I have been taking a few of the kids into Phnom Penh with me when I have to go in to pick up supplies. It’s partially because I feel better having someone who can translate if needed and also just for company. That week I took Srey Nak, Venot and Somnang in with me, as well as Thy. Thy was moving to the city to enroll in a cooking trade school. First stop was at Li Shishi, the restaurant Pisei runs.
The kids right away wanted to order hamburgers, french fries and coke. Now coke is available to them in the village, but none of them had ever had a hamburger before. They know Papa Wayne loves to eat them, so they all said they wanted to eat a hamburger like Papa. I told them that they were like a bunch of American kids instead of Cambodian Kids. The burgers had a bun, then egg, then burger, then bacon and lettuce, onion and tomatoes. With the exception of Somnang (who had earlier insisted that he would not get full if he doesn't have rice with his meal) cleaned their plate!
They weren't sure how to eat it until I cut in half for them and showed them how to pick it up with their hands. They were laughing at eating it that way but all managed, except for Somnang, who choose to eat his in layers starting with the bun. They were giggling the whole time and kept saying that it was soo good!
Next was taking Thy to his school. It was hard for me to walk away leaving him there with his clothes and bicycle. In good hands, but seemingly alone. We still have older boys (16 years or so) such as Thy who just wasn't going to pass high school and opted for a trade school instead. I'm not as close to the boys although we see each other every day. Most call me Melinda instead of Mommy, but when I was ready to leave him, Thy looked at me and said "goodbye mommy". I gave him a quick hug and said I would visit when I'm in the city next and had to turn away so he wouldn't see my red eyes.
I was thankful the others were waiting for me in the van so I wouldn't cry. If I had been alone in the city, not sure I would have been successful in holding back the emotional tears.
Well our next stop was Orussey Market. A huge multi-story mess! It's the local Costo in a way, as you can get wholesale prices on the items we needed such as toiletries and blankets, it's a also a place to get wooden beads for our jewelry.
I'm sure there's a method to the madness, or at least an understanding, I just do not have access to either. Booth after booth of everything you could possibly need and then some shoved together in a mis-matched sort of way. The staircases are lined with people selling food items in case you need some gastronomic energy.
Multiple floors with multiple staircases and about 50 entrances around the whole bottom floor.
The van dropped us off as he went to try to find somewhere to park. I knew the toiletries were a couple floors up so we headed that way with Somnang leading the way. We turn this way and that and squeezed through this aisle and that one. I gave up trying to figure out how to get back out and just followed blindly.
Well after finding the shampoo/soap stall we went to town financially, so to speak, and bought a couple hundred dollars’ worth of toiletries. That may not sound like much, but at about 50 cents a bar of soap and .75 for a small bottle of shampoo, it was A LOT! I told my three helpers that they could pick something out for themselves for being such good helpers and getting me good deals. Well, Somnang walked right over and picked up a medium size bottle of shampoo and said timidly “Can I get this”. It is a more expensive brand and one they ALWAYS advertise about on TV. I said “Sure”, and he had such a big smile on his face. The two girls had a much harder time though. Basket after bucket after row of girly stuff: nail polish, hair bows, makeup, everything a female could possibly want. Ten minutes later I was almost finished with my list and they still hadn’t made up their mind. I told them to wrap it up, we have to move on and finally they found some skin lotion and so I paid for everything and told the lady to box it all up and we would come back for it.
We then wandered around which seemed like forever, taking a detour through the food area and stinky fresh(?) fish area. I spotted a mosquito net hanging above a stall and said, go towards that. We had finally found a stall that had inexpensive blankets (about $1.25 each instead of the $3 ones we were finding) and promptly made the lady’s day by telling her I wanted 50 of them.
Standing in front of those market stalls is like walking into a Walmart, you keep seeing things you forgot you 'needed'. So in addition to the blankets, we bought mosquito nets, wash cloths, a couple of good throw rugs for the café and then some cool small rugs for the playroom, which had road designs on them. I then paid for that stuff and told her to box it up and we would be back. Then it was back to the first shop.
It’s times like these when I wish I had my non-directionally challenged friend Sandy with me. Sandy could find her way in a foreign place so much better than I could, even though I was technically the well -traveled one. Luckily the kids were not as confused by all the seemingly similar stalls and they headed back up a floor and without much trouble, found the shop. In the market place, there are guys that just walk around with a dolly (or trolley, depending where you are from) whose business is to cart things to your vehicle (for 50 cents).
