For more about the Village Voices project, head this way.
Chhekka’s brother has always been on the quiet side, sweet and lacking in the usual obnoxiousness of boys his age. This makes him the antithesis of his brother who is older by only a few years. When Gkea was entering ninth grade, their mom was diagnosed with diabetes. They need extra money for her medications, and quickly. He took it upon himself to start up a small shop in front of their home at the end of the road, rather far from our central village market. On his midmorning school breaks he can be found running the place and letting his mom kick back. My favorite memory with him is crossing paths by chance once while I was on a run, he on a moto. He mildly panicked. “What are you running from, aunt Kelsey? What’s going on? Get on my moto, I’ll get you out of here. Hurry!” (I didn’t but we laughed about it later.) We interviewed on a quiet Sunday at their house in between helping out customers, mostly kids buying iced tea.
Age? 17 years old, in 11th grade.
Siblings? Chhekka and our older brother.
Favorite song? “Let Her Go” by Passenger.
Biggest influence as a kid? Definitely Chhekka and then my parents. All three were very different but had very big effects on me.
First thing you do in the morning? I let out our cows from the back gate and take them graze. Then I water all the flowers.
Favorite place in Cambodia? I love the beaches and the temples, especially beaches in Kaeb Province. (Chhekka shoots him a funny look and he laughs.) Okay, so I’ve never actually been but I will someday.
Farthest you’ve been from home, then? Eh, I’ve been to Phnom Penh once or twice but a long time ago. Lately the farthest I will go is our provincial town (about 12 km away).
Job history? I am still studying so no real job yet, just helping out at home. I love studying physics, math, and science the most. I think they are the most important subjects.
Biggest wish for your future? I want to be a famous soccer player and a solider. It’s been my dream since birth. Chhekka has already beaten me to the second half of it (laughs).
Biggest wish for Cambodia? I want peace and development. It hurts to think of people living in slums, near garbage.
Most annoying question you get asked? I hate talking about politics. It only ever makes people fight, no one actually changes their opinions about anything.
Biggest fear? I fear for my family, that they will someday not have enough money to spend for food or other things. I also fear for our (provincial) city, Takeo. I want to be clean and developed like the U.S. It has become more so since I was young and sometimes I fear that something will happen to reverse its progress.
Skill you’re most proud of? My soccer skills. I knew how to play even as a kid. I would study the moves of the Spanish team I watched on TV and copy their sty (“style”).
Best cure for common cold? Play sports! It heals me up right quick.
Favorite Khmer tradition? I love our traditional clothing. You once told me that America doesn’t have its own traditional clothes, right? (He looks off in pity of America.) The other thing I love are our lakowen shows. (These are traditional Khmer theater performances that travel around and perform in different communities. They begin the performance late at night and go until the early morning.) They perform educational stories that are also really funny. Mostly they try to teach about morals and ethics while also making us laugh.
Favorite Khmer proverb? Amnooet k’eng k’ung thvuh owie yerng bah’ruhjey moowie plet. It means bragging will make us fail instantly.
Personal hero? Albert Einstein. I read a book about him as a kid and am always researching him on the internet on my own. His behavior and knowledge, it was some of the most important in history. Also, my idol is Waymar Jr., the Brazilian soccer player, he’s the most skilled.
Something you find interesting about another country’s culture? I love other countries’ scientific pursuits and efforts, they are always coming up with the most complicated inventions.
If you didn’t have to sleep what would you do instead? I would study extra. And after I helped my mom and dad around the house, I would definitely play extra soccer.
Most important Khmer value/belief? I think our beliefs in ghosts and spirits are very important because they say if you live long enough you will eventually meet one, so you should probably honor and believe in them now. I appreciate that we build small shrines in our homes to respect our ancestors and protect our homes from harmful spirits.
Something everyone should do once in their lives? I wish everyone could pass their 12th grade exams, at least, even if they don’t go on to study more. Also, they should get to play soccer with their favorite soccer player (smiles).
Your opinions on drinking? It’s not good. I’ve had people pressure me to drink but I don’t care. My father drinks enough for all of us.
And gambling? Also terrible. It makes people lose track of time and owe each other money. Usually they hate each other silently until they snap one day.
Luckiest thing that ever happened to you? I have so much freedom and that is lucky. I can go wherever and whenever I want. But really I don’t go anywhere, I am mostly at home.
Best advice you ever got and from whom? My teachers, they always encouraged me to endure, to study hard through the struggle.
Best and worst things about growing up? I don’t like the feeling sometimes like my classmates and friends are much smarter than I am, especially in the subjects I love most. The best thing though is that the friends I grew up with are all good people and have stayed good people since we were little. Sometimes people grow up and they become someone else. We love each other, there’s no gossip or judgement. The other good thing is having seen my country and village develop a lot just since I was little. We have great roads now and our agriculture is very impressive – lots of irrigation systems and machinery. We also have a lot of tourism which helps both promote Khmer culture and history as well as bring in money for the country.
Interesting fact about you? I study so hard, even though my talent is in soccer. The most important question you asked me, though, was about my future and what I want to be. That is everything.