Travel notesIssue 07 | November 2009

Cambodia: How I Failed to be Good

by Dalel Serda

The man drops the girl into the sand. He puts her on all fours and then kneels behind her, laughing and thrusting his pelvis back and forth, again and again.

His friends find the simulation hilarious.

I yell out in anger. But the girl beside me grabs my wrist and tells me to stop. At least he will buy her food and clothing and he won’t beat her like a Cambodian man would, she says.

I hang my head. I walk to shore; I wrap myself in my sarong. I stare at my painted nails. I question the truth in her words, but do nothing.

* * *

The following week, while riding a bus to Laos, I read my travel guide. I learn that the color red can be offensive in Cambodia and that most Cambodians connote the color with several things bad, namely: the Khmer Rouge, communism in general and loose moral parameters in women.

“Cambodians believe that only girls who want attention wear red,” the guidebook states.

I sigh. I’m an idiot.

I read on, read the details of Cambodian human trafficking, read of sex tourism and slavery.

“Report it,” the author suggests.

Report it.

I walked away. I read a guidebook for a country after leaving it.

I put the book away and scratch at the nail polish on my toes. The scene outside my window grows verdant as we drive out of Cambodia’s messiness, out of its misery and secrets that have become my own.

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About the author

Dalel Serda is an American renegade who made her way to Cuba over ten years ago to get lost in the backstreets of La Havana, to Norway to feel short among giants, to Turkey to be asked hundreds of times if she is Turkish because of the color of her skin and the thickness of her eyebrows. She’s an MFA candidate at the University of Texas-Pan American.

Read our current issue:


Two poems by Anne Babson
Vignette, Townhouse, 9 a.m. by Troy Cunio
Night Becomes Day Over the West by Megan Foley
Yukon River Aurora by D. B. Goman
Two Poems by David Havird
Cretan Love Letter by Emily Linstrom
Holland by Rick Mullin
Fear in Kenya by Kristina Pfleegor
The Lounge Lizard by Ed Shacklee
Two Poems by Sarah J. Sloat
Night Flight by Vicki Stannard
Koinonia Farms by Alina Stefanescu
Thessaloniki, Four a.m. by Anastasia Vassos
Imaginary Oceans by Jason Warren
Two Poems by F. J. Williams

Postcard prose

It’s Salty by Kelly Hill

Travel notes

Anchorage in the Great Land by Karen Benning
The Value of Small Money by Megan Hallinan
Screensaver by Sandra Larson
Thirty Cents by Tommy McAree
Gokarna by Kate McCahill
Going Places by Rachel Miller-Howard
Susanville CA: Notes From The Road by Susan Volchok