Last Sunday, I went to a nearby restaurant cafe called Le Jardin for brunch. This place is known for its child-friendly environment (and ice cream) in Phnom Penh and I can understand why. It has a lovely garden with huge jackfruit and frangipani trees giving ample shades in the tropical heat of Cambodia, a small replica of a traditional wooden house serving as a toy house and slide, lots of low tables, chairs and a sand pit.
I had resisted going to this restaurant despite the fact that it is less than a stone’s throw from my apartment, mostly thinking that it would be filled with children running all over the place while being screamed and chased by their parents.
Well, Sunday’s experience changed my mind about Le Jardin. It is not just a fun place for children, but also a pleasant restaurant for adults. They have set up those metal comfy sofas with wide mattresses filled with cushions in various shapes and sizes all over the garden. Food and drinks are served on low wicker or rattan coffee tables. The breakfast menu offers a range between continental, English, Canadian and those who are health conscious. Since I have a weakness for good coffee, I am pleased to know that they do serve a good strong cup of black coffee.
Anyway, while I was enjoying my English breakfast, I couldn’t help but overheard a conversation between a group of children playing at the sand pit. There were about four or five of them and judging from their built, they are probably between 5 to 10 years old. All of them were Caucasians except one girl who looks Asian.
They all seemed normal enough except that two girls started arguing with each other. It was between the Caucasian and Asian girls. Let’s call them Samantha and Raksmey. Sam was telling Raksmey that her Mummy and Daddy are dead. In response, Raksmey shouted back at her, “MY MOM IS ALIVE! MY DAD IS ALIVE!” in perfect crisp British accent.
I was appalled and waited for some parental intervention but the mommies were obviously too busy chatting to hear all the ruckus. What was even more worrying was the fact that the rest of the Caucasian kids were ganging up on Raksmey, judging from their body language; 4 Caucasians standing on one side and Raksmey facing them alone on the opposite side.
As a third party who didn’t really know what was happening, I could only observe and observe I did. So whatever I am going to write now is purely based on my observation and analysis of the situation.
Samantha looks like a bitch in training from her whole body language. She tried again and again to provoke Raksmey, including telling the latter that she too was dead. Anyway, in the end, Raksmey just left the group and went into the toy house. She didn’t come out until the bunch of bullies left the restaurant. I looked around to see where her parents were and it turned out that a Caucasian lady sitting a distance away, busy tapping into her laptop, is responsible for her.
Then, I realised that Raksmey was crying alone in the toy house. I wasn’t sure whether she knew I was watching but she retreated from the house, wiped her tears off and went back to presumably her adopted Mother.
This is my analysis of things. She must be an adopted child. Judging from her British accent, she must had been adopted since she was really young. Those kids were ganging up on her because she looks different from them and her parents. Raksmey probably doesn’t know she is adopted and most likely doesn’t think she is different until these kids constantly make fun of her.
Adoption is a common thing in Cambodia. White couples with Asian-looking children are common sights here. My husband and I are even thinking of adopting a Cambodia child at some stage.
From this experience, I just realise how difficult it must be for adopted children with parents of different ethnicities. They may be loved and treated “indifferently” at home, it doesn’t necessarily mean they will when they are at school. Kids are mean and it is hurtful to take in remarks such as those uttered by little Sam. Imagine being told your parents are dead when they just had breakfast with you and dropped you at school.
I think, adoption takes more than just taking a child from an orphanage and treats him or her as your own. It takes a lot of preparation; psychologically and emotionally for both parents and child. Couples who are planning to adopt should learn as much as possible about the psychological, social and cultural aspects of adoption.
Many adoptive parents try to conceal the real identity of the child, thinking that it will spare the child from getting hurt. However, I do believe that it is against the interest of the child, especially if he or she looks different. Sooner or later, the child will find out in a less than desirable circumstances; such as the one being told above. It is better to provide the child with full information in order for him or her to be well-informed and prepared.
As for the parents of those ignorant children, it is important to sensitize them on adoption (especially if it is a common social practice in the environment they live in). Above all, children at that age should be taught that all human beings, regardless of skin colour, religion, culture, sexual orientation, disabilities, economic background, etc. are all equal.
It is no wonder that this world is becoming more and more hostile. I think we can make a change if we make the effort to educate our children from the moment they are able to verbalise thoughts. It is as much our responsibility as theirs in creating a peace-loving world.