While I was coming out of school and zigzagging on the way to where I set in my mind to go around 5 pm, I was also imagining what would happen after I got off my bike. Taking a deep long breath, I realized that now another mission was awaiting me with full consciousness. Then, I shook my head to remind myself not to dream an idealistic dream that the women who worked there as prostitutes should be satisfied with the jobs and well-fed as they looked pretty. I noticed when the traffic around me was going as usual, another world was not. Again, I was going to explore that world that I always dreaded listening to or looking at in real life, because I found them scary. But on second thoughts, I have to admit it is the world in which we all live in. Come what may, now I can’t afford to ignore it any longer. “Go for it now,” was jumping anxiously in my head.
Once again, Catherine and I dashed to the same brothel where the same very pretty girls were lounging inside and in the doorway waiting for their guests. I told myself to be very determined to do my jobs, stopping my bike in front of the brothel and going straight into the house without looking behind my back, although many eyes were on us. I made it! It was the same feeling stepping into the brothel lit with dark pink light. I saw the same girls I met the other day and here they were, beautiful, standing in front of me and asking me to come inside and sit down just like the way the house owner was warmly welcoming their guest. Like a normal nice hospitality I have ever received!! Cat and I sat down and we both, I believe, felt quite awkward to receive this kind of warm feeling and hospitality from them. However, we observed the girl we interviewed the other day was not there today. The big woman I called Marmasan before was not a Marmasan/Madam at all, yet in fact she was just working like every girl there. She informed us that the girl we intended to meet was absent today since she had to tend her sick little sister who had to be taken into a hospital. I suddenly felt ‘Oh, Big Sis, you’re here.’ Honestly speaking, I have three sisters, but this girl or big sister makes me feel that being an older sister means so much to the little ones. She does every kind of job for her little sister and their living. Look, this profession is considered a dirty way of living, but I appreciate the woman and the fact that she didn’t let her little sister go hungry. I vicariously feel that this big sister is a good one she did the job and stopped doing the job for her closest relative. Now she was playing a role as a second mother to the small girl. Do people know that women working in this profession have such powerful inner feelings inside their heart? We might have heard that a lot of girls were forced and threatened to work in this profession. This is very crazy! Further, it’s even very sad and crazy seeing that many more do this kind of job as they are willing to make some money to support their daily lives. The difference between the situations is that when women who are forced tend to stop while women who do it willingly don’t tend to stop so easily. They mean it. I believe that the young girl we talked to will not have another life ruined (meet the same kind of destiny (like hers) in the future).
Hearing that the girl didn’t come, we decided to switch to the other big girl who was not at first willing to talk to us. “What are you afraid of?” I was thinking of the answers. She hesitated for a while after my request. I was not a good/sweet talker because I had no ideas of how to say next to people or to talk them into doing it. That’s why it took some minutes to see her head shaking for an approval. Yes, I was relieved because due to her facial expression, I was worried that she would not talk to us. I thought, perhaps saying that Cat would pay her made her consider our proposal. I felt these women desperately need money for one reason, survival.
Taking one chair for herself to sit on, this woman smiled at us and said she had no ideas what we wanted to ask her. She was a woman of 24 with brown skin and a chubby face and body. Her name was P. P looked pretty but not as pretty as the other younger girls. She’s like an older sis to every girl there. She said she was considered the biggest girl here because she was older and had more experience in life. She, like other girls, was from a rural province, but she was married before with two sons. Later, she divorced her husband who was a drunkard and decided to come to Phnom Penh to earn some money. She chose PP since it was famous for lots of available jobs. Nobody knows she ends up working here in this brothel, except her mother who, as every common mother, feels very sorry for her own daughter. Her feeling for her daughter is just like millions of needles cutting into her heart when she sees her daughter in that state. P had no choices after all her gasoline she was selling along the road in PP was taken by the police; for they claimed it was illegal gasoline trafficked into Cambodia and had to be confiscated. There, she was in a huge debt! She had now paid some of $ 500 she has owned somebody by working as a prostitute. I immediately felt very angry after hearing that some organization also offered her some training to work as a seamstress but she refused. For heaven’s sake, she explained that she was in a dire/emergent need of money to pay back some money. I didn’t want to imagine how she would have been if she hadn’t worked as quickly as possible to earn money to pay back. Perhaps, the debtor was some kind of a gang group who sucked blood from poor people.
While explaining, other girls became a bit panicked. They saw something? I asked them what’s going on. They told me that some patrol police were pointing their fingers at them. I thought perhaps that police’s finger point meant that it wasn’t time to start their business yet. But the fact was ‘today, some district officials came along the road and the police were afraid to let them see such businesses on the road. I asked the big woman there if the police had eve caused them trouble. Her facial expression changed. I knew that they had! Instead of telling bad stories about the police, P told me that those girls were just normally afraid of police. “It was as simple as that.” After a few minutes of my nodding of understanding and sympathetic expressions, she decided to tell something she wanted to keep as a secret. I told her a few things I’ve heard about the police. She agreed. If I hadn’t told those few things to her, she would not have told me more that some police came and took some money from them every night and they didn’t intend to cause problems with the police. She continued that all the girls couldn’t stand staying in the police stations as those police demanded a lot of money from them. They couldn’t afford to bribe them. This situation, to me, was like ‘bat men/bad men sucking blood from other poor people’. I’ve heard a lot of times police can’t help but instead abuse the girls by taking a lot of money from them or even selling them to other brothels. Are you there to help or cause trouble? Is it more of a hindrance than a help? Despite this, P tried to assure me and Cat that the police never caused them much trouble at all and were not willing to further this case with us. I understood that they did not want to protest against the police or even speak ill of them in front of us. There’s a Cambodian saying “You must cut your flesh and give it to the tiger if you want to live undisturbed in the village.” This implies to this situation that the prostitutes have to pay some money very hard to earn to the police who has power control over them. Likewise, these tigers will come and jump on them, tearing their flesh and blood.
