An African's Queen

Observations of an African Man's Western Woman

The Puppy & the Parrot: Our story of hardship living in Cambodia

Sanni is my best friend and my equal, if not also my opposite, in every way, but for a long time there was one exclusion. Up until November last year he did not have a valid Cambodian visa, which meant he wasn’t signed to a club there and was not able to make any money to support himself or provide for me.

When I met Sanni on February 5th last year he was a broken man. I spent the last year putting him back together any way I could. I love him and I have faith in his football playing ability so for me it was a choice, not an easy one when weighed against its responsibilities but always a choice I made to keep going.

Over this time I have exhausted my resources, physically, mentally and emotionally, to the point where I became mentally unstable and physically ill. It wasn’t taking care of him that was too much though- this he made easy because he was proactive and supported me in many other ways. It had a lot to do with never having enough money, the racism and profound corruption we experienced from Cambodians, and the three cultures of Western, African and Cambodian that I was tug-o-war’d between.

The problem that Sanni had was not one of his own doing but that of dodgy, thieving, so-called football managers who will stop at nothing to get more money out of players, who sadly are too naive and too desperate for professional development outside of Africa to know how to see scammers for what they are.

African’s who come to South East Asia are given all kinds of stories about the possibilities for success. The prospects of signing to teams isn’t as lucrative as it’s made out to be, in fact it isn’t lucrative at all, and the managers involved are often more interested in scamming players then helping them. Managers will scam thousands of dollars from unsuspecting players to get them out of their country only to dump them as soon as they’re on the plane.

Players arrive to their destinations with whatever life savings, hopes and dreams they and their families have packaged for them and discover they’ve been shafted. If they call home they need to admit to the failure and the scam, if they don’t they’ll starve and find themselves homeless in a strange new country.

The African community here in Cambodia is a tight-knit friendship but the undercurrent of shame that is carried by so many of the strong, proud men runs deep. Many would be extremely surprised to learn that Sanni wasn’t legal and it is a mark of the strength of his character that he’s allowing me to write this at all. That said, there’s good reason why he calls me Parrot; his story, our story, is one that needs to be told, even if he thinks I talk/ write too much!

Sanni’s story is not dissimilar to many of our friends who remain trapped in Cambodia. Sanni was playing for a club in Vietnam when he was invited by a manager to trial for clubs in Thailand, a country that is more lucrative for football. Sanni trialled for a division one team and got selected but sadly the manager wasn’t as happy with the arrangement as Sanni was. By now Sanni’s Thai visa was counting down expiry days very quickly and communication between the club, the manager and Sanni had become estranged.

When Sanni contacted the club directly he learned that he’d been dropped because the manager was insisting on more and more money. Devastated and desperately broke he had two days to cross the border for fear of overstaying in Thailand. The closest border was to Cambodia. Upon arrival he made a few contacts with Cambodian club managers. Over time he trialled and got selected for one club and began to play again.

As it was explained to me by his friends, the next few months Sanni played well, achieving a good reputation as a respectful player who was fast and creative. The club took care of him, not to international standards but I’m told he didn’t go without. He had given the club his passport for them to process the business visa as is standard practice but months later when the football federation made the decision to fire all the African players Sanni received another blow that nearly ended him. They hadn’t processed the visa and he had inadvertently overstayed for more than three months.

Financially, this was dire. At five dollars a day for the first month and six every day thereafter Sanni was faced with an exorbitant fine, one he couldn’t pay. He lived in a rented apartment with five other equally desperate guys scrounging for a few dollars to eat or pay bills while continuing to train every day. This stress began to show in late December of 2009 and he got injured. Too broke to buy medicine and in too much pain to physically do anything to help his condition, depression set in. He refused to leave the house.

Worried about him, his friend Michael, decided that he needed to go out, just to be among people. Despite not wanting to Sanni went to the club and just as his friend predicted he began to relax, to momentarily forget his problems. This was the night that was to change his fate forever because it’s when he saw me for the first time.

From the time we met until the time I left him in Cambodia on December 19th last year it has been a long, hard, financially insecure and emotional road of trying to save and build the funds to go under various immigration tables to fix his visa problem. We did it and I can proudly say he is now safe and trialling for clubs in Thailand!

Already I can predict your comments about Sanni’s predicament and then his involvement with me. It’s undeniable to believe that the only reason he was with me was to fix his visa. It’s impossible for you to understand that your knee-jerk reaction isn’t founded on anything other than the stereotypes of bi-racial relationships. There’s a stereotype for a reason and I have always been aware of it. It is not what our relationship is founded on.

About three months into our relationship we were living with each other when something inside me snapped. I threw him out on the bare bones of his arse and it took three weeks for us to fix it. I thought the same way you do, that is, that he was just using me and he didn’t really love me. He hadn’t realised he’d become complacent in allowing me to budget the money simply because I earned it.

