👵🏾🐢| 𝐌𝐎𝐓𝐇𝐄𝐑 𝐓𝐔𝐑𝐓𝐋𝐄𝐃❓ |🐢👵🏾
"Mother Turtle" (មេអណ្ដើក) is a Cambodian colloquial term for a matchmaker. I'll also add something that will give you a window into the Khmer culture: the epic dictionary defintion. When have you ever heard or seen the word "procuress" in your life 🤔?
- 1a. matchmaker (esp. someone who arranges a clandestine or secretive liaison between a girl and boy); procuress; pimp.
- 1b. mediator / facilitator in negotiations (USAGE: FIGURATIVE)
🛣️ | 𝐏𝐑𝐄∙𝐓𝐔𝐑𝐓𝐋𝐄 𝐏𝐑𝐄𝐋𝐔𝐃𝐄 | 🐢
I arrived in Cambodia in 2010 having just turned 27 years old; young, naive and eager to carve out a new and better life for myself. I was uneducated, but ready to turn my life around in a wild 🤠 west economy.
Having never typed a resumé in my life and not even knowing what a CV was yet, I attempted to land a job doing what so-called "expats" said was the most abundant work available. I am of course talking about ESL 👨🏫 teaching jobs. The closest I had come to escaping manual labor in the USA was working as a vegan 👨🍳 cook, so I didn't feel capable of teaching. After all this was a job technically illegal for me to do in my own country.
After every school in Siem Reap turned me down due to my inexperience teaching, beard and turban 👳🏻♂️, lack of education and horrible CV. I eventually got lucky and landed a job teaching English to Pavillon D'Orient Hotel tuk-tuk 🛺 drivers. The job was brutal; my students were responsible for taking hotel guests on Angkor Wat 🌅 sunrise photo trips every morning, and we had to conduct lessons just before they departed each day.
Due to the student's constraints I had to wake up at 3:30am ⏰ for an 1½ hour round-trip bicycle commute, 5 days a week, for a 💲60 per month salary, but it allowed me to stay in Cambodia, rent a 💲50 per month studio apartment and not deplete my 💲500 life savings.
Not too many foreigners gladly live under such circumstances in Cambodia, but in my little block of rental rooms, I was surrounded by some very loving people, and a few meth heads 💊. My next-door neighbor happened to be a deportee from Rhode Island. Having left Cambodia when he was only a baby 👶🏽, he struggled and learned to adapt to life in a country he barely knew. He had already been in Cambodia 10 years, married a Cambodian woman and fathered 2 children.
Because Nov was a native English speaker, he and his family were able to help me learn the Cambodian language 🗣️, customs 🙇 and culture 🐉 quickly. We all became fast family friends, and I eventually became well-acquainted with many extended family members too. After having some experience and confidence, I gradually landed more higher paying 💵 teaching jobs through the years, and built a pretty good quality of life for myself. I later became a Khmer language teacher 👨🏫, opened and closed my own schools 🏫, ran an Ital restaurant 🥡, health food and Indian spices 🌶️ store, provided translation services and left Cambodia for good twice, only to return.
🚪 | 𝐄𝐍𝐓𝐄𝐑 𝐌𝐎𝐓𝐇𝐄𝐑 𝐓𝐔𝐑𝐓𝐋𝐄 | 🐢
Lux pictured in the above photos is the niece of @Sreypov, who is now my partner, and hopefully wife 👰 someday if a country will let us marry and immigrate together. Lux's mother is Sreymom, aka "Mother Turtle" or the "Procuress". Sreymom is actually Sreypov's half-sister, with a 20-year age gap between them, and Sreypov was more or less raised by Sreymom.
It's a terribly sad story, but Sreypov's mother walked through a minefield ⚠️ to make it across the Thai Border during the Vietnamese Dry Season Offensive 💣. Because of the war and genocide created by the Khmer Rouge, anyone born before the mid 1990's usually has a very complicated and tragic life story. Sreypov was technically born in Thailand, in a U.N. Refugee Camp 🏕️ known as "Camp Site Two".
