So many things happened in my recent whirlwind 13 day visit to Cambodia, only 2 months before I return there to live and work. There was no time to write about it while I was there and I barely know where to start now. I’ll post a series of chapters covering most of what happened.
Kim sat across the table from me, under the whir of a ceiling fan suspended from the overhead timber beams of a tropical verandah skirting the edges of a restaurant in Siem Reap. He ordered a Coca Cola on my tab as Rav sat down, refusing a drink but agreeing to translate. I wasn’t going to use Rav for this conversation because I thought it could compromise their friendship. Fully aware of the problem, Kim brought Rav along. Rav has always translated for us, so that appeared to be Kim’s permission, although it may also have been his attempt to manipulate me away from having the expected and difficult conversation. I told Rav “I need to talk to Kim because he told me he had no money for rent but then I found out his rent was already paid by someone”. Rav turned to Kim and spoke. Kim replied and Rav translated “He want to send his daughter to English school”. Yes, I am sure but I am not here to talk about that, I am here to talk about the lie that he told me because I cannot help if he tells me lies and he said he needed money for rent when he didn’t”. Rav translated this. Kim looked at the table without replying.
He let me say my piece, which included understanding that he needs more than the small assistance I had reliably sent for 2.5 years, but when he lies I cannot trust him anymore and cannot help if I don’t trust him. Sitting in silence, he offered no explanation or apology. Rob, the other Australian involved in assisting Kim, was also in Siem Reap and I asked after him. Kim replied that Rob had visited their home while Kim was out and left his number with his wife. He gave me the number but later when I called, it was the wrong number. I located Rob via PM on Facebook and he joined me under cover of another restaurant verandah during a tropical downpour. We shared a drink and compared stories. Rob has known Kim almost five years and knows his tricks. He was not surprised that Kim denied having seen him, before producing photographs taken days earlier of them lunching together!
Kim’s life is unimaginably difficult. Someone who has been so severely disabled since his youth and has relied on manipulating charity out of others in a place where he has no power or respect from many fellow humans, must have his reasons for trusting lies over honesty, to get what he needs. Rob continues to support him, using strategies he can employ whilst living in the vicinity, such as paying the rent and keeping his wife fully informed so that she knows their budget. I am not in the same position and also not prepared to engage further. The final nail came for me when Rob told a story about paying Kim’s rent for a month, just before Kim contacted a friend of Rob’s in Australia to say he needed money for rent! Dedicated to seeking charity through manipulating people with lies, Kim appears to have accepted that the relationship with me is over.
I don’t regret having helped Kim. He was the first Cambodian person I engaged with in this way and he taught me many things. That donors can be exploited is a very common theme in my world, and often one which justifies not helping when we can, because perhaps we’ll be fleeced. In all of my extreme privilege, I will never be fleeced in the ways that Kim has been throughout his most unfortunate life. As Mum said to me when his behaviour first came to light, “you do have to wonder what your priorities would be if you were him – telling the truth or ensuring your family had enough to eat?”. There is no end to the complexity of human nature, and even more so when we are forced into lives of depravity.