Friday, July 8, 2011
Something we've noticed already about Cambodians is that it appears they value timeliness and good follow-through. This not only makes our lives easier, as it matches our own culture, it also makes it easier for Stephen to do his job well. We've had two examples of this so far. One is when we first arrived, we only had to request twice to have our hotel room safe's batteries replaced so it would function. Another example is our new apartment. We were told it would take 7 to 10 days before it was ready but Stephen informed me yesterday that we are moving in after only 6 days. It makes a huge difference living in a city as compared to a rural village. In Tugela Ferry, the most routine of matters (in our eyes) could take just an inordinate amount of time to be dealt with, making living there challenging. By comparison Phnom Penh is a dream.
So after he wrote down a few different phrases in Khmer for me, we just had a chat in English. Though he had a decent vocabulary, I often had a difficult time understanding his English but he said, "I would like for you to correct me." So I did my best to understand, asking him to repeat himself many times and then once I got it I repeated it back to him. In one instance he was trying to say, "flash disk" to explain how he saved his school work and he was saying something like, "flas dis". Once I finally understood, I repeated it back to him with emphasis on the "sh" and he copied my pronunciation. He told me that his family is very poor and that he came to Phnom Penh to get a job and take care of himself, "but the salary is very low". $65 a month is what he told me that salary is. He said he's been in Phnom Penh for 4 years and he's been going to a private school during that time. He works at the hotel in the morning and goes to school in the afternoon. I asked him what kind of classes he was taking and said he only takes English classes. When he graduated from high school he was given a "scholarship" but he couldn't pass the "scholarship" so he couldn't get into the state school. But the private school will take him, he just has to pay. When he was writing English spellings of Khmer words he wanted to know if I thought Khmer was harder than English. I said I couldn't really say about Khmer yet but I know that English is very difficult. He pointed to the different languages and said, "two languages, one spoken only in Cambodia, the other one spoken all over the world." He said, "It is easy for you to travel to my country. But it is hard for me to travel outside of my country." I agreed with him. He said he would be willing to travel "abroad" to get a good job. Towards the end of the conversation I said I was American. He said, "I've been thinking about you, that you are American because you are fat and your skin is so light. It is not like this in my country." He already knew I was American because I'm fat and fair skinned. It's true what he says, "It's not like this in my country". 36% of Cambodia children under the age of 5 are underweight from malnutrition. 40% of all children are stunted which means underweight for their age and 11% are "wasted" which means underweight for their height. Malnutrition is a significant health problem but also an education problem because when the body doesn't get the right nutrients neither does the brain. Malnutrition is one of the 4 major areas Stephen wants to do work in.
My conversation with the Cambodian hotel employee added more fuel to the fire: although I don't yet know how it will work out, I believe I will teach English much sooner than I planned. Students who are as motivated as this young man are fun to teach. And his current English proficiency would make it possible for me to teach him before I've learned Khmer. What he needs a lot of is to listen and speak to a "native speaker" as he said. It's exciting to think about my tutoring other Cambodians who are just like him.