Defeated by friendly persistence

By Kema Hodge

Climbing a mild hill to a set of ruins, I turned my eyes to the enchanting blue sky above and as I crashed back to reality, I was approached by three young children. One of them was a young girl around the age of 12. She had long jet black hair, wore a blue floral shirt and a skirt – traditional attire for those in the lower class. As she attempted to sell me one of the handmade pieces of jewelry in her basket, I didn’t take note of her immediately — or of any of the other kids for that matter. I was more intrigued by the pieces in their baskets. After purchasing one beautifully crafted purple stoned bracelet for 1000 riel (about 25 cents in USD) from one child and three equally beautiful bracelets for a dollar from another, I began trying to take pictures of the ruins and scenery in front of me. After taking a few pictures and attempting to catch up to the rest of my group, I finally took notice of the little girl, who continued to hustle her jewelry.

“Where you from?” she asked.

“Ameri… the U.S.” I responded.

“Oh. How many people you live with?”

Thinking of my mom back home I answered, “It’s just my mom and I. What about you?”

“Eight people. How many brother and sister you have?”

“I have four brothers,” I said, suddenly realizing she was having a conversation with me that didn’t seem quite as scripted as many of the others my class and I have encountered. “You can speak English very well,” I remarked.
“Yes, thank-you.” I believe she said.

As we concluded our conversation, I learned that she had four brothers and two sisters. I hurried to join my group while the children continued to beg. From then on, I noticed her. She was a smart little girl and I briefly wondered about her education. As the class got ready to leave, she came to me again.

“Postcards for a dolla,” she said sadly, but with hope in her eyes.

“No,” I said, my defenses weakening. “I already have those and didn’t I buy from you already?” I added, hoping that I was right and that she would stop.

“Here, what about the countryside…Please … I need to pay for high school”

And with that my defenses broke completely. I rummaged through her basket looking for a worthwhile purchase among the bracelets, but ultimately settled on the postcards from the countryside, which, in retrospect, are quite beautiful.

In meeting that young girl, I realized just how big of a role tourism plays in the Cambodian way of life. Young children study English and find a trade that they can profit from. Then they find an angle and appeal to their audience who are people visiting their country. They are learning a life skill that I am being taught in my college years before they are even ten.

That being said, that wasn’t why I bought the bracelets. I admired her striving toward a larger goal – higher education. I can’t be mad at that 🙂

If you want to read any more of my pieces detailing my experience in Cambodia, search for Kema Hodge above.

*The pictures above don’t necessarily reflect the story.

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