Publisert av: ingridmogstad | 11. mai 2011

Working in Phnom Penh

I have now worked in Phnom Penh at Mekong Quilts for about three months. I’m starting to know my way around the shop, and I’m starting to feel comfortable the times I’m there alone.  It is indeed different to work in a foreign country, than working from home. The differences are even bigger because Cambodia is a developing country, and the fact that it is in South-East Asia makes it like another planet. Maybe the differences I’m experiencing are partly the difference between working with a salary and without? Probably a combination.

One difference from working at home is that in the beginning I was almost treated like guest by my colleagues. I don’t blame them; I’m foreign and weird and am only here for a few months. Still it feels funny when you’re almost not allowed to do the dishes after lunch. It’s better now; my colleagues have accepted my dishwashing. I think.

How many girls does it take to close a bag full of quilts? Answer: around three.

Another thing that is different from home is that people often assume that I am the manager or the shop owner. That would never have happened Norway. As I have mentioned before, Cambodia is not an ethnicity neutral country. If you are white you have money, end of discussion.

Working with people with such a different background is also different. This can be a major challenge for all parts, but I believe (in the name of politically correctness) that the gain is even greater. I feel privileged to get to know and work with such wonderful Cambodian girls my own age. All in all in Phnom Penh there are five girls (not including me) managing and running two shops, all under the age of 28. Impressive!


This is how the shop usually looks like after a delivery from Vietnam. I would say it gives the Norwegian expression «teppebombet» a new meaning. (Teppe=carpet or quilt, bombet=bombed. Meaning; when you bomb a place as with a carpet of bombes. That is, thouroghly.)

I am supposed to do marketing for the two shops here, but I feel like I’m somewhat stumbling in the dark. The lack of guidance, limits, restrictions and a detailed working description was in the beginning outweighed by my motivation and naïve “save the world”-attitude. After a while I started questioning myself again, and felt useless and guilty for not contributing more to the organization I work for. A feeling of being ignored every time I had a question also contributed to my frustration. What does one do when feeling like that? My solution; you ask for help.

I asked my Aiesec-contact for guidance, and boy did it help to have a meeting with her. The day after I went to Siem Reap on a monthly meeting and talked to the administration stationed in Vietnam. That helped as well! I now know that there will not come an angry Belgian (the manager in Vietnam is Belgian) storming in to the shop one day and yell at me for not being productive enough.

Still, it didn’t solve my lack-of-guidance/lack-of -person-to-work-with-problem. Sothida, a volunteer from America on the other hand, did! I will now have a colleague that shares my way of thinking, and who has a lot more experience then I have. She will come to Phnom Penh this week, and we will work together on marketing the next month or so. Woho! Motivation is back in business.

The last picture is of Sinat receiving blessings from a monk. Isn’t he cute, the monk? I’m very fascinated by them:


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