There was a white two story house in the village behind the NGO I worked at. There was a little paved yard in front of it where we parked the motos, and a concrete outside staircase that lead to the second floor. We painted the walls inside, blue frescas against a white background. My bedroom door had a red and black Dalek on it. My roommate’s had a grey and white cubist face. The kitchen was sparse and no matter how much I tried to keep it livable, the bathroom was always Satan’s domain. In the height of summer, we had no running water.
A meager stream went around the house, so there was a little bridge that would lead to the yard gate. Once on a drunken night, a friend’s moto missed the bridge and drowned in the stream. A traditional monument to the ancestors stood proud and golden in the yard. There was probably a Cambodian yiey buried there some years before.
We lived in this house, three white people obsessed with each other, playing house, pretending we were functional adults. The house was right in the margin of the village where most of the kids from our NGO lived with their families. The whole village knew when the white people would leave and enter the house, who they were with, and what was happening inside. We were sort of privileged zoo animals. Sometimes on the weekend, they would bring us soup and rice to eat. I guess we looked pitiful.
For a while we had a cat, Katoy, who was not our cat but we didn’t know that. There were parties at the house, and people we didn’t know sleeping over, and boyfriends coming to stay and never leaving. There was a distinct lack of cleaning going on. There was a sad girl who spent an impressive amount of time watching TV shows in her room. There was a dude who didn’t have a door (or a fourth wall) to his bedroom and who would bring girls over. There was a separate kitchen and living room and life going on upstairs.
There was always someone staying over. There was a lot of crappy music being danced to and Disney movie nights. There was a mold creature hatching and growing in the rice cooker, and trash accumulating in the yard, unpicked, unburned.
We were obsessed with each other, the three barangs in their white house. Sometimes we were merciless to each other. A distinct lack of empathy and the same fucked-up loneliness. It was a surreal experience, to live with my best friends, my soul-siblings, my family away from home, the people I loved most in the whole of Cambodia, and be so disconnected from them, more so every day that passed. When we all decided to move out and live separately, it was such a sad, disheartening, obvious conclusion. We were not obsessed with each other anymore.
But even all those years later, this time when we decided to move in together, to fix up the house and clean and paint and make it habitable, this time when we moved all our stuff in with a single tuk tuk and tried to make the house beautiful, this time where our hands and clothes were coated in blue paint and I flew to town on my motorbike to buy bread and Nutella so that we could have a late breakfast on the outside staircase, all those times I stole the white boy’s kramas and hoodies to wear on chilly evenings and all the drunken conversations on the porch and the regenerative face masks in front of a movie on a hungover Sunday afternoon, the times when we would come home from work and find a crowd already there, ready to offer us a beer or a hug or a game of cards… even though it wasn’t easy and we eventually grew apart, these are moments I cherish.
These people, these three twenty-something idiots who thought they had all of love and friendship figured out because they had each other : I love them. I wish they could have been better to each other.