Nhen Vy, 42, has a rare occupation for a woman in Cambodia. Almost Every day she drives from her village in Kandal to work as a moto driver in Phnom Penh. On the way she drops off her daughters so they can go to school. In an environment dominated by men, she lives a tough working life.
Are you a good moto driver?
Yes, I am. I’ve known how to drive a moto in Phnom Penh’s traffic since 1985 and I now know the city very well. Many other moto drivers don’t know the city at all. They have to ask other drivers where places are. I know all the places in the city. I can also fix my moto myself. I change oil and take out and clean the starter. If you don’t do that, the engine stops working.
Are you extra cautious because you are a female moto driver?
I have to be very careful of drunken people, especially Cambodian men. That’s why I work only from eight in the morning until seven in the evening. When men are drunk I can hardly understand them. Very often they don’t even know where they want to go and in the end they don’t want to pay me. I don’t carry them anymore. I rather carry girls even if they don’t give me as much money as men do. Girls usually only have two or three thousand riel to give me.
Would you rather do a different job?
I’ve had so many different jobs already! I would do every job if I made money from it – except for killing people. I already worked in restaurants and as a cleaner but I never made enough money from that. Right now I work for a family from Zimbabwe. I cook and clean for them and bring their children to the international school. But I only work for them four days a month and I earn $60 on that job. It’s not enough so I still do the job as moto driver. Sometimes I make 15, sometimes 10 dollars a day; sometimes I make no money at all. But it’s the job I can make the most money with. I have been doing this for four years now.
Why do you need to make so much money?
I am the only one in the family that makes money. I was married to a Nigerian man that came to Cambodia to work for the UN. But he left the country and told me I should marry another man. In 1998 someone from the UN called and told me that he had died in New York. I have two daughters, one is 18 and the 14 years old, and I want them to go to high school. That is expensive. When I grew up I could not go to school because of the Khmer Rouge. When I was 10 years old I already had to help earning money for my six younger brothers and sisters and my parents. I went to fish for catfish and planted rice on a field. It can be dangerous not to know how to read and write, and always have problems making money. I don’t want my daughters to have the same problems as me.
What do other drivers say when they see a female moto driver?
Very often they don’t want to let me wait at their corner with them. They say they don’t want a woman to take their job. I don’t want anyone to tell me what I am supposed to do. So I just wait at the opposite corner.
What do you think of when you stand at a corner alone and wait for customers?
Sometimes I feel a little bit lonely. There are no other female moto or tuk-tuk drivers that I know of. I also feel lonely because all my friends have gone abroad to work: to Malaysia, China and the USA. When I stand and wait I think very far back in my life. Sometimes I think too much and become very sad.
What do you wish for your life and your daughters?
I want to have a good a family and for my daughters to finish their studies. When I think of it that way my life has become okay for me already. My oldest daughter just finished Cambodian and English high school. I want her to become a lawyer. I don’t know if it will work but I want her to study. My other daughter should work for an embassy abroad and make money there. One day I wish to have enough money to open my own restaurant because I can cook very well. I pray for that every night and when I go to church every Saturday.
To contact the reporter on this story: Julius Thiemann at [email protected]