There is nothing like realizing that you really don’t know a language when you speak to a native speaker on the phone. The only time I have to speak on the phone is when I’m talking to a tory driver (how we refer to van drivers). This is how I get to and from the capital city, my provincial city and any where else that I can’t get to by bike. It’s a system that makes no sense to my naive American mind. You don’t arrange for your seat in the tory until the night before and you are likely to be squished in like sardines. It’s sweaty it’s uncomfortable and in my experiences kids are always throwing up around you and a yiey (grandmother) is touching you.
I have had zero smooth rides so far.
Experience #1: My first ride was to my provincial town that is only about an hour from my house by van. It started out with the morning of, 30 minutes prior to leaving the driver called me and said he wasn’t going anymore. So I walked downstairs and asked my mom if they have any other drivers that they use. She arranged it for me and I was on my way. As always kids threw up and when I tried to explain to the driver where I wanted to go it didn’t quite translate. Needless to say I got there, I enjoyed my time and the next morning I called to make sure that I was going to be taken back home and he told me he wasn’t coming…so I scrambled and asked another volunteer who lives relatively close to me to ask his driver if I could hop in too. He said yes then we were in our way and then in my broken Khmer I begged the driver to take me all the way home which he kindly did.
Experience #2: I had to go into the Peace Corps office in the capital and I again used a driver that my family suggested. He picked me up in the morning and everything was going fine until we arrived at one home and the children said that their mother went to the market. That resulted in a van full of people waiting in a blazing hot van for 30 minutes until she returned from the market. Cambodian people are generally reserved and then sometimes they shock you with their bluntness. So in the van they were all saying how angry they were when they had to wait and then as soon as the family got in the rest of the van went silent. No one spoke directly to the family about their anger. I was squished in a van row with four adults and four children, it was as comfortable as that sounds. On top of that a yiey kept her hand on my leg for the entirety of the ride which sent my body heat through the roof. After this emotionally taxing ride I felt the ride back would go smoother. It went quite worse. I waited for 2 and a half hours past pick up time and the driver kept telling me that he would be there in five minutes and he wasn’t. He spoke so fast I couldn’t understand him and I kept handing my phone to random Cambodians on the road in hopes that they could straighten it out for me. After a whole lot of waiting I got in the van and got home and boy was I happy to get home that day.
Experience #3: I had to make yet another trip to the capital to go to the Peace Corps office. My ride to the capital was smooth sailing. No problems there. I confirmed with the driver that I was going back with him the next day and we would meet at the same place. So I go to a coffee shop before the pick up time and I’m calm and thinking okay I got this this time. Call thirty minutes before and we will be good. I call we aren’t understanding each other and I come to find out my driver LEFT ME. Like what….I thought we had agreed on this! So I start walking around and asking random drivers if any of them were going near my home and low and behold I found one. I found my own way home and I’m a whole lot calmer than last time. At least I don’t have to wait 2 and a half hours to get going! I arrived to my district town and the driver refused to take me to my commune so I started walking because I cannot ride on a moto. As I’m walking I’m hoping a van or something will pass by so that I can get to my house faster and less sweaty. Eventually a tuktuk goes by and after haggling for about 5 minutes and trying to get out of the scamming because I’m a foreigner I am finally given a fair price. As I am arriving home I see my dad on a moto with a trailer hitched to the back. He was coming to get me because a neighbor motoed past me when I was walking and went and told my dad who then was worried and was coming to my rescue. It was a heartwarming moment to know how much he cared and that my community cared.
Maybe just maybe I’ll eventually get this Tory thing down. For now, I’m a total amateur and I hope to some day understand this system. It’s an adventure that’s for sure…..
From the Eastern Hemisphere,