He’d become a puppy following my lead and allowing me to make all the decisions. A pressure I couldn’t maintain. He loved me but wasn’t aware of how he could help me because in his mind he wasn’t the man, he wasn’t the provider. Despite all that I was learning about his African culture, this was a turning point for us. I hadn’t known to the true extent how demoralizing it was for him to not provide for me.

It’s not a part of my Australian culture to worry about who is the financial provider in the family, commonly it’s both the man and the woman who provide income and the management is then decided on an individual relationship level. I grew up in a low-middle income household where my mother worked as a nurse and my father was the house husband making his own income independently as a carpenter. Dad was always home and it was Dad that managed the money, but Mum made the majority of it. This is why it had not occurred to me that Sanni grew up in a culture where the man provided for his family and the woman provided the home life.

Puppy had to man up and look for other ways to provide for me. I stopped carrying cash when we went out together. I stopped going to the market because (despite the stench making me want to puke) it became his way of supporting me. During the week while I worked he would make us lunch. And we did the budget and made the tough decisions together.

Today, I’m back on Australian soil after 3.5 years away to start the work on building ourselves a better future.  This may not necessarily be here but we needed to start where it was easiest. We didn’t do what a lot of bi-racial relationships see as their only alternative to staying together; we haven’t married for the sake of immigration convenience. And we’re not going to. When I marry Sanni it’ll be because we’ve worked hard to earn it and only after he’s been here and after I’ve been to Nigeria. Only when we’ve spent time in each others cultures can we truly appreciate why we’ll spend the rest of our lives together.

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10 thoughts on “The Puppy & the Parrot: Our story of hardship living in Cambodia

  1. Hey, cheers to darling you and a wonderful Sanni, we miss you guys… Interesting article, but left few things puzzling: perhaps because we met Sanni, that the stereotypical ”user” thinking would never enter our mind when we think of him – he is such a pure soul, naive, shy, introverted and yet so deeply loyal and devoted, he wouldn’t be able to plot an elaborate game of emotional manipulation if he needed it to save his life – that the stereotype isn’t at all what startled us…
    While we understand the hardships you have both survived in Cambodia and heard your personal account of it, we were left, ummm, a little shocked after reading your analysis: you see, to a reader, especially who never saw the two of you together, the article gives an impression that might do just the opposite of the intended; aka do more damage than good to the stereotype you are trying to disable… let us explain what we felt after we read it: it describes your role as the savior of his otherwise dire miserable life, but his role in yours is seems to revolve in the realm of saving you from stink in the market shopping which you sorta allow to happen and his leading-nowhere football playing…
    We just think it probably be better for you as a writer to talk about how he changed your life when you met him (besides learning about African cultures…that line about how his life changed forever when he met you, what about your life? what are those blessings he gave you?) Material is a terrible test for any couple, but nothing can dissolve the Great Love… We know, we too have been tested and put to the depth of emotional, financial and psychological nightmares and we’ve been on the very top of the socio-economic food chain… We are also a couple of an African man & Western woman. Granted not interracial, but our religious & cultural differences run deep and family/community pressures can be just as devastating…
    Tell us more about you and Sanni… You have a wonderful story to share, looking forward to more analysis.. 🙂

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    • Yulia & Darren, it’s great to hear from you. And yes, I can see the angle you’ve explained.
      In all honesty, even Sanni portrays it a bit like I am the savior simply because I was. There’s no point sugar coating what really happened. I’m not attempting to Mother Theresa myself because Sanni has changed my life in many ways I know now to discuss in the future however the truth is, had he not met me his struggle would’ve been a lot longer. I know he would’ve found a way to resolve it because he’s incredible in his resourcefulness however when I met him he was already six months overstayed and deeply depressed, and that wasn’t lessening by anything he was doing. It actually took powers greater than both of us to fix this but those powers came through my resources not his.
      Who Sanni is will come through in other stories in the future, this blog is still very young. For now I wanted to show that I didn’t walk away from him despite wanting to. I wanted to show that the stereotype exists but doesn’t have to stick to every circumstance. I’m not trying to disable the stereotype though because it exists for a reason and in many ways some stereotypes protect rather than harm.
      I think it’s important to understand that the people you’ve met in person, that is, Sanni & I, showed you the public side of who we are. That’s all anyone saw and I guess that’s why you reading this now may be a bit shocking, it’s a side we never let anyone know about. How could we when we were still in it, experiencing it? We both got very very good at keeping certain things private because we had to protect ourselves. Now that we aren’t in Cambodia we can speak freely.
      Thanks for your insights, I welcome more!

