I’m having a hard time with the whole taking-your-shoes-off-before-you-enter-a house thing.
Customs, politeness, acceptance, assimilation: I understand. But when it comes down to it, the floor is dirty, and I didn’t get a shot against tinea pedis.
I’m working at an orphanage in Phnom Penh which houses around 75 children between the ages of three and seventeen who have been orphaned, abandoned, or whose parents cannot take care of them—because of lack of funds or current imprisonment.
There’s one caretaker who seldom stops by, so the kids are there to fend for themselves, save for the Christian missionary volunteers and the occasional Mexican.
When entering the orphanage on my first day, I noted the 75 pairs of shoes thrown on the doorstep. Reluctantly, but obligingly, I took my own off, and stepped inside. After greeting the kids, responding to their “Hello, Sistah, how are you, Sistah, God bless you, Sistah,” I gave myself a self-guided tour through the orphanage, making my way to the “kitchen”—a dark, unfinished room with a large plastic basin filled with murky water and plastic dishes, three enormous sacks of rice, a couple of feather-less chickens, and a little barefoot girl, squatting.
In her right hand was a knife, and in her left was the bloody remnant of what I can only assume was a fish. She looked up at me and sweetly smiled. “God bless you, Sistah,” she said, and went back to gutting her fish. Keeping my shoes off will definitely take some getting used to.
Chloe is working at the Cambodian Centre for the Protection of Children’s Rights, an NGO located in the suburbs of Phnom Penh. The center’s remote location has proven very fruitful in strengthening her relationship with her personal tuk-tuk driver, Borey.
Another fruitful relationship? The one with her boss, a straightforward, no-nonsense kinda guy, with whom, upon entering his office on the first day, Chloe had the following conversation:
Chloe: Mr. Solin?
Mr. Solin: Come in!
Chloe: Good morning, Mr. Solin.
Mr. Solin: What is Chlamydia?
In the mornings, Chloe works at the CCPCR offices, where Mr. Solin has bestowed upon her the responsibility of finding funds for the entire organization, writing out proposals, and typing up illegible documents choppily translated from Khmer to English.
In the afternoons, Borey kindly drives Chloe to the CCPCR shelter, where she assists in an English class for female victims of prostitution, sex trafficking, and domestic violence.
Quite an easy gig.