Picture this. After having finally received confirmation that your NGO is registered, a difficult feat in Cambodia, you plan a party. A party where you invite your team, their family and other NGO’s. You spend weeks planning said party, and the day finally arrives.
After working up a sweat putting up all the handmade decorations, you drive your motorbike home to have a shower, get changed into a dress and attempt to straighten your hair despite knowing the humidity would turn it into a Diana Ross-like fuzz ball in a matter of minutes.
You head back to the pagoda on your motorbike, feeling quite smug that you have made an effort with your physical appearance. For the first time in a long time, you feel ‘pretty’. You stop at a roadside shop near the pagoda, one that is owned by your staff member’s sister. You need some ice for the party, and what better way to validate your self-esteem by saying ‘hi’ to someone you know?
She comes out of her shop and looks at you.
“You would look prettier if you make up your face,” she says.
Your self-esteem deflates. You automatically get on the defensive.
“WHY WOULD I WEAR MAKE-UP WHEN IT IS 40 DEGREES OUT?”
She just laughs.
You drive off, pondering how your happiness can be squashed in 10 seconds flat.
You then arrive at the pagoda, hop off your motorbike and grab the ice you purchased. As you are walking towards the school building, an elderly Monk comes over to you.
“I don’t like your jacket,” he says in Khmer.
Another blow. This time, since it is a Monk playing tennis with your self-esteem, you need to just smile and accept. Because the number one rule with Monks is that you can’t be rude to them, no matter how rude they may be to you.
You continue on your way and arrive at the school, opening up your laptop to use the camera to take a good look at yourself. Your hair is frizzy, your skin is red and blotchy and the arm pits of your cardigan has sweat patches seeping through.
This is Cambodia, the land of truth-telling and low self-esteem.