “How much does it cost? That is too much.” This all makes for excellent conversations. I feel better, however, when everyone laughs at Chris for speaking little Khmer despite his Cambodian heritage.


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