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Eight Is Great – Tuesday

February 2, 2010

I awoke with high hopes and my trusty agenda in hand. The house woke up at 5:30 am and Saloth at 6 am, but I slept in until 7:15 am. Began my morning activities and was at the breakfast table by 7:40. Saloth had mentioned to Mr. Mich’s wife that I enjoy eggs, therefore breakfast was the first of many meals in Takeo to feature an egg dish. We ate omelets and rice and I am slowly becoming accustomed to eating rice in the morning. It’s still bizarre, but I can do it.

Kongkea and the translator met us at 8 am, which is when the 8 weavers arrived at Mr. Mich’s house. We held a meeting to introduce me and discuss our current order. We reviewed the quality requirements, showed them how the sarongs needed to be finished and negotiated a price. Despite having settled on a price months ago, these ladies love to bargain. So we went back and forth until a consensus was reached.

This meeting was also the first attempt at having a translator. Typically Saloth translates for me, but we decided that as the operations director it’s best if she is able to focus on operational and human resources issues in the village. I really needed someone to be my voice and to ask my questions, so we hired the proprietor of the local English school to translate for me during my stay in Takeo. Mr. Paat was very eager and kind.

After the meeting, I talked briefly with each of the weavers. This should have been my first red flag that the translation wasn’t going as well as I thought, but I didn’t really key into that yet. I asked what the weavers hoped for in the future. The translator answered that they were very much looking forward to doing good work. I thought maybe the weavers were shy to discuss their hopes with a Westerner. Sounded reasonable at the time.

Just before lunch, Saloth and I interviewed Mr. Paat as he is interested in applying for the Textile Project Officer we recently announced. Now, applying for a job is a bit different in Cambodia. First, biographical information is included on your resume. Information that would be illegal (?) or just awkward to include in the U.S. like your religion, marital status, number of children, hometown, height, weight, date of birth and a passport sized photo. If someone is applying for a job in another province, then it is okay to ask how their wife might respond to the news. It is also okay to ask what a husband does to assist his wife around the house and if his absence would negatively affect the household. Things I never would have thought to ask. Questions that to my Western tastes seem far too personal. But alas, it is typical here.

Lunch featured another omelet because Mr. Mich’s wife wanted to make sure that I would have something delicious to eat. Mr. Mich and his wife were worried that I wouldn’t like the Khmer food, but I tried to explain that I love Khmer food. I mean, there is no wheat in village food so I can eat anything without fear or worry and that is refreshing. However, allergies are rare here or at least not well understood. Typically I explain that I cannot eat bread or drink beer because it will make me very sick and clutch my stomach in mock pantomime. That seems to do the trick! (Until, of course, the next day when one of my Khmei coworkers asks if I’d like a sandwich. Or ramen noodles.)

After lunch and siesta, we traveled to the dying manager Ms. Yeun’s house. We learned that Ms. Yeun has been having a hard time re-creating colors after the original small sample has been dyed and approved. Saloth had asked her to record her process many times but still there were no records, which begs the question, “Why?” Why wasn’t she keeping records? Turns out Ms. Yeun didn’t know how to but was embarrassed so instead of making us aware of this fact, just kept saying yes when Saloth asked her to keep records.

We spent the afternoon talking to Mr. Mich & Ms. Yeun about different dying methods to create a form that she could use for record-keeping. Through the course of the conversation and loads of questions, we learned that Ms. Yeun wasn’t able to accurately record how many grams of dye she used because her scale measured in kilograms. Alright, now we’re getting somewhere. Now, I can start to solve the problem. Let’s buy a kitchen scale to weigh the dye and use our handy-dandy new form tomorrow and see if we can’t find the correct color. Now, we have a plan.

This became the theme of my visit in the village. Lots of conversations and questions to try to unearth the real problem, the real stumbling block. I had to just keep digging and asking until I hit on something that could be tweaked, modified or solved.

Saloth headed back to Phnom Penh Tuesday afternoon, so Mr. Paat (the translator) and I headed back to Mr. Mich’s house for dinner. We ate with Mr. Mich and Mr. Sophea (the weaving manager) and discussed how long the order would take. If you’ve been reading the blog, then you already know that this conversation was misleading. However, everything was clarified by the end of my trip.

I retired to my bedroom early to read for a bit before going to sleep. I’m pretty sure I was in bed by 9 pm again. Mr. Mich & Mr. Paat stayed up until 11 pm, which is amazing since they wake up at 5:30 each morning!

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