March 11, 2010

Friendship vs. Intuition

A few days ago, I was talking with my housemates about gauging my intuition. Particularly when it comes to befriending Khmer people, I feel that my usually strong intuition has no bearings in Cambodia. I vented my frustrations about being unable to sus out the real intentions behind my Khmer friendships. Were people really just that interested me that they would stop me randomly and ask to be my friend?

At orientation, we were lightly warned about befriending Khmer people because of ulterior motives (money, marriage, visa status, sponsorship abroad), but my ever-naive spirit mostly shrugged off these warnings as things that happen to other people. By other people, I meant older western men (nice stereotype, huh?).

Today, however, I was asked to loan a hefty sum of money to help a Khmer friend pay for school. Since the beginning of this friendship, I have wondered if this is the part of the scary movie when I will be sold, or the part where I end up betrothed to someone's brother. My real fear was that simply being friends with me was not good enough, that my American citizenship and/or bankcard were of more value than my being. I was surprised and a little insulted by the request for money. Had our whole friendship been a sham? Were the fun days together just a ploy to make me feel obligated? Of course, I refused to loan her money. It was one of most culturally awkward moments of my life. I try to assume the best of people, but this situation did not feel right. I was trapped there in the ice cream store (this person knows all my weaknesses!), defending my refusal and praying for a distraction, an escape, a way to make all the uncomfortable go away.

I'm still not sure about what happened today. It could have been an honest request for a loan to be paid back within the month, or it could have marked the end of a friendship. I was drained and somewhat ashamed of myself as I opened the house gate. I gave my intuition the brush off, and it was—as usual—spot on (minus the part were I get trafficked or betrothed). An international friendship devoid of unsavory intentions, free of ulterior motives, and based on mutual understanding/curiosity. That's how I like it. Oh, and the ice cream part, that's good, too.