Site Two Camp 🚲 (source)
Unfortunately for Sreypov, the relationship with her mother was quite complicated, and she was neglected quite heavily when her mother repatriated back to Cambodia. This is how Sreypov came to be raised 🤱 by her half-sister, Sreymom. I don't prod too much into this part of her life, and only know what she has told me. I can say that Sreypov didn't receive the same quality of life as Sreymom provided her own children, even though they were all under one roof 🏠.
Well, the strange thing is that somehow, for the 7 years I had already lived in Cambodia, Sreypov and I's paths never crossed. Even though I knew almost every extended family member of hers, I had never physically come face to face 🙈 with Sreypov, sometimes missing each other by minutes in various locations through the years. All the time Sreypov was married 👰 I fell in and out of love 💔 about four times, never able to find that special someone.
Sreymom & @Sreypov 🖼️
Lux and her mother Sreymom became trusted confidants in very short time. Eventually a day came when I was single and had given up 😔 on relationships, and Sreypov was single too, having separated from her husband after a meth-related arrest 👮. This is where mother-turtling comes into play now, because you see, there isn't a culture of dating in Cambodia, at least the way we know it the west anyways.
Traditionally families select a prospective partner for their daughter or son. They are then allowed to go on a handful of awkward heavily chaperoned dates before having to make a decision 😰 about marriage, and in some cases not even having the freeedom to choose. It makes it awfully hard to get to know your prospective partner in the Khmer culture. Now that you understand this, know that Lux decided Sreypov and I would be a good fit, and started plotting a way for us to meet within the framework of cultural norms.
@Sreypov was not initially impressed 🙅♀️
A plan was hatched 🐣 that several family members would take Sreypov and I on a vacation 🌴 as a way to get know each other. Without even having a picture 👀 of Sreypov first, I agreed fully to the plan. I hadn't had any luck arranging my own relationships anyways.
All family members assured me Sreypov already knew I was poor 💸, bearded 🧔, vegan 🥗 and also had a "strange religion 🛐" as they worded it. None of these things apparently put off Sreypov from agreeing to meet me and join in on the vacation introduction experiment 🧪. I traveled from the opposite corner of the country on the southeast Vietnam border to the northwest of Cambodia, meeting Sreypov's extended family members in Siem Reap before heading out to Battambang to meet Sreypov.
We stayed a night in Battambang together, all 8 of us sharing a three-bed guesthouse room 🏨 in typical Cambodian fashion. Sreypov was very timid 😬 in the beginning, so I spent the days getting to know her daughters. We then headed to Pailin where we all stayed at a local resort 🏩, but this time Sreypov and I were made to share a bungalow together with her daughters. Sreypov and I had our first heart to heart real conversation 🗣️ on the stoop that night after Sakana and Srey Yuu had fallen asleep 💤. On the morning of the second day, to our surprise, Sreypov's chaperones 💂🏽♀️ (extended family) decided to head back to Siem Reap without us.
🚀 | 𝐓𝐎 𝐓𝐇𝐄 𝐅𝐔𝐓𝐔𝐑𝐄 | 🥂
In the end Sreypov wasn't pimped 👨🏽🦯 or anything weird as the dictionary definition of mother-turtling suggests. It's mostly rather harmless matchmaking. They simply considered all the years I had lived in the country, the amount of culture and language I knew, how much I had helped this family, how much they trusted me, the fact Sreypov was a single mom, and decided to give us some time to get to know each other alone.
This is really rare 💎 in the Cambodian culture by the way. We only stayed at the resort for one more day, and used the time to get know each other. From there it's a whole other story 🕮 I'll save for another day. But we went back to our separate towns and lives, and would reunite 🤝🏻 nearly 4 months later to start our lives together, no regrets. In the end I guess it's clear Sreymom's daughter Lux was the real Mother Turtle, but because of culture and hierarchy, we give full credit 💳 to Sreymom. After all, without her giving our love approval, it wouldn't have been allowed.