Imagine being an adult woman in your late forties, never having sat in a restaurant. That’s the reality for the thousands of women in the villages I work with in Cambodia.
I thought “bugger it, I’m going to change that.” Well, slightly anyway. Today I surprised 11 mums from a remote village in Cambodia by organising a much deserved girls’ day out. We picked them up in a bus and drove into the city for their first stop: lunch.
“Cambodia has a unique way of kicking you in the face just when things are going good.”
My instructions were “order as much as you can eat” and we did, with loads of laughter. The cost per lady was $5.25 each (including soft drinks). They told me they’d seen cocktails before but never had one so we slipped across the road into a bar for a margarita each. Cost per lady: $1.25. Yes, you read that right. $1.25 each.
Then it was on to a full hour of pampering at a massage parlour. Cost: $6 each. By the time we got to the massage we were all on a high, the ladies were having so much fun. But Cambodia has a unique way of kicking you in the face, just when things are going good. One woman was not having a massage. I asked my interpreter why. He said ‘she’s sitting out because she’s just found out she’s contracted AIDS’. She didn’t want the masseuse to risk contact with her.
I was instantly crushed. This lady felt she had to sit and watch the others be pampered. But here’s the thing: I was more upset than she was. She laughed and chatted to the other women, and was just happy to be there. No jealousy, nothing. How can this be? I find that people in poverty have an amazing way to deal with the horrible hand of cards they’ve been given. They move on. And move on smiling. In Australia we invent things to whinge or be mad about.
Post massage I then gave them $6 each for spending money to shop at the local market and to get some goodies for the way home. Total cost per head was $18.45 for food, drinks, cocktails, shopping spree and massage. It’s got to be the best $$$ I’ve spent in 2017.
I get the greatest joy from spending money on others, rather than myself. There is no better feeling than watching someone else enjoying something you have created. Just for an afternoon, this group of women could forget about the day-to-day stresses of their lives and just enjoy the moment. When they climbed back on the bus to go home I was showered with smiles and thankyou’s.
“In Australia we invent things to whinge or be mad about.”
People often unload and write mean things about my charity work in Cambodia. They say I should be supporting disadvantaged Aussies, not Cambodians. How can someone possibly say that? I’m drawn to Cambodia because the charity dollar (if used wisely) goes so far. In fact, miles. These women had the (and I quote) ‘best day of their lives’. It cost us under $20.
Running a charity is bloody stressful. But I love knowing they are going around the village telling everyone stories about their trip to the big smoke! There’s nothing that gives me greater joy – it’s worth every moment I put into it.
Andrew ‘Cosi’ Costello is the host of travel show South Aussie With Cosi on Channel 9, Sunday nights at 5.30pm, runs charity Cows For Cambodia, and will chew the keyboard fat regularly for Fritz Mag – read his previous column Cosi Says: I Used To Be Homophobic.
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