Saturday, October 29, 2011

I Need a Phone

More accurately, I need a SIM card; I have an unlocked phone.

I don’t have a Cambodian SIM card yet because foreigners must have their passport in order to get one; the person who sells it to you must make a copy of the identification page and of the page that has your Cambodian visa. I have my tourist passport, but my tourist passport has no Cambodian visa in it—no visa at all, actually, as I’ve never used it. My diplomatic passport, which has the visa, currently is in the hands of the Cambodian government, as they process my application for a diplomatic identification card. I can’t get a phone until I get that passport back.

And I need a functional mobile phone.

I don’t know about you, but for several years now, I’ve felt strange when I’ve been out and about and realized that I had forgotten my phone, or the battery was dangerously low, or anything else made it inaccessible or unusable for me. After many years of resisting, of insisting that I didn’t need one, I received one—I didn’t buy it; Jeff bought it for me so that I could call him without worrying about long distance charges (we lived in separate states at the time, and although we were only dating, it was pretty obvious that we would marry). After just a few weeks of carrying it with me, I had developed a psychological dependence on it, even though I rarely used it.

When we went overseas, my mobile phone became even more of a psychological security blanket. Imagine being in a country that isn’t your own, where the people speak a language that you can’t understand, where the culture couldn’t be more alien to you if it had descended from Mars itself. Now add in the relatively high probability of a traffic accident, or of you becoming lost, and the realization that, should you need help, there is only one place that you know, without any doubt, someone will understand you and help you. You even know the phone number by heart. But if you don’t have a phone, that isn’t particularly useful. You’re on your own, unable to contact anyone. Unable to call the embassy if there’s a problem. Unable to call your driver—who’s supposed to be waiting!—when you’re ready to leave, and you’re standing there searching for him, and he’s nowhere in sight, and you’re being harassed by beggars and vendors, and you have a baby strapped to you, two heavy bags in your hand, your diaper bag—carrying no cash and nothing valuable—over your shoulder, and your credit card and just enough cash to pay your driver in your pocket, but you’re still worried about pickpockets because how will you pay your driver if your cash is stolen and your card was stolen too so you can’t get any more cash?

Yes, I speak from personal experience. Today’s experience.

I needed to go to the supermarket. Still do, actually, even though I already went, because I don’t have a car and therefore limited my purchases to what I could handle in a tuk-tuk while having Alexa strapped to me and the diaper bag over my shoulder, meaning I have what I need for tonight and tomorrow and that’s it. I hope I have what I need for tonight and tomorrow …

Anyway, I needed to go to the supermarket. Jeff had told me that his regular tuk-tuk driver had made it a point to tell him that he was available during the day if I needed to go to the supermarket. And I wanted a driver who knows where everything is, so I don’t have to know yet, because I don’t, and I wanted a driver who could wait for me while I did my shopping so I didn’t have to know how to get home, either, or even if I did know (I did, this time), I wouldn’t have to try to tell him and gesture while holding Alexa and her diaper bag and my groceries. So I wanted Jeff’s driver. So I used the house phone to call Jeff and get his driver’s phone number, and then I used the house phone to call the driver. He agreed to pick me up at 3pm, and then called me back to ask if it was okay to wait until 3:15. Sure, whatever, no problem.

At 3:15, I walked out the gate and was greeted by a tuk-tuk driver who was waiting for me. Now, I’ve seen Jeff’s driver twice, and both times, Jeff interacted with him while I looked around at the scenery. So I’m embarrassed to admit that I wouldn’t recognize Jeff’s driver if he came up and bit me—although I probably would hit him if he came up and bit me. But this guy was waiting for me, and his tuk-tuk looked nice like the one Jeff’s driver has, and when he spoke, I didn’t understand much but I did understand Jeff’s driver’s name—twice, even. And he knew I wanted to go to the supermarket, although he thought I wanted to go to the Lucky that’s close by and I actually wanted to try the one at Soriya Shopping Center. So I thought this was Jeff’s driver. In I got and off we went.

When we arrived at Soriya, I explained that I needed him to wait for me, and that I didn’t have a phone. No problem, he’d wait. I did my shopping. I came out of the shopping center with Alexa, the diaper bag, and two bags of groceries, one of them pretty heavy (canned goods and two different types of vinegar). I had made it a point to look hard at the driver’s face and tuk-tuk, so I’d recognize him. Because he’d be waiting. Problem: Many of the tuk-tuks looked nice like his, and none of the drivers looked like him. Many, however, approached me and offered me a ride. “No, no, my driver is waiting for me.” But … I didn’t see him. One driver almost had me convinced he was my guy—he looked a lot like him, and I didn’t understand what he was saying, but I did understand the name. But then, before we actually approached his tuk-tuk, he asked where I wanted to go, and I said “Home,” and he said “Ok, where?” and I knew he wasn’t my guy. So I sent him on his way and went back to looking for my guy.

When he finally pulled up (I’d waited maybe all of 10 minutes, max, but it felt like hours), I wasn’t sure it was him. I said his name—what I thought was his name—and he said “Yes,” but I wasn’t completely convinced until he said, “You go to Lucky now?” Ah, this is my guy! I explained that I wanted to go home now, and he looked confused, apparently not noticing the two Lucky bags in my hands, but he said “Ok,” and didn’t ask where that was, so it was all good. Into the tuk-tuk I went and off we drove, as I breathed a sigh of relief.

When we arrived at my house, he said, “How you know <driver’s name>?”


“<Driver’s name> your husband’s driver, you have a driver?”

After much confusion, I realized what had happened. The driver introduced himself to me when he first met me, not because he hadn’t spoken to me before, but because he’d never even seen me before. Jeff’s driver couldn’t make it, because he needed to be available to pick Jeff up sooner than I'd likely be done, and he sent his friend instead. His friend whose name is the same as his, with the exception that the final consonant is different. I hadn’t heard Jeff’s driver’s name twice in the initial introduction; I’d heard it once, and the friend’s name once, but because I’m still working on understanding the accent here, I didn’t catch the difference.

So I guess I not only need a phone, I need a better ear!

Written Wednesday, 19 October 2011.

Update: After previewing this post, Jeff laughed at me. The next day, he started the process of getting me one of the SIM cards that the embassy has available for family members. Two days later, I had a functional phone.

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