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  2. You are right, Cambodia is a difficult place to live, Asia in general isn’t easy, especially for a foreigner. So far, I have found Asian cultures to be increasingly acceptant of the severe racial prejudice and discrimination. When I lived and worked in China in early 2000, my colleague, an Arab-American man was refused payment after 2 months of work, because according to Lee Yang, the Chinese “legend” who created the new ( and useless) method of teaching English as a second language (which is as real method of teaching the language as a DVD purchased from the local store is the original DVD), refused to pay because he according to him he “asked for blond American teachers and not ”fake” Americans, aka blacks to be his teachers”. All expat colleagues then split the portion of our own pay to cover the denied check. (shamefully Lee Yang has a dual Canadian citizenship, I am deeply ashamed to see someone like that claim to be a Canadian)
    Here, in Cambodia, it’s the same thing with few more violent tactics emerging: Few days ago my UN colleague was shot in the leg near her home right in the middle of BBK1, near street 51, during the attempted robbery by few Cambodian guys. Yesterday a tuk-tuk driver who thought I was a tourist, asked $5 for a ride from Riverside to my house told me to “f off” after I informed him that the ride doesn’t cost more than $2 and I am not paying it. That’s is *after* he was running after me convincing me to take his tuk-tuk and scalp me for $5, while I wasn’t even interested since I was about to call our personal driver… Luckily for him, Darren had his hands with luggage and my mom was trying to calm him (we were coming back from Seam Riep), so Darren didn’t do what he usually does in these cases: smack him to near death without as much as saying the word (which Darren is famous for all over the world – with his jolly personality he becomes an uncontrollable raging bull when it comes to anyone even looking at me in what Darren deems (often so) to be “not a right respectful way” – that tiny cocky tuk-tuk driver didn’t stand the chance)… I can safely say that generally, I felt much safer living in Palestinian refugee camps in Gaza, Syria, Lebanon (even Hezballah populated South), Saudi Arabia and Yemen, than here, in the middle of relatively open society with the pacifist religious roots…

    As for your account, I think you guys own your story, my comments on it are those of a reader, but ultimately it’s up to the two of you to express it the way you deem appropriate. The storytelling in general can be a hugely healing process and I hope it is healing for you as much as it is for Sanni. In my personal experience, I found that often my own story-telling about our relationship with Darren is not merely my story to tell – it’s also Darren’s and it’s up to me to tell his story as well as mine in the same lines, and see him (and I) emerge stronger out of it, when he re-lives the events through the my account of it (or vice versa, my account can easily destroy any faith in the strength of our Love and purpose of the struggles we lived through). Darren is a gentle giant, very sensitive and expressive at home, but he doesn’t write as much as I do, so when I do (I don’t believe in opening our relationship to public scrutiny much, but sometimes as I said, it is a healing process to talk and to hear comments, as if socially verifying that ours isn’t a lonely battle, but a normal process of live), I always keep in mind that he is just as much of the voice there as I am… But again, it’s only him and I that know what’s important to us, what is to be told and what is to stay between us, it’s our intimate knowledge of our deepest feelings that makes me able to say anything for the both of us… So, when I read your account, I keep in mind that even if you say a lot, a lot will stay between the lines and unsaid, known just to the two of you. Being a writer is a responsibility, isn’t it? More I write, more I see that, although I do not consider myself a writer formally… It’s just a hobby which turns therapeutic occasionally… 🙂

    Finally, I would like to comment on what you have mentioned in your comment, namely, a positive aspect of stereotypes. Being involved in the psycho-social stereotype research for many years on both, the academic and professional levels, I would argue that stereotypes, no matter whether they are deemed positive or negative, are damaging nevertheless for both groups: the stereotyper and his/her potential to maintain an ability to continuously perceive, creatively analyze and willingly adjust his/her/theirs established worldview based on the new social information that enters the psyche endlessly in the ever-changing complex multidimensional social reality; and to the individual or collective consciousness of the people on the receiving end of the stereotypes. It is not merely the damaging effects on personal self-esteem that must be considered, but it seeps in the collective consciousness of self-image, group image, in-group and out-group mentality, integrating in the general identity negotiations, especially within the context of the globalization where people from all backgrounds and world-views suddenly come together, faced with many conflicting Truths of the host (multi)-cultures and what’s more confusing – their own Diaspora communities and new set of norms based of clash, intersections or integration of differences. Stereotypes when taken for granted without scrutiny, positive or negative, can and will force the discriminated groups to get stuck in the vicious cycle of the self-fulfilling prophesies, where the stereotype is perceived, then internalized and then acted out as if natural, disabling everything creative, new and wonderfully different from shining through and being shared with others.

