Channa is the mother of four children and also cares for her sick elder sister. She is constantly worrying about money and regrets not being able to send her children to school everyday due to the lack of it. Channa talked freely about her circumstances in life, about her philosophy on bring up children and shared her point of view on a shifting culture.
I’ve lived in Phnom Penh since 1992. My hometown is in Prey Veng Province. Where I used to live in the countryside, it would flood every year. I couldn’t find food to eat and I was an orphan. I moved to Phnom Penh to live with my sister so that I could work at a factory to feed myself. Phnom Penh had and still does have many more job opportunities than my hometown. I like living here for that reason.
The things I value most in life are having enough food to eat, and living together with my children and husband. I want to be able to send my kids to school everyday but financially I can’t. Simply speaking, when you don’t have money you cannot do anything. If I want my kids to go to school I have to look after my younger daughters, but then I can't go to work.
My husband is a construction worker. Both of our wages combined are not enough to live off of. Plus, I have another mouth to feed – my elder sister. When her health is good, she will help out by taking care of my younger kids. If she doesn’t feel well, my elder sons must take care of their sisters and cannot go to school.
Despite our best efforts, things haven’t worked out the way we wanted. For example, in 2012, when my youngest daughter was born I couldn’t work and I didn’t have anything to eat. I had a big fight with my husband. It's normal for a couple that lives together to argue often. After our fight one of my friends asked me to move to the border of Cambodia near Thailand but I didn’t go. I decided to go to an orphanage to ask for a place to stay instead. They did not let us stay. I didn’t know what to do, so I sold all of my stuff from living in Phnom Penh. If you can’t work you can’t live. I thought if we were in the provinces people would help us out so we moved to Sompov Loun for about five or six months. But then my kids became allergic to the land there. I didn’t know what to do. I asked another orphanage to let my kids learn at their school but my kids weren’t accepted because they weren’t orphans.
In my opinion, if your kids are educated they will think about and respect you as a mother. I have seen kids on my block beat their moms, cursing them. Kids nowadays have no manners or respect whatsoever. I hope and believe my kids, whether they are educated or not, will think about me as a mother and I can depend on them in the future. If they are educated though, I believe I can depend on them more. My 14 year-old son is a good kid. He does house chores, looks after his sisters and listens and obeys well unlike rich kids his age. I think a kid from a humble family is better than a rich kid in terms of character.
I believe my kids would have a bright future if they could go to school regularly though I cannot afford for them to do so. Think about it. I have to spend 10,000 KHR (10 USD) – and it’s not that small of an amount – everyday for food. So my monthly expenses for food is 300,000 KHR (300 USD). Not to mention, I have to pay for rice, utilities, rent, and so on. If I let my kids go to school regularly, I cannot make it at the end of the month.
My kids want to learn English, but I cannot let them. All I can do is buy a book for them to learn at home. I asked the teacher whether my kids were smart in school and they said my kids were the best. Both of my sons are the best. It’s my sin from my past life that I cannot afford for my kids to go to school. But unlike other mothers who do not care about their kids’ progress in school, when I get home from work, I always ask my kids what they learned that day. Since I have no inheritance for them, as a mother, that’s all I can do for them.
I think about my life all the time. My mother passed away when I was young, just six months after giving birth to my younger sister. I thought I would never get married if I couldn’t make enough money. We came to Phnom Penh after I reached puberty and my sister was a bit bigger. Our financial situation was better because my sister was working. But then I got my first abortion and got married. After that, my father died and my older sibling sold our land. That was when I had another abortion, my third child. We’ve been poor since then. I’ve been praying to god asking for help but nothing happens.
Yesterday or the day before yesterday, the school called for a parent-teacher conference. I went and they asked why my kids have stopped coming to school. I told them it was because I was poor. And then they asked why I became a parent if I had no ability to raise a child. I replied, "What was I supposed to do? I tried my best but it didn’t work out. Should I just rob or steal to make it happen?"
It’s difficult to be a woman in Cambodia. Before Khmer women were the best. They respected their husband, and they listened to each other. Now people are different, not only women but men as well. My husband included. I can almost say that I’m the only woman left in this world that respects and listens to my husband completely. Still, he’s not satisfied. Needless to say, people are too materialistic nowadays. It’s hard to live with my husband. Each time when things get tough, I didn’t know what to think. I almost killed myself, but then I thought about my kids. I don’t want them to lose their mother like I did. It’s hard, but I put up with him.
For example, when he gets his paycheck, he knows I need the money, but he only gives me some. You know men nowadays; needless to say, they are…tears come to my eye when I try to talk about this. My sister lives with us and he’s not happy about it. That is why he always picks fights with me. He is also younger than me. He’s still young and beautiful. That’s why. He loves his kids though. He hangs out a lot outside with his friends and stuff, so he always finds faults in me, but he never beats me.
I had a fiancé who was a widower before I met my husband. My husband worked on the construction near my factory. One day he asked me for some water. Then he touched my hand and I was like, “Why are you so rude? You don’t even know me.” After that, he followed me around and came to my house to ask for my hand in marriage. At that time, my late father was still alive so he advised me to think it over between a bachelor and a widower. He said it was better to live with a bachelor. Since I didn’t love either of them, I just followed my father’s advice and got married to my current husband. But it was only ten short years of happiness. After my first abortion, ten years later, things got rough.
The way I see it, if your parents are alive you dare not refuse their advice or complain. If you follow your parent’s advice you will blame them for your unhappiness. However, that is not the case for me. All I can do is be regretful and accept this decision as a sin from a previous life. If my father were alive, I would blame him as well for his misjudgment. I just feel sorry for myself. My life is an endless sad story. I don’t want to talk about it anymore.
This interview has been edited for clarity and was conducted in two parts. The first took place on August 4, 2014. at the shoe factory where Channa was working. We met for the second time on August 9, 2014 at the apartment complex where she lives on the outskirts of Phnom Penh. She had just quit her job at the shoe factory.