“Are you still happy?”
My friend Sophoat, a Cambodian editor in his fifties, asked me in halting English after we sat at his family’s dinner table. Looking at his face illuminated by candlelight, I’m sure he wasn’t really inquiring into my state of contentment or bliss. The question might have been his way of apologizing for the inconveniences that had beset us, none of which was his fault, coming to his house for dinner.
“Yes, of course,” I answered, smiling a little broader than usual to assure him that I was fine.
Earlier that evening, Sophoat and I waited almost an hour for his son to pick us up. The rain had made traffic worse. When we arrived at his place, I had to take off my shoes and roll up my jeans to wade in the flood for a bit to get to their front door. Electricity was out because of the rain, but we had a lit candle. It cast its light on the food that Sophoat’s wife had prepared for us, and even in the flickering light the meal looked delicious. In no time we were enjoying hot soup, fried chicken, and vegetables.
“My wife is asking if it floods in the Philippines?” Sophoat said while refilling my plate with another serving of rice.
“Oh yes!” I said, looking at the smiling face of Sophoat’s wife. “In many ways, the Philippines is like Cambodia.” Sophoat turned to his wife and translated what I said. He then turned back to me and, forgetting to switch back to English, spoke to me in Khmer for half a minute! Eyebrows furrowed and face blank, I didn’t have the heart to interrupt him. When he realized what he had done, we both laughed. “At least give me one month!” I jested.
Before I left, Sophoat’s wife said something in Khmer, “Preong pro tien poh.” Her son must have seen my puzzled look because he immediately offered a translation: “God bless you.” I managed to say the sentence well enough to elicit a smile and a nod from my hosts.
I was mouthing the foreign words during the drive back to my guest house, determined to etch them in my memory, as a reminder that many miles away from home, God’s blessings abound, giving me more than enough reason to be happy.