    I guess, my passion on the subject is easily apparent now. It became a topic of continuous contemplation for me after I had completed a huge study immediately after the 9/11 on how the common mainstream stereotypes of Muslims and Arabs effects individual and collective psyche of the Arab and Muslim diaspora in multicultural America. Having over 300 participants, it became apparent that we are the ones responsible for breeding “the enemy within the state” by “assigning” the roles to particular social groups and accepting it without much of a question(you can find the findings on line).
    Finally, as a social scientists, which you and I are (education has nothing to do with it, being a writer makes an observer and an analyst, thus a social scientist) we think of stereotyping as a normal and vital function of the brain to register, understand and categorize the multitude of information that enters our psyche on daily basis. Without the process of categorization, our brain would experience information overload and , well, go crazy to put it simple. However, categories, although an indisputably needed information-processing function of the brain, can become very dangerous when you exclusively rely on them to assess the world around you. There are several absolutely must reads on the subjects, but the most famous studies that has been published on the effects of what has been called a “positive” stereotypes are those such as “African-American Men are better in Sports”, “Asian women are better in math” and “Why men are better in math”… besides others. Be glad to send you my reference if you have interest in reading more about it.
    I think, Caron, you are a great writer and you would find social psychology as an interesting academic discipline to get involved in, even on non-formal academic level, especially after you have lived in a different culture and became intimately and personally involved in building your life with someone from yet another previously unknown cultural reality. Cosmopolitan voices such as yours, thus, must be heard laud and clear in our own countries, such as Australia, US, Canada, where people are often ill-travelled and sadly have been learning about the world from the limited prism of the mainstream media.

    Looking forward to more of your insights.
    Lalune

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    • Yulia, you’ve gifted me with so much of your wisdom. Thank you.
      There is a lot to say about what you have written but I will keep it short for it would seem our comments would go on forever…
      The comment I made about some effects of stereotypes came not from the generalisations of stereotypes but more from a safety point of view. A few commentators on here have written quite openly about their bi-racial relationships and one in particular about how she would get burned by African men and their ways… these ways I took to be negative attributes of African men/ culture in general and these may be able to protect her from future heart breaks. I wasn’t taking a large scale view on how stereotypes affect large populations, more on the individual level. If that makes sense.
      While I don’t think I’m a social scientist I have been called a social commentator/ observer before and I think that fits me. I don’t like to get into the nitty-gritty science of social psychology, even though I’ve studied it in uni, I was always better taking a human-interest/ journalist view. When I don’t analyse the why’s and concentrate on the who’s I find I get a lot more value. This site is definitely getting a lot more of my attention now I’m in a head space to achieve it.
      Lastly, I can empathise with your experiences in PP. I too have been spat on by a motor driver who thought I dropped his money on purpose after trying to hike the price up after we’d negotiated the value before driving. It’s frightening and I was alone, at least you had the humble scary bear with you. Cambodians have a lot of resentment in them for foreigners being in their country, they blame us for a lot, and to some degree I can understand why. It is after all the perpetual cycle of hand-out mentality that keeps them where they are. Oh and Mr-7-Billion-in-a-not-so-hidden-Swiss-Account Prime Minister…

      Thanks for your views, looking forward to hearing more.

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  3. apologies for terrible grammar! I rarely edit what I write, when I just write my flow of consciousness, but I hope the numerous spelling mistakes and grammatical errors will not take away the main points I was trying to make…
    🙂 I’ll try to edit next time… 🙂

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  4. Indeed. The The Switzerland is the dreamland for every major villain.

    I have no wisdom to share for which you should thank me; simply sharing my personal views on conceptual subject you’ve touched upon with no judgement intended.

    Apologies if I took much of your personal e-space. I think I need to start my own blog to go on with my own intellectual masturbation exercises…

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  5. You painted a very sad picture Caron. Sanni is my country man and I am ashamed to admit that even though I am involved in the media here in Nigeria, I know very little of this story you depicted. Yes, we hear about youths being exploited overseas, but not in such graphic terms. I am sure that your time with Sanni would have shown your how proud a people we can be. Most of the young men in Sanni’s shoes tend to brave it out and only come home when they become successful. the stories of how hard the road was is never told, even by those who don’t make it.
    I salute your courage. Keep doing what you are doing, we need more believers out there.

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    • Fred, they really are proud, proud men. In the face of a culture that honours this trait I’ve found it incredibly hard to understand.
      For Sanni, to call home is extraordinarily difficult. His family simply do not believe that it could be worse in a country outside of Africa because the media, African & Western alike, have always painted Africa to be the worst place in the world.As Sanni explained, his family, like so many of our friends families, do not help because rather than believe that their child is in a worse country they choose to believe that their child is fabricating the reality to get more money and take advantage of their family.
      Thank you for your continued support, it’s not an easy story to tell.

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  6. Pingback: Sanni settles in Australia: “It’s not easy brother, not easy.” « An African's Queen

  7. Pingback: Nigeria: The Land of Hidden Frowns and Giant Smiles – Chapter 2: All out Wow! | An African's Queen

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