Do you remember my Sunday outing a couple of weeks back when the lovely Kheang informed me that my hands were hot because I was full of poo?
Well, I had the good fortune of spending more time with the same Kheang this Wednesday when I visited the VSO offices after my bank trip to support the development of the next in country orientation programme for new volunteers.
I adore spending time with Kheang. As it is with every Cambodian I encounter she looks ridiculously young, I would have guessed 18 when in fact she will soon turn 30, but what sets her apart is her humour. Kheang is one of the few Cambodians (or any race other than Brits TBH) that I have met with a really well developed sarcastic sense of humour, being able to give as good as she gets with a little bit of extra sauce on the side as an added bonus.
Having had an entertaining morning filled with acerbic banter, I invited Kheang to join Zoe, Izzy and I for lunch.
We hopped in Sophat’s tuktuk and headed back towards my office to meet up with Zoe and visit another great little restaurant she’s found.
Over lunch we chatted about this and that, laughing at each other and ourselves and enjoying the fantastic array of food we were presented with (which ended up costing us the princely sum of $1 each).
The conversation turned to our location and in turn to our proximity to BKK market at which point Kheang announced that she wanted to go there to get some clothes for her adopted kid.
Now, I know Kheang isn’t married as I’ve met her very shy boyfriend (he just grinned at me throughout our meeting) and earlier the same day she had told me she didn’t think she’d get married as “Cambodian men don’t like girls like us” (meaning strong independent women rather than those that are full of sh*t I think).
A little probing led us to discover that Kheang previously worked in social work and at that time was introduced to a case involving a 4 month old baby boy and his, in her words: crazy then she died!, mother.
Apparently, the little boy was inconsolable around anyone other than Kheang, clinging to her like his life depended on it. He was also very sick having contracted HIV in the womb and so spent a lot of time (and still does) in and out of hospital thanks to his compromised immune system.
Anyway, the upshot of it is, Kheang firstly fostered and latterly adopted this little boy, giving up her career in social work to take up more financially lucrative roles to support him with the help of her mum (a doting grandmother by all accounts).
From Kheang’s descriptions, her little boy is turning out to be just as sassy as his adopted mum, demanding gifts when she visits him in hospital and a passport so that visiting foreign friends can take him home with them on the plane. Apparently, he was so perturbed that this last request wasn’t met that he threw a strop when the time came for them to leave, refusing to get in the tuktuk or make eye contact with his departing friends.
This conversation blew me away, so much so that I’m still processing it as I type. I already felt honoured to be in such a beautiful country filled with kind, friendly people who have been through so much, but meeting Kheang and getting to know her has taken those feelings to a new level and humbled me greatly as I plod around in my flipflops having adventures.