I feel that there are so many people in the countryside getting traumatized and victimized by poverty. I have been bombarded with so much information of what causes poverty. What is meant by countryside and poverty? What’s the interrelation between them? I’ve seen that in other provinces around Cambodia, there are a lot of peasants, still they are. They are poor living in a shackle, protected by the sun and the moon. Every year, I’ve heard they can’t make a lot of tons of rice for their family; their land has to be sold because they need some money to go on. Otherwise, they can go hungry and die. If this not be, their land is taken without payment or without little payment by a so-called powerful company backed by some officials. They have to sell their land because the condition isn’t favorable enough. There’s flood and drought. The irrigation system is just built randomly only. To summarize, people there face problems of lack of infrastructure, better means to produce more crops every year and domestic violence.
This is what I’ve seen and heard.
But one morning something shocked me.
While my mother sitting gracefully on one of hammock, one end fastened to a mango tree and the other to a jackfruit tree, which was positioned in the front yard, a lady in tattered clothes came in. I wasn’t there when this first happened. My sister told me most of the part. Because I was upstairs in my own room reading, I didn’t know how she first approached my mother. While in the room, my oldest sister suddenly rushed to me and asked if I had any change or small amount of money. I was very curious and anxious because I could understand the facial expression of hers. She was very worried and nervous.
I hurried downstairs and then to the front yard. I saw the lady kneeling down in front of my mother. Immediately, I realized that she was begging for some money while my mother was lecturing her no to beg for money with two big hands like this. My mother kept telling her to stand up and talk to her too. Admittedly, I supposed she’s a beggar. I can still remember her voice. She spoke slowly and sweetly, telling that she’s from Pursat; she was here because her 17-year-son had been hospitalized. She said he’s been diagnosed anemia.
My two sisters and my mother were suspicious at the beginning because we were afraid we could be cheated at any moment. We were skeptical enough, but not cynical. We tried to talk to her and ask her more questions. A moment earlier, she claimed that she was sexually harassed by a few men. My oldest sister saw her earlier around my village, running away from somewhere. The lady said that one man came toward her and asked if she wanted any money. She said yes but then the man exposed his lower body part and ran after her. Pausing telling this, she burst out crying, again more and more loudly than ever. She felt pathetic to herself. She looked afraid, very scared and horrified of what was happening. If she hadn’t run as quickly as she did, she would have been rapped. A year ago, a guy known as a passenger searching for grass for his cows almost molested a 6-year-old girl near my house. Luckily, her mother came in time and shouted for help. And the guy who almost sexually abused the lady was cutting grass, along with his mates.
The lady asked for some money from us. She said she wanted to go back to her village. When she arrived in Phnom Penh, she took her son to Kunthea Bopha hospital. But the hospital rejected her son because he’s over the legible age or too old to be treated there. Then, she took her son to a simple clinic around Chbar Ampov. Her son was diagnosed anemia, which is thought of incurable. She knew it’s hopeless. It’s agony, extreme agony for a mother to know that she couldn’t bring back his life once it’s finished. She moved on.
She said, crying, the day before she didn’t have anything to eat but kept all the food for her son. Today, she decided to go around to find some money and food to go back. The only safe place for us is home but for her, her home isn’t safe either. She has other two sons and a drunkard husband. Back in her village, she doesn’t farm. She hasn’t land. She sells food in a market nearby her village. She already spent 300 dollars for the hospital things. The $300 came from pawning her house!
Still sitting on the ground, she behaved a bit awkwardly. She wasn’t a skilled beggar. It’s her first time to come ask for money like this. She’s in deadlock. Then, my mother told my sister to bring some rice, mangos, cakes and money for her. The money came from me and my sister. We passed those to her. She started crying uncontrollably. She felt really grateful, we noticed that. I knew in her mind, she might not have thought of this. Of course, I also believe there are kind and good people everywhere. We let her cry. That’s the only way to release her fear. She was in extreme fear from what happened to her earlier.
She thanked her and said goodbye while wanting to go on asking for more money from other villagers. The money we gave wasn’t enough to ride a simple car back to her village. She went out of my house and walked on. We were worried about her. She seemed like a small scared lady, walking nowhere. I decided to give her enough money to go back her village. I was afraid she would face problems again, with this unknown place to her. We beckoned here back to my house. We gave her more rice and money for her traveling back home.
I don’t know how that happened, but she burst out crying helplessly. My mother and sisters started to cry too. My two sisters walked away, escaping sadness and tears. My mother was sitting on her hammock with tears in her eyes. The lady was sobbing dragging my mother’s hand and foot and put it on her head. She kneeled down with her head next to my mother’s feet. If it were a play by her, it’s the best ever play I’ve ever seen, but it wasn’t! It’s her true self. My mother asked her to sit up and talk. My mother vicariously felt all the pain the women felt inside her. Being a pathetic mother when seeing her child have no hope of life is the worst thing any mother dreads. The lady was feeling completely grateful. She felt like we’re God. We are not. But I’m happy at least she knew that we wanted to help her. We wanted to see her happy back in her village. Though knowing news of her poor son, we want her to strive to work. She still has other 2 children to support. My mother told her to be strong when men want to abuse her. My mother told her to get up again and be brave.
It’s a moment of sadness, fear, tension, hopelessness, hopefulness, anger and humanity. We wanted to help her more than this. But everything has to go on itself. She had to move on. She thanked every one of us and said goodbye. While walking in our drive way, she looked back gratefully and sadly. I wasn’t satisfied and wanted to know how she could go back to her hospital. I got on my bike and rode on. I spotted her sitting under a tree. She was looking dizzy. With this state, I decided to give her a lift. It’s what I wanted. I rode on and we talked, with her behind me on the bike. She still felt really scared behind me. The way she said and moved…Near the hospital, I dropped her. She raised her two palms and sampeah’ing toward me. I replied back with the same gesture. I thought that with some money I gave her, it wouldn’t be still enough to go back. I gave her some more and told her to keep it to start her business again once back at the village. She started crying again. I soothed her not to cry and told her to hurry to go see her son. She went away from me, feeling lost in her world, half destitute and half aware of the reality, trying to fight all the cruelty life has given her. With a son without hope to live on, with a drunkard husband that has no responsibilities, two children to support, she has to be strong than she could afford to be. If she’s not, everything or all else will fail. How many people have a story like this to tell? How many more people will still have to suffer?
I wrote this story back in 2008 after all that happened. Some time later, I found out that she was a professional cheater in the village. Just thinking that I should be wary about this kind of thing.