My Host Family

By popular request, this next post is about my host family. As of last Friday, there are four regulars living in the house, plus three of us volunteers. Almost never are all of us together, though…which is why I don’t have a picture yet.

In writing this post, I’m realizing how little I know about the family, being both shy and out all day. But I still have several months to learn about them, right?

The Family

The father, Mr. Savuth (sa-VOOT, /saʋʊtʰ/)1, is a cheerful man who’s happy to help with any problems we might have, such as, say, going to buy a bike. He and his family have been hosting volunteers for a few years now, and I’m pretty sure he said this is his only work now. (I have no idea how much they get paid for us; we do eat a lot of food and drink a lot of water. But being a host for volunteers actually sounds like a fairly awesome job.) He’s already helped me fix up my bike once, though, so I get the feeling that he has some minor mechanical skills.

The mother says that all volunteers just refer to her as “Mommy”, which I mentally spell “Mami” because I don’t do temporary parenthood even when I’m actually in a family. (I will say “host mother” when referring to her, though.) She laughs a lot and makes very good stir-fry, and apparently picked up all her English from volunteers, which is impressive because she understands quite a bit.

Their older son, Piseth (bpee-SET, /b̥isɛtʰ/), is in his late twenties and lives at the house, but in the week and a half he’s been here (at the time of writing this) he’s been gone as much as here. He’s studied law and currently works for a UN-affiliated organization, and has to attend multi-day meetings all over the place…to make a long story short, he’s quite busy. But he’s also spent several weeks in America—his English still has a fairly heavy accent but is very good, to the point of having a full, normal conversation—he hopes to attend graduate school in the UK, and he likes writing. The other night we sympathized on how hard it is to be tall and skinny (we weigh about the same and we’re about the same height, which makes me thin for America and him tall for Cambodia).

Mr. Savuth’s niece, Kuoch, is living here in order to study accounting in the city; she’s 20. (Roughly pronounced KUT, as in “put”; my best guess at IPA is [g̥ʊ͡ɔt͡ʃ̚] but that doesn’t really make sense.) She’s very shy, and then I’m shy around her,2 and her English is just okay, so we’ve only had one good conversation so far. >_< Twice now I’ve also come down in the morning while she’s talking to one of the other two (female) volunteers, and it kills the conversation right there, making me feel very bad…maybe it’s a cultural gender divide, but I need to fix that. On top of her schoolwork, she also helps Mami with the cooking and cleaning, which again makes me feel a little funny about the gender rules, but maybe it’s just a way to repay the family for letting her stay here…

Those four are the regulars, but we’ve had relatives in and out even in this single week (although this week marked the beginning of a two-week holiday in which people traditionally visit their families, so maybe this is more than usual). In particular, Mr. Savuth’s nephew (late elementary school?) has been staying with us for a few days on and off while he goes to school. Haven’t talked to him at all yet.

The Volunteers

The family is well-equipped to deal with volunteers by now; in the three-story house (with “half-floors” between the main levels), there are four rooms available for volunteers. Currently besides me, there are two others: Janina and Jaclyn.

Janina (ya-nee-na) is from a village near Hamburg, Germany, in her gap year between high school and college (in (Western) Europe this happens at 20, not 18). She’d been here for about three weeks when I first arrived, and like everyone else in her program (different from ours) she will be staying for a year. Like me, she’s working as a teacher at an orphanage school, though her experience has been very different from mine. We’ve had conversations already about languages (she speaks French and a bit of Danish and reads Latin, in addition to basically fluent English and German), the differences between Germany and the US, the Khmer language…even one about musicals. She can play the saxophone and just bought a moto today (motorbikes are one of the three or four standard ways of getting around here; more on that in a future post).

Jaclyn is from New York, USA, and finished her bachelor’s degree a year or two ago; she took two months off from her job at a radio station to come here. Because she came here during a holiday week, her placement’s a little weird: she’s going to be working at an orphange but not teaching for now, but then coming to my school in two weeks. Because she’s here for so little time, comparatively, she wants to do everything, which is good for me because I’m not good at planning touristy things.

All three of us have clicked pretty well and pretty quickly—going to Chœung Ek on Jaclyn’s first real day probably helped that process. I joked with Nina that I don’t know if I’m an older brother, cause I’m older than her, or a younger brother, cause she’s been here longer. Now that Jaclyn’s here, that problem’s solved—either way I’m the middle one.3

So I pretty much couldn’t have asked for a better family. I still have to get to know them better, and I want to cook dinner for them at least once. Which reminds me…I haven’t really said what living here is like. Maybe next time!

Topic choices: Living With My Host Family, Phnom Penh Traffic, The Khmer Language…or any other questions you want to ask.

  1. Everyone goes by their first name here; you can add “Mr” to make it more formal but you don’t use the surname unless it’s a formal document. ↩︎

  2. Stop giggling, it’s not like that. ↩︎

  3. Also, after hitching a ride on Nina’s moto today, I think it’s very clear she’s the older sister. (It’s rare here to see a woman driving a moto with a man riding…not that women don’t drive, they do plenty, but if there’s a man and a woman the man is the driver.) ↩︎