I’ve always been a relatively healthy person. I very rarely get sick and I’ve never had any serious illnesses or injuries. That’s still true in case any friends or family members are panicking right now. But for the past week I have suffered from a really bad cold. I hate having a cold in Cambodia, predominantly because the weather seems to mock the name for this common illness. This cold was particularly bad because it affected my hearing. Whilst I’m getting over my chesty cough, snotty nose, and sore throat now, my ears are still … significantly impaired.
I have 20:20 vision and my hearing has always been great. This past week however, I have struggled severely with going about my life in a normal way. I can here some things perfectly well, specifically anything that comes out of my laptop (thank goodness), but when it comes to conversations, I have to concentrate very hard to understand people. If there is more than one person speaking nearby, I’m completely lost. I also stepped into the path of motorbikes and cars on multiple occasions. Something about the pitch of engines means I can’t hear them and anyone who’s ever been to Cambodia knows how dangerous the roads are.
This weekend I was home alone. I have always felt completely safe in my house and in Phnom Penh in general. My apartment is directly above my landladies and there are always people around to make sure we’re safe. That was the case this weekend too, except for one thing. I couldn’t hear. Lying on my bed, watching television, I had no way of knowing if someone had entered my house. I couldn’t identify any sounds beyond the closed door to by bedroom. Had someone walked in, I would have no clue until they entered my own room. I felt vulnerable for the first time in my own apartment.
Phnom Penh is safe. Generally. I suppose it was bad timing that the week before my ears decided not to work there were several reports of expats being raped. Due to the way the grapevine operates, it is unclear how many women were attacked but it could easily have been two in the space of a few days. I’m sensible and careful when I’m out and the group of people I hang out with always look out for each other, but this weekend I found myself going home without any of my friends at 2am. Luckily, I have a regular tuk tuk driver from a food stall my friends and I frequent far too often. I told Mr Tuk Tuk I wanted to head home after I got my pizza and he told his Khmer friends to get out of his tuk tuk as they were lounging around in it. Except one didn’t get out. I hesitated before climbing in after the driver gestured for me to do so. At this point, I wished I’d worn a slightly longer dress. My mind was racing as I sat down. Luckily, or unluckily, I was almost sober by this point and all the stories I’d been told of Khmer men working in pairs or groups to target women sped through my mind. I half considered getting out but I decided against it. My tuk tuk driver had been reliable for months but if something did happen, I was fairly confident I could outrun two beer-bellied Khmer men.
The guy was sat beside me and we headed off towards my house. I live about 15 minutes away from the club street and after a minute of silence, the Khmer man started to talk to me. It turned out he worked for the pizza stall too and he had pretty good English. He had studied it at university before dropping out to make food for drunken westerners (I didn’t quite understand his reasoning). I relaxed as we drove along and Mr Tuk Tuk took the exact route back to mine he takes every weekend. When we pulled up, the man shook my hand and I climbed out (carefully holding the bottom of my dress in one hand and my pizza in the other). The two men wished me goodnight and waited until I had unlocked the downstairs gate and slipped safely inside the courtyard. I then went upstairs and ate my pizza watching Law & Order SVU. Considering the number of episodes of this television series, which often deals with rape cases, perhaps I was a little more paranoid than I should have been.
But as I lay falling asleep that night, I couldn’t help feeling slightly distressed at the knowledge I would be unable to hear an intruder should there be one in the house. Nothing happened. No one broke in, and two of my housemates are now back. I’d never thought about life as a deaf person before. I’m not saying my cold has made me deaf by any means, but this past week has been eyeopening in terms on understanding what it would be like to live with impaired senses. And yes, the pun is intentional.