This afternoon, I finally managed to get down to Psar Tol Tom Poung, also known more affectionately as the Russian Market. Although Nika instantly accused it of being ‘maket for tourist’, it does stock some lovely goodies which only us Westerners seem to like - crockery without beautifully kitsch puppy dogs and floral patterns favoured by the Khmer. And, yes, I was happy to pay a premium for these. Although not cheap, my little kitchen now boasts four handleless matt-green cups, a matching teapot and two dinner plates, as well as two big bowls, though these do not match as the stallowner could dig up only one of the green bowls, after a thorough search. Oh well, I thought, a quirky, unmatching crockery setting has its advantages too…
Prior to my market visit, I had spent the morning in the Happy School office going over the cashbooks and accounts, as Nika had advised me, in a panic last night over mee chaa, fried short noodles with vegetables, that she was down on her petty cash by USD1400! ‘I think my brother he stole from me again!’, she exclaimed in a distressed anger. ‘I ask him tomorrow if he took, and he will tell me’. Yeah right, I thought, as if he is going to tell her that he stole money from her.
This morning, Nika had a ‘meeting’ with Daniel, an Aussie lawyer working for the World Bank in Phnom Penh, who had become her close friend and official Happy School mentor over the years, as she wanted to find out from him what she should do and if he could help her to find the money to give back to the Happy School. By 8.30am, I was sitting across from Daniel and Nika at ‘The Shop’, a very groovy, Melbourne-style, garden-like café in the heart of the city. ‘I think this is a good job for Maria, Nika. She can check all the bills and accounts, and I think we will find the problem is not your brother afterall’, Daniel recommended. To this, Nika exclaimed that she knew it was her brother, as she had asked him last night, and he had said, yes, he had stolen USD700 from her.
Nevertheless, Daniel’s instinct was correct, and Nika was more than relieved that her brother had luckily stolen from her stash, not the school’s. The accounts spreadsheet was an absolute mess, partly do to with poor setup, partly because Nika didn’t really understand what she was punching into the computer. Not to worry. This was my specialty, having spent endless hours over this very laptop designing and updating the budgets of my father’s busy wine business. Add total columns, add formulas, remove the 12 different colours Nika had added to improve the ‘dotument’, as she affectionately calls it. Le voila, the money was lost only in theory. The account balanced nearly perfectly, out by only USD0.83 over a six month period; it was funny - Nika’s amazingly atypical style of paying and recording bills would have set my accountant into a fit over a fear that money could be pocketed left, right and centre. Yet Nika’s books reconciled like clockwork. Hmmm…
All of this brought me to a lot of thinking - thinking about my life, my decision to come to this small spot on earth, where people and values are so vastly different to what I have surrounded myself with in the past. Having said that, the dynamics here are changing very quickly. As I lie in my freshly-hung hammock under the starless sky, the Khmer lady across the street from me gains pace on her treadmill, watching cable as she counts calories. I wonder whether she thinks of her descendents as she builds up a sweat on this crispy evening. Perhaps they counted pennies instead of calories as they completed their day’s exercise by pacing up and down the filled market rows, selling sticky rice in banana leaves to keep give their children a more prosperous life. One on a treadmill, I wonder? As I watch her little feet march away, I am cognizant that I have learnt a great deal already after a mere week in this country; I am also aware, nonetheless, that I have so, so much more to learn…
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