P had paid some of her debt but not all her debt and she is willing to go on doing this kind of job for some more months to pay all the rest and save some more to start a small business somewhere. P told that her life had no more meaning to her and she could never look back and become normal. What does being normal mean? With all her words she told us, we understood that all the girls here were forced by any pimp to do the job. We haven’t seen the pimp until now so we believe so. To me, the pimps exist in the brothel too; that is the police who come and take the money from them. They may have the same sad and tragic stories. I am sure they all come from different provinces. In my mind, P is a mother of two sons trying to look at the world in a different way. She doesn’t let other people like her villagers and friends know that she’s doing this job but only her mother knows about this. As soon as she talked about this family thing, her face became red. She’s going to cry but no. If she cried, she would have to make herself up again. She couldn’t afford even a cry now.
P explained that this house used as a brothel belongs to somebody else who takes the rent of about $ 15 to $ 20 every day. In contrast, the owner doesn’t come and take it yet hires a motor-taxi driver to take the money from them daily. I really want to know who owns the house and what’s the motive behind building a house for prostitution. P takes care of the girls well because every week she takes all of them to an organization’s clinic to get some medical check-up. So far, there have been some organizations which want to help them by offering them training. They want them to earn money in a different and moral way. P is one of them who is eager to finish this job off soon and get a proper job somewhere in her hometown. Every month, she saves money and sends some remittances to her mother in the province and is looking forward to coming back and building her life in a better way. How about other girls? They look quite younger than P is and I’m not sure if they want to do something different and better. Their persistence to work in such profession makes me think that they feel for nobody now but themselves. They can’t stop it just because no matter they stop it or not, the society looks at them in the same way. In another way, it makes me think that they are too lazy to do some other job. I’m wondering if they really like their job! I’m certain they don’t use drugs. With lots of mouth to feed, they have to work hard to save some money and send it home. They tell me that some other jobs can’t earn as much money as this job. Their family are dying and what they need is quick money from the girls. Yes, one wrong decision leads to another and one wrong situation causes another one. After all, they won’t change their profession now and wait until they save enough money to go back to their hometown. But I don’t feel hopeful for these if they don’t stop it now. They don’t want to be a seamstress/garment factory worker, a profession that most organizations offer to train them to be. That makes me think of something bad about being a seamstress or a garment factory worker. People told me that there are many prostitutes who change their previous job and work in those jobs. And so garment factory workers are looked down on and reputed to be former prostitutes. But isn’t it good that they are doing a better and honest job? I don’t want to talk about the hardship and present bad conditions of a lot of garment factory workers who, as a matter of fact, are a workforce of the country’s economy or a catalyst for a better economy, even for my small family business.
After talking for some time, we asked P to show us one of the rooms in the brothel. I told myself to feel tough and not get shocked easily. I knew in my stomach that I was going to see what my mother doesn’t let me go near. The whole brothel is made of wood and so are all the rooms. One of the rooms we looked at was quite small with the same pink light, I guess, about 2 meters square. There was a tall shelf where neatly folded clothes were put on. I spotted a big tape recorder/radio/gramophone. The mattress was there with a flower cover on. Many pictures of Thai film stars and cute babies were on the wall around. To me, this looks like a bride-groom room. But this room isn’t for couples or for love; it’s for pure lust and money.
Still, the door was closed and opened; the girls became a bit less panicked but suspicious and looked at the road. P sat down on the chair again and asked us if we had more questions. Sometimes I had to ask some embarrassing questions. I was embarrassed to ask! But I wanted to! Well, not my questions but Cat’s. However, I like the questions, as I want to know the answers. How much does a man pay for one sex per se? P told it’s around $ 2.5 or less than that and the sexual intercourse lasts only 10 minutes. My God! It made my heart fall to the ground. Is it what they deserve? I don’t understand. I don’t know what they think and how they can survive!!! P continued that each of the girls could find 10 or less than 10 men every day. They couldn’t find more than that because in the area there are so many brothels like this so the price has to be low for competition. I was asking God to help me, to tell me if this is true and what kind of world I am living in. It is very hard to figure out whether it’s day or night; I am not them so I don’t understand them. Looking at them just as a stranger, I felt I knew nothing at all. My mind went blank. Would I faint? No way.
I wanted to leave. My left brain told me to stay but my right brain told me to leave. I felt that our presence was accepted at the brothel. Every time I talked to them, I tried to be nice and understanding, especially not insulting. I never had an intention to insult anybody. Cat, at the end, gave P some money. Cat knew that her time means some money. P looked a bit surprised but happy with the money, I’m sure. At least, the money Cat gave could stop some men from coming near her, I hope so. I don’t know. I left with a heavy head, hoping in my heart that there can be changes to their thoughts.