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Writing for Raksmey: A Story of Cambodia



I meet Raksmey in Proan Pra on the outskirts of Phnom Penh, across the river in the distinctly unstylish south-west. A short time ago this was scarcely more than a mass of shanties housing impoverished fishing families who had come up the river from Vietnam and were scorned by Cambodians in the better parts of town. Now property developers are throwing up rows of houses, all attached: house after house opening straight on to the street, identical in style and colour, each with a tiny backyard.

Nee has borrowed money to buy a house that he and his two sons can call home. Previously they have shared each place they have lived with many cousins from the countryside coming to the city to study. Nee worked to support nieces and nephews until they finished or dropped out of their courses. Now there is a home for his sons and himself.

Raksmey and his brother are old enough to be independent and are securely housed. Nee has earned enough money to give them the education he judged to be the best in Cambodia. The family is entering a new phase.

Proan Pra is a long way from Raksmey’s university, his work and his friends. He leaves on his motor bike while the morning is still dark and crosses the most congested streets before the build-up of vehicles reaches its peak. He stops to eat breakfast where he knows the food will be cheap and good, then spends the morning as a volunteer at the Cambodian Development Resource Institute. His university lectures are in the afternoon. In the evening he eats and studies with his friends and returns home when it is time to sleep.

He asks for a copy of the stories I have written in my draft manuscript, saying that Sunday will be a good time for reading it. I have already left Phnom Penh when my mobile phone rings. It is Raksmey, he has been reading. ‘You did this for me. Thank you. It is what I needed to know.’

Then, since we often talk together about literature he says, ‘I like your use of irony. I’m reading Dickens and Pearl Buck. There is something similar.’ I laugh.

Writing for Raksmey: A Story of Cambodia

   by Joan Healy