You might remember my intro to Leakhana in the first piece about motherhood, that I once stumbled downstairs from a nap at some point during my early days at site to behold her sitting coolly (with but a touch of traceable eagerness) at our family table, then announcing that she would be my Khmer tutor. We’ve called each other “Sweetie” ever since and it’s been peachy. She was recently in the spotlight for being my fearless leader for hand-washing lessons with her kindergarteners at my pa’s primary school. Sweetie is my confidant, my biggest cheerleader and defender. Despite her being younger by two years, she’s fiercely protective and always comes to my aid in awkward or tense situations. And though she would claim otherwise, she is one of the hardest working and most successful women I know. We did a few questions at a time over the course of about a week during our 6 AM tutoring sessions (her only free time block lately since she’s soOoOoOo busy and important.)
Age? 21, almost 22.
Siblings? There are 3 of us, I’m the oldest with one younger brother and one younger sister.
Married? Kids? Of course, you know this (laughs) but I will answer like a stranger. (High, girly Khmer voice) I’ve been married for more than four years and I have one son, 3 years old, who is incredibly khoic (“broken”). I want to wait awhile longer before I have another kid.
Birthplace? Here, in our commune.
Favorite song? I love all songs, rock, old songs, romantic songs, like Jong Tov Tov Tov for listening. And I like to sing everything!
Most influential person as a kid? Influence, right? Hmmm. Mom. For example she always forbade me to go out and do things on my own. The few times she did allow it she was so nervous the whole time and would smack my arm if I came home late. I was scared of her sometimes but I knew that she just wanted me to be safe. I always listened to her even when I disagreed or was mad. She loved me and wanted me to start off life on the right path.
First thing you do in the AM? I open Facebook! I’ll look around and blink for awhile to wake up my eyes before I get up and put the bed stuff away.
Favorite place in Cambodia? I love anywhere near the sea or where I can see or hear the sea. I also love wild mountains covered in forests.
Farthest you’ve been from home? I went to Kampong Saaum in 2013 with so many family members, like 30 of us! We just went for fun, rode a bus there and stayed 3 days.
Biggest wish for Cambodia? I want Cambodia to develop and have peace. More specifically, though, I want more regulation for all the imports which are effecting our health, like the packaged snack foods and agricultural chemicals from Vietnam.
Biggest wish for your future? I want happiness for my family. (Thinks a bit.) Personally, though, I want to be known for being a good teacher and setting a good example for my little students. I want to teach them about more than just letters and colors, but also about hygiene and manners.
How you make most of your money? My salary at the state school, your pa’s school, I mean. It’s about $250 per month.
Job history? I’m still doing them now! Kindergarten teacher at your pa’s primary school in the mornings, afternoons at the private school in Takeo Town, evenings at the NGO school, and tutoring you in the mornings. After high school I studied for 2 years to become a tea/cher and have been teaching ever since. My favorite jobs are your pa’s school and tutoring you. I feel like they have the most freedom and I can teach things the way they should be taught.
Biggest fear? I have two fears, both for my family. The first is that we will enter a time when we are not able to save money for my son, that we will just barely meet our needs. The second is that I’m afraid of traffic accidents, especially with motos.
Skill you’re most proud of? Most of my skills are teaching skills. I am really proud to work at the private school in Takeo, I say it’s the most famous chain of private schools in Cambodia. Actually… I like that job and working at your dad’s school equally. Both are helping Cambodia meet its educational goals for the future. Also, I don’t know how to describe this skill but I’ve been able to teach you to speak Khmer even though I don’t speak much English (we laugh).
Favorite Khmer proverb? Oh, I don’t really like proverbs or know any. Maybe “tok tok penh bampong”? (Drop by drop you fill the cistern.)
Best cure for a common cold? I put tiger balm right here under my nose and avoid ice. If you eat ice while you have a cold you’ll get a headache, you know, and a runny nose. I try not to take medicine if I can help it.
Favorite Khmer tradition? Our traditional clothing! We look so beautiful. And actually, I like that we don’t let a bride and groom live together before marriage. We are very careful in that way. I know many men have a lot of girlfriends and sweethearts before marriage but… some don’t. In other countries where they allow men and women to live together before marriage, it’s not like I think that’s weird or anything. It isn’t wrong, it’s just different, it’s their culture. But I would guess that it’s easier to get your heart broken there? (She looks at me for confirmation and I can’t say I disagree.)
Something you find interesting about another country’s culture? I love Thai movies! Their actors are beautiful and truthful in their emotions, they can really feel things. I also love America for the influence it has on the world. But really, Cambodia is the best country (laughs). Where else is there a temple as beautiful as Angkor Wat? Just Cambodia, just my country.
Most important Khmer belief or value? I love that we still teach our children very important beliefs from a long time ago, periods past. I’m not interested in the exact beliefs, just that we use them to remind our kids of Cambodia’s history and age. Also, we still have very interesting health beliefs. Like when a child is sick for a very long time – medicine and other treatment haven’t cured him or her – we take them to the gkroo toh tiey (like a “doctor who predicts”) and they can tell us what spirit, specifically, is haunting the child. After that we can make the right offerings and prayers to heal the child.
Personal hero or someone you admire? My mom and my husband. My mom has always shown us love and attention, something not all mothers do. And my husband has so many roles and he fulfills all of them. He loves his child and his wife (smiles). And you! You work so hard and study so well. I want to go abroad and have experiences like you.
What you think of drinking and gambling? (makes disgusted face and says in English) I don’t like. (Khmer) It’s useless, both. It wastes your time, your money, it can affect your health. And it causes accidents! The drinker should be the one dying, but usually other people are killed. And for gambling, I wish people would at least go to the casino instead of gambling everywhere in the village all the time. But… it’s fun sometimes, I think. Just when you’re board, with family.
If you didn’t need to sleep, what you’d do instead? I’d play Facebook and watch YouTube. Oh, and watch my kid (laughs). I’d love to fill my coloring books and the pictures you drew for me with color, it relaxes my mind. I’d maybe go to my friends’ houses to gossip, about good things, of course.
Most annoying question you get asked? If I am pregnant. If I was, I would tell you! It makes my little stomach feel much bigger than it really is.
Something everyone should do once in their lives? Just… be a good person. I mean, whatever your roles are, be true to them and fulfill your responsibilities. If you’re a mother and a teacher, be the best you can at both.
Luckiest thing that ever happened to you? I got married young, still in 12th grade, and I was pregnant when I went to take my national exams after high school. And I passed. I got to become a teacher just like I had always dreamed.
Something special about where you grew up? It’s special in every way. The scenery is beautiful, the people are kind and interesting. The quality of life is so good.
Best advice you ever got and from whom? My teachers, they always told me to think about my future and what I wanted from my life. Especially the ones who encouraged me to travel, that every place had something to offer.
Best and worst thing about growing up? I would say the first time I ever had my cycle was the hardest. No one would talk to me about it except my mom and she hadn’t told me before it happened what to expect. But after that, growing up has been wonderful. I feel more beautiful now, inside and out. I like myself and I think I am likeable (I nod).
An interesting fact about yourself? The most important thing about me is that I’m a simple person. I work very hard but the things I want, I already have.