The shampoo shop had one such man waiting for us and he took off with us in tow. As he walked in the opposite direction I had somewhat memorized, I looked back at where we had come like we had just missed the last train home. He was moving to the far end of the large market where there is a ramp to wheel the supplies down and eventually came out of some portal as if we were on another planet. I had no idea where in the world we were, no idea of where our van driver was and absolutely no idea where the blanket shop was.
I finally told Somnang to have the dolly man take us to the main entrance where there is a huge “ORUSSEY MARKET” sign.
Once there, I hesitantly left Somnang there with the large boxes and went back into market hell with the girls. Somnang assured me that he would be fine and not to worry. It wasn’t that I was worried for his safety, it’s not like he was going to get kidnapped or robbed, but it was scary thinking I would not find my way back to him! Blah blah blah, a thousand hours later the girls and I found our way back to the blanket stall after a 4 second (which seemed like forever) scare when I thought I had lost them! I froze when I didn’t hear them behind me and turned to confirm the fact they were not there.
I remember me and my brother loosing my mom in a large department store called "Davids" in Wichita. No problem for young resourceful Melinda - I promptly went to the service desk and to Mom's horror, had her paged. Something like "Carolyn Lies, can you please report to the Service Desk to retrieve your lost children." was blasted a couple of times throughout the entire store. She was so embarrassed as really we weren't gone that long and ran fast to 'retrieve' us, not out of relief, but so they wouldn't blare her seemingly irresponsible parenting ability again. Orussey Market has no such means for finding lost children...I gained my composure and looked around and saw that they were leaning over a railing, smartly looking down to see if they could see anything they recognized.
The thing is, we had the receipt from the stall. A receipt that clearly stated stall number and area. 12B 61,62,63. BUT, anyone we showed it to gave us the same look I was giving them. They would point in a direction and grunt. We would head in that direction and then hand it to another and they would point in another direction. It’s not like we were numerically challenged; the stalls just were not logically numbered. We would find 7B and then keep heading as the numbers got higher, we would then see 10C…I figured they were somehow lettered by what kind of item they carried.
Just sheer luck led us to a stall labeled 12B 55. Venot yelled “look” and we kind of cheered and started to run to it.
...Then the lights went out. Yep, a power outage which is common, but usually you do not realize it in Phnom Penh, because there are generators in every business and restaurant. Orussey could not possibly have enough generators to light the place, so people just flip on flash lights and continue about. I groped for the girls and told them to hang onto my pants as I searched for my phone in my bag. I flipped on the tiny light on my phone to guide us.
But then Srey Nak, said "No, the other way", as the next stall was 12B 53. We turned laughing and were so happy to find our blanket lady finally! With instructions to another dolly man, to find the main entrance we were on our way back to Somnang! Then the lights came on! YEA! I kept thinking that Somnang would be scared, but his extended family has taken him to Thailand and other places, so he is one of the more traveled of our kids and wasn’t worried at all.
After giving him a hug, I handed him my phone to tell the driver where to meet us and I was never so happy to see that white van pull up! The kids inquired about the beading wire and craft supplies on the list, but I was just so emotionally and mentally exhausted, I said “another time”. Only one more stop at a “western” supermarket and then we would head home.
At the supermarket, I picked up a few food supplies and when we exited the store, the escalator in the mall caught the girls eye. They had never seen one and were giggling with excitement. They deposited the grocery bags at my feet and walked tentatively over to it. Somnang went up with ease and Venot finally jumped onto the first step as I was cracking up watching. Srey Nak was so scared to get on, she was kind of scream-laughing as Venot moved further and further away from her. I jogged over and gave her a gentle push from behind and she yelled as she landed on the first step. I ran back to the groceries as she turned around to see what had happened. Coming back down was easier for her but she was still giggling as we grabbed a bite to eat for the ride home…
In the van, Venot poked me and with a radiant grin on her face said to me “I am so happy”. I said “You are”? and she said “Yes, I am happy I come to Phnom Penh, I have a good day”. Srey Nak followed suit and all the craziness, worrying, and exhaustion and mental fatigue melted away as I hugged her and said I was happy to have been able to bring her.
I am a human who wants other humans to feel good. That day, I made a little girl happy, there’s really not much more in this life I could ask for.