This morning, like every other morning, I woke up at 5am, and walked to the rice fields to end ploughing the last remaining parcel, and start sowing the seeds. For two months now, two of my cattle have been sick. They are getting weaker and weaker and I can hardly rely on them for ploughing. That is why I am late…some of the other villagers have already started harvesting! And if things do not get better, I will have to dig the ground myself, with a spade. And I am afraid I won’t be able to do it because of my disease. I am very worried about the dry season. How will I cater for my wife and for my children? What are we going to eat if we have no crops? So I drown my worries in rice wine. And somehow when I am drunk I quarrel with my wife, and sometimes I can be violent. Very violent. Last week I broke her arm and cut her forehead with a knife. I did not mean to hit her so violently but I think she deserved it in the end. She overcooked the rice and forgot to wash my shirt.
A few weeks ago, a man from the city came in the village. He talked to the village chief, and the village chief called a few of us in his house. The man started to talk to us about something called “domestic violence”, and about “laws”. I did not understand very well what he meant. He had a strong accent and used complicated words. But then I talked to one of my friends who was also there and he told me that this “domestic violence” he was talking about was the quarrels between wife and husband. He also told us that a law existed to prevent husbands from hitting their wives…I could not really understand why a law would interfere in our private lives.
Another day this man came again and we all sat in the house of the village chief. They said that it would be a good idea to meet once a week altogether to share our problems. But what problems are they talking about? So I stayed there silently and listened to the other men. One of them started telling about very private things, he said that sometimes he would beat his wife and that after he felt guilty. That looks like my story! After I listened to some more men, I started telling about myself. I said that I drank too much rice wine yesterday, and that we quarrelled with my wife. I did not want to tell too much as I don't want everybody to know about my private life.
The next time this man came, he brought cards with face drawings on them and some others with things written on them. I cannot read so I like the drawings better. The man told us to pick one card with the face that looked like us at the moment. There was one angry man, a happy one, another one who seemed sad, and another who looked worried. I picked the last one. Then I had to explain why I chose a face which looked worried. So I told about my sick cattle, about my disease, about alcohol. And after sharing all this I felt good, almost relieved. And now I look forward to our meetings, even though this time is lost to work in the fields.
One day two ladies came with the man. One young women and one a bit older. The younger one looked very different. She had very curly hair and could not speak Khmer. So the older lady was translating everything she said in her foreign language. But even the other lady was different; her accent was difficult to understand. They asked us questions about our meetings. I did not want to answer. Who knows who they are? Who will they tell? And I would be too embarrassed to speak to women about my problems. They wanted to know if we had heard of anything related to “domestic violence” on the radio or on TV. In the village, nobody has any TV, and only two houses have the radio. All the information we have come from the village chief, and some other people who sometimes come to the village (they are called NGOs I think). The man (who by the way comes from one of those NGOs) told us about this law, so I told what I knew: violent quarrels between husband and wife are bad; we should try to stop them.