Lang’s secret

Lang’s secret

Photo Credit: D. H. Friendly

My name is Lang1. My parents and friends back in my hometown don’t know what I’m really doing here in Phnom Penh. They think I’m studying English and training in a wedding reception center.

The truth is, I’m earning my keep in a very different way. I started working at a beer garden about two and a half years ago when I was 18. At first, I was simply promoting beer to the restaurant customers, but I soon learned about the added ‘benefits’ of sleeping with them. There’s so much more money in going back to the guest house with customers. I’m not careless, though; I make sure to use a condom with every client, even if it means shouting at them and defending myself against violent men.

Let me tell you about one of my days. I got up at 6 a.m., took a bath, and went down to the market to buy some food. I spent the rest of my morning at the health center [getting a health check, HIV test and addiction counseling] and with a SMARTgirl self-help group. I have made a lot of friends through the SMARTgirl network, and I’ve learnt to protect myself from STIs [sexually transmitted infections], HIV and other health problems.

At midday, I got ready for work. I probably had a few drinks with the customers. I normally drink until I’m drunk. It helps me forget life’s problems. So does ‘ice’ [methamphetamine]. A friend introduced me to it one time, convincing me that it would help me lose weight and keep me alert. I didn’t pay for my first hit, but now I’m addicted. Whenever I get tips from the customers at work, I invite my friends over to my home to use ice with me. It costs US$10.

A man called and asked me to have sex with him at 6 p.m. and, as usual, I had to convince him to put on a condom. He got abusive and defensive about using a condom, but I stood my ground. I stayed with him until midnight then went home.

My lifestyle is a mix of hell and royal living. It makes me both happy and unhappy. Sometimes I get tips, sometimes I get abused. But I like being independent. That’s why I choose to work as a beer girl. Sometimes I feel like I’m just trading sex for money, but I’m supporting myself and my family, and I’m working toward my future. One day, I want to run a small business selling accessories.

1 In this series, real names of program participants are not used.

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