I concluded the last memoir with a summary of the terrible situation befalling the cashier I was sweet on. Desperately clinging onto her virtue in a hostess bars where her staff were ripping off idiot westerners for fortunes, she was in dire straits owing to a mishap that had befallen her father.
Her desperation had caused her to become seriously sick, and I found myself bailing her (or her family) out to the tune of $200. After that I was very consciously trying to avoid encouraging her to feel indebted to me in a way that would affect her true feelings, so I did the best I could to avoid her for a time – while the worry was eating me up. This is what I wrote:
I’m really worried about my dear cashier – possibly by now unemployed ex-cashier. I know she’s extremely sick; twice she’s hauled herself off her sickbed to visit me and she’s looked terrible, so weak and frail.
She’s such a private person that nobody – her friends, her boss, me – knows where she lives; I know she normally lives with her sister, brother-in-law and their kid but her sister left for their mother’s on account of hubby’s drunkenness, gambling problems and general uselessness; clearly a drunken imbecile and an eight-year-old kid can’t look after my poor girl.
So she’s suffering – dying possibly – alone and I can’t do a damned thing except worry. I explained what kicked the illness off; at the same time her phone expired and of course she had no money to replace it. I gave her $25 to get a second-hand one but she understandably used the money to buy medicines so again, she’s someone I cannot contact at all.
The last time I saw her I told her that if she continued to deteriorate I’d take her to hospital (a private one, not the local slaughterhouses) but she needs to gather enough strength to come out and see me before I can do anything.
What gets me is that she’s such a good person and has always been there for other people and now she’s possibly dying alone with no one to be there for her to help or comfort her. So much for traditional family values, community spirit and all those myths. She’s only 29, normally perfectly fit and all she needs is two or three days on an intravenous drip to get some nutrition into her body, but as I’ve spelt out before, when you’re that poor and you get sick there is no safety net and frequently no hope.
A couple of weeks later – at Christmas – I typed the next entry:
I managed to establish contact with my poor sickly cashier and I bought her at the second attempt a cheap old phone so that we could maintain contact. In time she managed to recover enough to return to work and I also compensated her for her loss of earnings (by this time I was making in a day what she earns in a month) which instantly evaporated – within a day her father was seriously sick and in need of hospital treatment with her maintaining bedside vigils and sleepless nights and her mad brother, accompanied by the mother, had moved in and was demanding succour by the poor girl.
They encamped just as the sister she lives was deciding to divorce her ne’er-do-well husband who is blaming my hapless lassie for her sister’s defiant stance. The poor thing is hemmed in by an utter disaster of a family and yet again finds herself in a situation where everyone is making huge demands on her while no one considers for one moment just how frail she is even though the family were the cause of her spiralling into serious illness so recently.
An earlier incarnation of me would have been intent on ‘rescuing’ her but I hope I’ve learned from my previous disasters and whilst I’m trying to support her as much as I can I’m not prepared to get sucked into that family scene.
The honest truth is that I worry about the poor girl constantly, and when I see the results of how I’ve single-handedly put her back together again that does make me feel good although at the same time it also makes me feel that having done so much I can’t just put a line under things and walk away. The thing that really worries me is this: Cambodia is one of the world’s most notorious ‘dependency cultures’.
I see how it happens and it’s very interesting. After the years of devastating war and genocide foreign nations and NGOs wanted to ‘do something’. Quite right too but due to a lack of awareness it has resulted in a nation collectively extending an open hand and expecting to be given something for nothing which ironically hinders development and is of no benefit to either recipient or donor.
A culture needs to develop whereby resourcefulness and hard work is rewarded and opportunities created, yet right now the governments of those same donor nations are sickeningly yet again betraying the poor nations at the WTO talks. Here at the bum end of global injustice I see the pain; I feel the hurt.
I’m desperately trying to avoid a scenario whereby the family and I are re-enacting the same patron-subject game. When I initially handed over $200 after the father’s accident I initially presented it as a soft loan to be repaid only when the family were able.
I was of course aware that there was no hope that could ever happen but so was she and it just added to rather than reduce her stress until I back-tracked. This time as I softened again and insisted on handing over a further $200 in order that her mother could take her father back to her homeland armed with sufficient medicines and thus allowing my girl to be free of their pressures I tried to make clear that her mother must make the money last as long as possible and that I can’t help the family out over repayment of the loans they took out to raise their share of the father’s compensation he had to fork out the previous month, but whilst I know that she hates accepting my largesse as much as I hate bestowing it (because it’s so awkward for her and creates a dependency relationship between us) I can’t know what the family actually thinks about my contributions and it’s as devilishly complex on this personal level as it is in global politics to play the thing right.
A mysterious benefactor bailing them out to the tune of $400 was obviously not going to go unnoticed and uncommented on by the family. As far as I can gather their collective response is not ‘bleed him for bucks’ but the far more reasonable ‘marry him’, and even then their thinking appears to be primarily her best interests as in the real meaning behind Jane Austen’s corking opening sentence in Pride and Prejudice; “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.”
I’m acutely aware that there are countless other families all around me in equally appalling circumstances without a sugar-daddy to bail them out. Many manage to just about get by somehow, whereas many other don’t. I have no doubt that my lass and her family would have been in the latter category.
I’ve said it so many times already but when abject poverty is so up close and personal it’s just so distressing.