How to survive without Khmer PDF Print E-mail
Monday, 05 September 2011 15:13


PHNOM PENH – These past few days I have been staying with a young family while my regular hosts are away on a trip to Malaysia. The mother in this young family is someone I met on my very first trip to Cambodia in 2003 when she was still single and has been a good friend all these years.  I was here when she got married in a typical Cambodian wedding  about 5 years ago and now she has two children, a girl and a boy. The little girl is very pretty and can be mistaken for a Caucasian. She is learning English and likes to go through her picture books with me so she can show that she knows the English names of the animals, the colors, etc. Her English at this time is limited to nouns and a few simple verbs , just like our own Filipino kindergarten kids unless English is spoken in the home. She likes to talk with me but of course there is the problem of language on both sides – I don’t know Khmer and she doesn’t speak much English yet. It is amazing though how body language can communicate where words are not possible. The family’s young maid speaks no English at all but I can tell her that the garments on the floor near my bed are for washing, etc.  with the use of hand gestures.

The other day  relatives of my hosts came from the province and stayed overnight in the house. They spoke no English at all but we conveyed goodwill to each other through our smiles and nodding our heads or some such gesture. At table when we sat down to a meal together , If they wanted to know something about me they would ask my host/hostess, who would then tell me the question in English, and  the answer would be given to the relatives in Khmer. At dinner and breakfast the next day that was how things went – a sort of conversation took place with my hosts interpreting both ways, Khmer to English for me and English to Khmer for the relatives.
In these conversation   I was struck by the commonality of the experiences of parents everywhere. The family had come to Phnom Penh from the province to check out possible accommodation in the city for their son who would be going to college, which starts in October My hostess told me that the parents were concerned ab0ut the safety and well-being of the son, who would monitor his activities and his conduct, and similar concerns of parents for a son who would be by himself in the big city for the first time. I am sure that this is a universal situation which parents everywhere can identify with. .

This morning I waited outside the apartment for the school car to come and bring me to the school for my day’s work. While I waited the matriarch of the Muslim family in the next apartment came out. I greeted her with the typical greeting sign – palms together at the chest and a nod – and she did the same. The lady was dressed very much like our own Muslim women of that age. When I was introduced to her on my first night in the place the family sent over fruits. I would have loved to converse with her but again language got in the way.