Friday, July 30, 2010

Renting Humans

Category: Issue 19

She looks at me with those beautiful eyes,  her eyebrows are just a bit furrowed.  She is very self-possessed.  Here in the bar she never smiles, but Mark tells me she smiles and laughs all the time when they are alone. 

I try to say a couple of things in Khmer, and it works:  she responds enthusiastically in Khmer.  Alas, I am a jerk, and I don’t understand her.  “Som Toe, ot youl,” I say.  Sorry, I don’t understand.  She’s nice about it.  She is more or less beautiful, they all are… about 20 years old, maybe. 

I ask Mark (in his 40s) where he Got Her.  He’s one of the Good Ones, in my book.  He says he was in one of the girly bars and someone pointed her out as a cousin of hers.  She was new there and cowering in the corner.  Mark had been working in Cambodia for an NGO, for a few years before that.  Mark is not a bad person.  At all.  Seriously.  He’s funny and nice. 

Guess he took her out for supper or something.  They’ve been together ever since.  A year?  Off and on. 

She is very self-possessed.  She isn’t giggly and she isn’t trying to please anybody.  She has never had to do that, because Mark took her out for dinner that night.  He just bought her a new dress and a camera and some jewelry.  They have gone on lots of trips together. 

But she knows .

I ask Mark about his plans.  He doesn’t have a job here in Cambodia anymore, just the way it goes, and is just hanging around before going back to his home country.  He says that he has explained to her about how he is leaving soon, and that she understands.  It is not possible for her to come with him.  She understands that.  She will be better off than she would have been if he had not met her in the first place, cowering in the corner. 

He will leave her with some money.  A few hundred bucks.  A lot for a Cambodian 20-year-old girl.

They are going back to their guesthouse after this beer.  She isn’t drinking…customarily, she is sitting there, mostly silently, waiting for him to finish drinking and talking in English, and then they will go back to their guesthouse room.  I guess then she will probably smile and laugh.  Mark is funny and they do seem to have a genuine connection. 

As they get up and go she casts me another look.  I catch it, but I don’t know what to do with it.  He’s leaving, and once he’s gone, he’ll be gone.  What will she do then? 

I don’t know.  It’s not my problem.

I have seen horses walk by, being ridden, sometimes, and glance at me, sidelong.  The look she gives me is the same look as the horse, kind of. 

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Old Comments

  • The horses had no choice.  Shab had a choice.  And she probably will be better off because of Mark.  I know I’m better off because of all the people who have given me things and money because of what I’ve done for them.

    Heh.  I just read The Zoo too, which is why I gave your Campbodian 20yr old a name.  Sorry if I confused anyone, but it’s my brain exercising poetic muscles because of B’s autobiographical essay.

    There are some useful uglinesses in human beings, and one of them is inspiring charity.  It is ugly only in the sense that it pales the joy of life in those to whom it is presented.  On the other hand, it gives them a reason to be nice -er charitable.  But I always prefer to explain fishing over providing fish.  On that note, I humbly suggest that you challenge “Shab”‘s horse-look by asking if she would continue visiting you when Mark has gone, so that you might trade knowledge of your languages with each other.  Both of you may find an increased ability to *be rented* as a language teacher, no?

    Oh wait!  That means you’ll have less time writing.  Shoot.  Nevermind!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  08/01  at  05:37 PM
  • The horse has as much a choice as anybody does.  If it’s a reasonable horse, it does what it has to do to maximize whatever is supposed to be maximized (leaving that aside).

    There’s a difference between providing English Lessons and providing Sex.  True or False?  Why or why not?  Explain.

    Posted by julianyway  on  08/06  at  08:30 PM
  • PS On a (I think) saddish note, even before he’s gone, she’s trying to pick me up in a sexual way.  Unless you’ve had little Khmer girls carressing your arms and looking up at you with their beautiful seductive eyes.  Ya gotta be there.  PS I’m not gay.  (I doubt that she is either.)

    How does he react?  He doesn’t.  I point it out.  He doesn’t react.  Still very funny and nice. 

    My poor Western Standard.

    Posted by julianyway  on  08/06  at  08:41 PM
  • I don’t think Mark puts any effort into making her life worse when she doesn’t put out.  He probably neglects her more, but he doesn’t keep her locked up or force her to keep a bit in her mouth to yank on when she resists.  Or does he?  ‘cause if he does, then, yeah, I agree that the horses had as much choice as she did.  But you didn’t characterize their relationship that way.

    Sure there’s a difference between providing English lessons and providing Sex.  It’s like the difference between helping someone figure out what’s wrong with their Internet connection and giving them an enema, a gynecological exam, or carrying a child to term for them.  One is certainly more intimate than the other, and therefore often more taboo.  I suspect you were imagining a more visceral difference, which you may be able to provide since I can’t.

    I know that monetary compensation makes exchanges spiritually deadening and intimacy makes them spiritually livening, and that when mixing the two, results will vary, but was he really paying her, or actually helping her live?  Because when you start providing for another person in ways that are not monetary, I think the spirituality starts coming back - even if there’s no permanence to the relationship.  It has something to do with being accepted as a “trading partner” in media of exchange that are less universal than money.  I think that spiritually deadening element of monetary exchanges is part of the foundation of the idea that money is evil.

    I’ve been trying to teach my kids this:  I consider one of my major responsibilities to figure out what qualities in other people (who want stuff from me) make them valuable to me.  If I can’t find any, shame on me.  If I can, I need to make sure they know so that they can choose whether or not to provide me with that value.  It might be something they really don’t like to do, and that just means we ought not to be trying to trade with each other.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  08/09  at  12:18 AM
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