Published: October 31st 2011October 30th 2011
So they say our house is damned. I sure hope not but it feels like it is. In my time here, we have had one girl fall victim to a violent mugging another was mugged in broad daylight, her belongings stolen right from the basket of her bike. The third at night time whilst on her way home in a tuk tuk. The fourth was an unsuccessful attempt - but she growled at them fiercely and frightened the opportunist off. The fifth was another lady in a tuk tuk, who had the necklace ripped off from around her neck. We have had an intruder in the house steal $300, two cameras and two phones right from under our noses as we slept. Two of us have had our drinks spiked and now one of the girls who has been shockingly feverish for the last few days has been diagnosed with Dengue fever.
It has been intense to say the least. And although I have some wonderful memories, seen beautiful things, met wonderful Cambodians and westerners alike, I have in all honesty, had an unhappy time here. The camera never lies they say, but it does - you have all seen my photos and the usual response has been “looks like you are having an amazing time”. I do like to see the beauty in things, I like to be optimistic, but more and more I have found it harder to smile. I have found it harder to settle, find safety and sanctuary in the place I am meant to call home. Many factors have contributed to this persistent unhappiness and stress that I have experienced increasingly in recent weeks. I have tried to bite the bullet, grin and bear it, all the clichés under the sun, but alas, I cannot anymore. I am depleted of energy, enthusiasm and drive. I want to come home.
But I won’t go home. Home is a place of happiness, safety and full of love. At this distance I can only access that peace over internet connection or text message. It is hard, no, it is impossible sometimes. I am very lonely and wish I had Carl or my family here to help me through this.
I just want to be surrounded by people who care and who love me. I need a hug.
It is hard to admit that I have been feeling so low, it reveals a weakness I rather you did not see, it shows that this incredible opportunity has not been what I thought it would be (yet) but I want this blog to be an honest take of my experiences whilst travelling. Things are not always perfect. I have pretended for so long that things are OK and I have spent a lot of time wallowing and moping about, or avoiding the issues....
Two weeks ago I confronted the issues. As confused as I was I made the decision to leave. I cannot fault the team I work for over their support, guidance and kindness. They have been there when I needed them, but I went to them too late. If I had gone sooner, maybe many of the concerns I had to face on a daily and regular basis could have been dealt with. Through the stress of these, I have had IBS, pain, and anxiety - a daily friend of mine and have lost over 24lbs.
At first, I was alone in how I felt the way things were panning out in the house. I am in no way observant, my family can vouch for that but I do pick up on how other people feel or behave and react according to how their actions make me feel. In the beginning people were making friends, all was lovely except I did not seem to slot in to any obvious group and I ended up feeling very left out and put this down to me being the older person in the house and maybe I just wasn’t as good at socialising as I thought I was. However, others started to notice and I slowly began to realise that it was not me but there were developments which were out of our control. I let it be. In those early stages I would have heart to hearts with one or two of the other housemates who identified with my situation and as time passed by, cliques dissolved and the house became a more inclusive and happier place to live.
Things seemed to improve for a while, although I found myself gradually becoming more and more upset by the behaviour of two western men. Not their behaviour towards me (at this stage) but their attitude towards others in the house. To others they were rude, obnoxious and arrogant. Conversation would turn to debate and debate would turn to an awkward argument, an opinion was not allowed to be had. They were unable to listen to others or respect them or their space. Even the women they so desperately chased (outside of the house) were not given the respect they deserved. At one point, one of them came home with a Khmer working girl. The very reason many of us are out here for - to prevent things like western men abusing the Khmer girls. Rubbed right under our very nose at the kitchen table in the morning, and unfortunately for me, I caught them in the act.
They were very unkind to some of the house mates, they would shout people down. In house meetings, it just was not worth bringing up issues - you were punished for it later. Passive aggressive. The house itself and everything in it was theirs to wreck. Beer cans, their dirty dishes and unfinished food left out every day, three times a day. Swear words written on the white board, which our Khmer staff had to see. They did not care who they offended or caused upset to. As long as they were OK.
My problem is that I will say No. I will only put up with so much and I guess this has been the case since my 22nd year when my family were put through hell during a horrific divorce. I will maintain my opinion, I will not put up with nastiness, selfishness or wickedness, I will fight my corner, but here I ended up fighting for others as well. For example, the bikes we were provided with became one such incident - One of these men (the tallest of all the house mates) would take the smallest bike - the only bike one of the petit girls could fit. Many times we left work and only the huge bikes were left and I would watch her struggling without complaint all the way home. Many time I thought she would have an accident. When she approached the situation (I have to say most tactfully and unconfrontationally) she was shouted down and made to feel like she was in the wrong. She didn't want conflict, she just wanted to resolve an issue she was having, she wanted him to help. So, I brought it up at the house meeting. I was shouted at, told I steal the good bikes (which I do not, I have a rotten bike but it is one no one else uses - wonder why?) and told women have small brains. The whole thing was designed to put us ‘back in our place’ and only served to offend. The issue was raised to them again. Even after all the pleading the girls have done, he still takes the smallest bike and she still struggles.
During one conversation, which should have been a conversation and that is it, blew up in to a huge debate...yet again, I was told my opinion was wrong. "Ignorance is bliss" well I say to you, it sure as hell is. I would rather believe in a beautiful lie then realise the ugly truth. Funnily enough, he got his way. I have been awoken to the very ugly truth.
There are much worse things which went on, and eventually many of us felt it or have experienced it. Small things which can be tolerated once or twice occured daily, yet we say nothing out of fear and a desire for a quiet life. We just don’t want conflict. I want peace, sanctuary and kindness, not abuse, rudeness and to be told that I am "stupid", "pathetic" or told to "grow up" especially over things like when the boys are asked to wash their plates (not by me but I guess I became the punch bag).
I know there are people out there who do not respect the environment they are in, people, or things which they are given. I know there are people who are bullies, aggressive and chauvinistic. People who think they are all that matters and don’t care who they tread on, I have experienced it from people who I would never have imagined possible. It is shocking that these two men have been allowed to rule the house and get away with so much derogatory behaviour.
I was recently told I should not get so wound up by them (by another housemate), who is blind to what has been happening. But why should I tolerate racism, xenophobia, sexism, rudeness, aggression, abuse? I will not stand and watch whilst local working girls are taken advantage of, I will not allow men to physically push girls and think it is ok. I will not put up with being told that I am stupid. I will not have some ignorant fool try and tell me my opinion is wrong, when I work so hard to teach my pupils in the UK to have an opinion and feel free to express it without fear of retribution. I will not watch as they bully their way around the house when back in the UK I sit with students every day to explain why bullying has to stop. I will not be made miserable, uncomfortable, unsafe in the very place I am meant to call ‘home’.
So, I am leaving. I don't need luck, as one of them sarcastically told me when he found out. I need to remember it is good to stand up for what you believe; I have not done anything wrong. I have not been rude, abusive, selfish or aggressive. In fact, for the last few weeks I have avoided them and any situation which might arise. I know what I want, I know what I need but I am unable to find it here.
So with regret, I will move on. The regret extends to the wonderful people I have met, taughts and worked with or lived with who I will miss but will keep in touch with. I have learnt a great deal since being here and experienced many wonderful things.
So I will revel in Carl's company when he arrives, I will embrace the time I have with him and enjoy every second. And then, when we go our separate ways until December, I will continue to immerse myself, I will move on, and I will look back with fondness, but there will be two people missing from my memories.....and facebook.
Until next time, when I have something good to say.....