I get off the tuk tuk and the limit of what I can say to Tuk Tuk Madame (TTM) translates into something like “See you next time. I don’t know. Me …. Telephone … You” (including a little sign language just to be on the safe side). He laughs and I laugh back. The best medicine connects us courtesy my ridiculous Khmer.
We had just farewelled a family of nine traveling home in a single tuk tuk after a day of swimming together. Two mothers, a grandmother and six children (including a few ring-ins), heading home to their little tin shack in the dust on the very edge of town. Two weeks ago I visited to assist with grandma whose health is deteriorating and the family have almost no capacity to access any health care for her (a story which is the norm, not the exception, in these parts). They invited TTM and I to stay for dinner. In return I promised the family a day out to a swimming pool playground, causing great excitement.
A small hotplate sat on the slightly elevated, partly rotting wooden floorboards, wide gaps and the occasional rotted void peering to the stone and weeds about a metre below us. With a couple of pots and a few bowls the two sisters cooked rice, fried chicken, prepared salad and sliced fruit from crouched positions on the floorboards as children played around them and husbands came and went. Above us I observed holes in the roof and with hesitant laughter they described the experience of waking to rain drops landing on heads and needing to squeeze into a particular corner of the room for shelter during rainfall. Mosquitoes flew in and around, disappearing conveniently when hands attempted to clap them dead. We sat cross legged on the floor sharing a delicious meal before TTM and I headed back out into the dust for the hour-long journey across town.
The young woman in this photograph makes sticky rice wrapped in banana leaf to sell at the market, to supplement her husband’s small wage. Yesterday en route to the pool I informed her that I will be leaving Cambodia in February. When she asked why, I replied that my job was finishing and I have no other job for now. Without hesitation she said “you can sell rice cake with me! We can share – I can cook and you can help me to sell. But oh, hard work and not easy money”. How much do you earn in one day? “Maybe if I sell a lot, can get $5. But must buy rice and everything to make more. But you can share me, maybe $1.50 per day?”.
Her offer was serious and genuine. My reaction, which I hope I successfully suppressed, was equally so! Yet I felt honoured that someone with nothing was willing to share her nothing with me. She spoke in one sentence, what I have spent many years slowly learning: that the poor and most marginalised have the most to give – warm hearts, generous spirits, humility and compassion.