We’ve been having quite a laugh this week – about my attempts to speak Khmer.
The staff in theatre laugh every time I say ‘help me!’ in Kmai.
‘Choie khnyom!’ Gales of laughter. It’s become quite a catch phrase. It reminds me of a surgeon colleague who was well-known for his identical catch phrase in my old hospital, and we had fun with it there too. ‘Help me, sister, help me!’
The theatre staff also laugh at the idea of a tuk tuk driver teaching me Khmer. The truth is he speaks very clearly and I can catch what he says. He has a good way of showing me how to pronounce the difficult words and he’s a real nice guy. The other volunteers have known Tarak for some time and he has the only tuk tuk in town with a one wheel motor bike power unit – the rest are articulated. The artic tuk tuk is a motorbike with a trailer. Tarak’s tuk tuk is a purpose-built machine. It reminds me of our first family car as a child – we had a three wheel Bond minicar with motorbike engine mounted under the bonnet on the steering column. The resemblance begins and ends with the motorbike engine however. There’s much more room in a tuk tuk and the driver wears a crash helmet. This is a quiet time of year for drivers. There are very few tourists around and it’s a pity because the weather has been cool this week, perfect for visiting Angkor Wat and the other temple sites. So I employ him as a language teacher and he is glad of the income.
In my lesson today I learned why ‘help me’ is so amusing. You may have guessed already. We discovered early on while working in the bar at Bala Lake Hotel that asking a customer in Welsh – did they want ice – was fraught with danger. It could easily mean something much more risqué between the sexes. The same is true with ‘help me’ in Kmai. I know now to make my plea for assistance much more ‘chewy’ than ‘choy’.
My new language helper at work also arrived today. Huorn is another really nice guy who immediately proved his usefulness when the pathology report arrived from the twisted ovarian cyst of last week. For the medically minded, the cyst was a mucinous cystadenocarcinoma of borderline malignant potential. In other words it was like having a severely abnormal cervical smear without it being invasive cancer and the operation has completely removed the problem. Unlike the case of the abnormal smear however, the patient has another ovary and at the age of 29 with two children, the last one 5 months old, it is wise to have the normal ovary checked by examination or ultrasound from time to time over the next 5 to 10 years.
Hourn was the perfect translator for the job. We managed to communicate both reassurance and the importance of surveillance. The husband and patient were relieved and thankful and both had big smiles of gratitude. The big smiles are for the folks back in UK too, for all those who made available a small fund to help in just such a circumstance as this. They happily accepted a copy of the report, in French of course. At that moment the dinner lady arrived in the ward balancing her tray of chicken and fish kebab on her head without hands, and carrying her tray of sweet bread and cakes. Just the distraction everyone wanted and the perfect snack lunch for 50c.
You’ve probably remembered. The same price as a coconut … or was it a haircut?