I moved into my first one-bedroom apartment as a senior in college. My father and his best friend took me to the hardware store to buy wooden rods to jam into the window frames and industrial strength pepper spray to keep in every room. Then, they ran into my neighbors, two boys who were one year my junior, and told them to “look out for me.” Embarrassing misogyny aside, Dad’s always been concerned with my safety in the stereotypical TV dad sort of way. As kids, he put together bunk beds for us. He didn’t fully trust the design, so he reinforced it with extra 2x4s. He’s run criminal checks on ex-boyfriends. He bought me Blizzak tires for Christmas to drive in snow. Yeah, tires. What every 22-year-old female wants for Christmas.
Barring careless stupidity when I don’t check my blind spot or forget to lock my front door, I’ve always lived in a pretty controlled environment. But, you can be the most protected and careful person in the third world and still fall short of even the smallest semblance of control.
Bugs. Yes, there are cockroaches. Yes, there are giant spiders. Yes, there are ants. Oh my goodness, are there ants. I went to Phnom Penh for a few days and, I guess, left some bread crumbs on the counter. When I came home, the crumbs were swarmed by ants. My landlord told me the only way to get rid of them was to spray them with Raid, lock every food item into tupperware, then wipe down the kitchen every time you use it. If you know me at all, you know I won’t do any of these things. I can’t kill bugs. They don’t know they’re encroaching on my personal space, so who am I to commit a mass insecticide? I’ll just let them eat whatever I left out, realize there’s nothing left, then wait for them to leave. It’s been about 4 days. The swarm is noticeably smaller, but…um…yeah…you know…they’re still here. I can’t wipe down the kitchen because that would involve sweeping them away and killing them. I can’t lock all of my food stuff in tupperware because, let’s face it, it’s easier to just fold over the package and hope for the best. So far, I’ve lost just one bag of pumpkin seeds to that strategy.
Thieves. I live in a gated compound with a night security guard, so I’m about as safe as anyone can get. However, it’s not unheard of for thieves to poke a long stick through window bars and hook a camera, use gum to get your cash or passport off of a nightstand. Even if you’re on the second floor, they’ll climb a nearby tree or stand on their buddies’ shoulders. There are occasions when they may break in when someone isn’t home, or worse, when someone is, but that isn’t unique to Cambodia and could happen in your cute little house in suburbia as easily as it could in mine.
Power Outages. About 3 times a day, my power shuts off. If I’m lucky, I’m not in the shower and it’s during the day when I can open the curtains and carry on with what I was doing. Otherwise, I have to feel around for a flashlight or my phone. I’ve become an expert holding my computer open in front of me, and recognizing shapes without my glasses. Of course, it’s impossible to adjust to your bedroom fan shutting off at 3am. You’ll wake up at 3am in a pool of your own sweat, surrounded by stagnant humidity. There are fans that switch to battery automatically, but I didn’t think to buy one one until…right…now.
Drinking water and gas. Both of these things have to be delivered. You jerks in the US have no idea how good you have it. You go on and on about how the government is useless, and yet, you experience the miracle of potable water coming out of a faucet and fire at your command. Tonight, I finished off a tank of water and have to wait until morning for more. My other option is to boil it with my finite amount of cooking gas, or, believe it or not, use the SteriPen Dad gave me. That’s right, even though I’m living in the third world, Dad’s got my back.
Don’t get me wrong, I love living here. Please don’t let any of these things deter you from following suit. Having said that, remember that there’s different set of rules here that you’ll probably learn the hard way.