The unexpected consequences of conversations in Cambodia


I met a young guy during my first three months here in Cambodia. K was working as a builder’s labourer across the street from our dorm. He was a Cham kid, about nineteen or twenty. Both his parents were dead and he was making $2.50 a day for a twelve hour day.

K would wave to me everyday when I got home from teaching and would come and hang out. His English was poor, but we would sit on the street and pore over Google maps looking at each other’s homes, go out for a Coke (he would insist on paying), and play street football.

One day he had to go home as his grandmother was sick. I gave him a Khmer/English Bible and wrote a message inside the cover. It was a little prayer for his life that I hoped he would get translated. It was simple. May God help your dreams come true.

I didn’t see him again for nearly a year and a half.

I went back home to New Zealand, hung out with my family and then returned to Cambodia to continue teaching some ex-prostitutes to open a cafe. Eight months passed. My cash was running out and my teaching period was coming to a close. Luckily, a job came up and I took it. In that job I met a beautiful woman who I have since married.

During my first six months in the job I would get random phone calls from K. He was in Siem Reap learning to be a barber. He was in Kampong Cham. He was in Phnom Penh.

I took my fiance and we went to visit him.

On the side of town near the old stadium, K had set up a little street barber shop. His English seemed worse, but we were all smiles catching up with each other. We all went out to a BBQ with another mate of mine. It was rare beef, beer and smiles all round. On the way back to take him home in the tuk tuk he sat talking with my future wife in Khmer. We said our farewells, and we headed off to find a quiet place for me to smoke a jazz cig.

My wife asked, ‘Do you know what he said to me?’

‘Nah, what’d he say?’

‘He said you changed his life.’ I nearly choked. She smiled and told me, ‘He said before he met you he never had a dream for his future.’

Last time I spoke with K was when he came to our wedding. He told me business was good, he makes about $15 a day.

Photo: mark roy

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The unexpected consequences of conversations in Cambodia

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