Fiyah

“You buy somesing, Madame?” It was a gentle voice, and I looked down to see a beautiful little girl about 10 years old. Her long black hair was held back in barretts, and she was neatly dressed in shorts and a t-shirt. I had left the luggage store at the Central Market and wandered over to the booth across the aisle. Its shelves were stocked with t-shirts in plastic bags and hung with dresses, skirts and blouses in vivid colors. The little girl seemed to be the lone proprietor, and she was urgent in pushing her wares.  “Somesing for you? A scarf, Madame? T-shirt?”

I located a t-shirt with a silhouette of Angkor Wat and asked for a different size, then a different color. She scurried around the booth, flipping through piles of t-shirts and laying out the requested items. What was her name? “Fiyah,” she said. Can you spell it? She did. Did she go to school? She did, for Khmer and English. Do you like school? Yes, she did. She liked school. We went on talking. When I asked her something she didn’t understand, she’d drop her head, open mouthed with her jaw jutting out and her eyes half closed. It was as though a wave of stupefaction had hit her, and then she’d recover and smile.

How much for the shirt? “”Five dollars,”she said. It was easy to get t-shirts for two and three dollars in that market. Okay,” I said, paid and left, feeling unaccountably sad.

Two days later, Bethany and I were shopping the Central Market. She was trying to decide on tea pots and carved elephants. I was buying jewelry. As the evening away, and the heat was still heavy in the air, we wandered toward the market’s edges. Just as I looked up and saw the luggage store, I heard her voice, “Somsing for you, Madame?”  “It’s you!” I said. “Fiyah!” She giggled and said without missing a beat, “A scarf for you? T-shirt, Madame?” When I asked the price on this round, she eyed me shrewdly and said, “For you, four-fi-ty. “Okay,” I said. She scampered away to make change and returned with a renewed sales pitch. Somesing else? A scarf, madame. A dress? Skirt for you: Nice price. Somesing else? No, no. Not this time. “Don’t you need some more?” she asked. No, no more. I took her picture, and she giggled as I showed it to her. “Thank you, Madame,” she said. When I left, she was straightening the  t-shirt piles. There was something so sad about it.

Tonight we had dinner in Pnom Phen with Navy Chan, the director of the Genesis Community of Transformation. Navy, who fled the Kmer Rouge as a child, said the typical rural Cambodian girl is educated only through grade six. A girl like Fiyah, who lives an urban center, might be allowed to go to school through the 9th garde. What happens to the little girl then? “Marriage,” Navvy said.

Leonard and David have told me for months that the children of Cambodia will break my heart. I’ve seen swarms of children, many of them very cute and funny.  At Rainbow School, I liked a little girl with a short haircut named Nisa–mainly because she was a tough little scrapper, always looking to jump into a fight. None of them have broken my heart–until Fiyah. And I don’t know what it is about her that makes me wonder (and worry) about what will happen to her. The same night I snapped her picture, I lost it when I left my camera in a tuuk-tuuk.

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7 comments so far

  1. Ann DeRooy on

    Oh no! You lost your camera? How sad! Good thing you can get copies of everyone else’s pictures! I guess you’ll just have to send someone with a camera to buy something from Fiyah and to take her picture.

  2. Steve Barkema on

    Myrna,

    We’re missing you around the office. It sounds like things are going well and that you’re having a great experience. I hope things continue to go well and that you get safely back to GR when you’re done.

    Oh, by the way, did you know that blue M&Ms were Pish’s favorite?

    Take care,

    Steve

    • myrnaanderson on

      Dear Steve,

      I miss you C&M people too, man, and I think about you a lot. I hope you guys aren’t letting the dart game slide. That would be a shame. I’ll see you soon. Also: Pish told me green M&Ms. You really can’t listen to him about that stuff. He’s fickle …

      Myrna

  3. Phil de Haan on

    This is a powerful post Myrna. From half a world away, I can see that little girl. Thanks for painting such a beautiful picture.

  4. myrnaanderson on

    Ann, Thanks for the sympathy. I’ve already bought a replacement. 🙂

    And Phil,
    Thanks so much. It’s great to get your customary encouraging e-mails when half a world away. Hope all it well…

  5. MJ on

    The last time I lost I camera I thought “The camera can be replaced! But the pictures….!!!

    • myrnaanderson on

      I had downloaded them to a laptop the night before. 🙂


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