Monday, October 17, 2011

Dish Soap

Here in Cambodia, it is very important to keep a clean house, particularly a clean kitchen. I know, it’s important everywhere, but in my mind, it’s beyond important here. It’s essential. The reason? Bugs. Apparently big, nasty bugs are everywhere here, and they love to invade homes. As do tiny ants that can fit through the smallest hole in your “air- and bug-tight” containers. Apparently the only way to keep the little monsters away is to be hyper vigilant about crumbs and cleanliness, to go above and beyond when storing food in airtight containers, and to be prepared with a veritable army of bug-zapping, ant-trapping, roach-killing products.

Just to let you know, I despise bugs of all types and of all sizes. A spider will send me calling for Jeff to come kill it. Ants in the house will have me reaching immediately for the deadliest chemicals I can find. A roach will send me scurrying away, to return to the room only with immense trepidation after turning all the lights on and leaving them on for several seconds, preferably with Jeff in tow to destroy the ugly monster. Yes, I do realize how hysterical it must be that someone like me is living here.

I say all this so that you will understand the horror with which I realized, after dinner on our first night here, that I had neglected to request that our sponsor stock our new home with dish soap. How was I to banish every hint of food from the oh-so-sensitive nostrils of my enemy if I didn’t have the proper tools? There was only one thing to do. I rinsed the dishes thoroughly, scrubbed them with a wet washcloth to remove every visible sign of use, stacked them in the sink, and made plans to do whatever it took to buy dish soap the next day.

Accordingly, the next day, I took Alexa in my arms, put my six U. S. dollars in my pocket (we’d forgotten to bring more cash, and I have no idea where an ATM is in the neighborhood, so that was all I had until Jeff got home from the embassy), and walked down to the corner market. I perused the few aisles and their meager offerings. Milk, diapers, laundry detergent, beer, and ah, there! Dish soap. But that’s no good; that’s for use in a dishwasher, and our house doesn’t have a dishwasher. (Most houses here don’t.) Try again. Nope, no wash-by-hand dish soap. Time to ask for help.

I approached the Cambodian lady who had greeted me as I walked in the door. “Do you have any dish soap? Not for use with a machine, but to wash by hand?”

“Soap? To wash by hand? No machine?”

I nodded.

“Here. This by hand, this by hand, this by hand. This and this by machine.”

I looked in surprise at the items she indicated. I’d thought that all of the merchandise in that section was for washing clothes. Then I noticed a box of Cascade dishwasher detergent on the shelf above where she’d pointed. Reassured, I took her word for what was what. The bags of detergent (whoever heard of powdered wash-by-hand dish soap?) were on the bottom shelf and therefore difficult to see, labeled in Khmer script and therefore impossible to read, and Alexa was getting away from me trying to grab everything in sight, so I didn't have time to verify. I quickly picked up a bag that was marked $5.15 and headed to the cash register.

Once we arrived home, I gleefully headed to the kitchen to make use of my new purchase. I was hoping that I’d find some picture instructions—or better yet, English—on the packaging to let me know how much powder I was supposed to use for a sink full of water. As I examined the bag, I noticed that one of the pictures showed a bucket of sudsy water with a white shirt next to it. Hmm … maybe the dish soap was mixed with the laundry detergent because it was meant to be dual purpose? I examined the package more carefully. Not a picture of a dish anywhere. Then, I saw it, in tiny letters underneath the Khmer script: “Standard Detergent Formula for Hand Wash.” With a nice big picture of a shiny white shirt. This was not meant for dishes. Apparently the woman at the shop had not heard the word “dish” in my question.

But I’m adaptable. I needed to wash the dishes. They couldn’t wait any longer, not if I was to avoid the nasty little things that lay in wait. So I decided to give it a try. Yes, I washed my dishes in laundry detergent. Then I had a nice glass of water in one of my newly washed glasses just to make sure—and no, there was no hint of detergent taste.

Still, I left “dish soap” nice and large on the top of my shopping list for my trip to the supermarket the next day.

Written Saturday, 8 October 2011.


  1. LOL Awww... Gotta love it. Not the bugs though.. eek!

  2. Glad you are getting settled in your new home and still have time to keep us informed via your wonderfully written blogs. Enjoyed the "My Story" also. Love & miss you all. Maryanna


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