Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Husband and wife with no male hassles

Husband and wife with no male hassles

Husband and wife with no male hassles

Jason Barder and Heng Sok Chheng pay their respects to the couple

who have gone from sickness, to health, to marriage.

CAMBODIA'S

most-talked about newlyweds are settling down to a life of domestic bliss - and

widespread fame - after only narrowly securing official permission to tie the

knot.

Kandal women Khav Sokha and Pum Eth were married in a gala wedding,

attended by more than 250 friends, relatives and the just plain curious, on Mar

12.

The couple have become instant celebrities in Sokha's village of Kro

Bao Ach Kok, about 14 Km from Phnom Penh, where they live, and their story has

been told further afield by Khmer newspapers.

But aside from the fact

that they are both women, this is a conventional marriage.

Sokha - a

former moto taxi driver-turned-medicine woman - is very much the husband in the

partnership. She dresses and speaks like a man and is treated as such by Eth who

calls her "my husband".

After one husband, three children and five

girlfriends, Sokha, 35, is confident she has finally found her perfect

partner.

"It's our future, our destiny from our last lives," she

said.

Thirty-one-year-old Eth-who turned down marriage offers from two

men the same day that Sokha proposed to her-said: "I love my husband very much.

I am confident I can delight him forever."

But their betrothal was not

without its complications. First, they had to convince local officials that

theirs should be a legal marriage.

"The authorities thought it was

strange," says Sokha, "but they agreed to tolerate it because I have three

children already [from her pervious marriage]. They said that if we were both

single [and childless], we would not be allowed to get married because we could

not produce children."

Before agreeing to issue a marriage license,

however, officials quizzed Eth on whether she was willing and happy to

marry.

"They asked my wife whether she was willing to rely on me, the

husband, in the future because I already had children and there was no future

for her, the wife."

By the time the wedding day came around, officialdom

had warmed to their romance. One of Kandal's four governors gave them a $50

wedding present.

However, some of Sokha's former girlfriends - she has

something of a reputation as a womanizer among local villages-we're far from

pleased.

"I had five girlfriends before getting married. Three of them

harassed me when they heard I would be married.

"One of them, on the

wedding day, went to the wedding and cried and said I had a 'black heart' for

marrying another woman."

Notoriety thrust upon them, the couple are

having no problem keeping level-headed about it all.

When the Post

visited, securing an interview required 55 minutes of negotiation over a "gift"

which could be given them in return.

"It's a Cambodian tradition that if

you want to interview and photograph a husband and wife, you should pay

something for it," said Sokha's mother, who headed the negotiations before a

crowd of neighbors.

Complaining that Khmer journalists who interviewed

them had not delivered on promises of money, she said: "If you don't give a

gift, it will cut off the couple's good luck." She suggested $50.

Sokha,

meanwhile, said it was his wife who wanted money.

"For me, no problem,

but the wife..." she said, smoking a cigarette while impatiently waiting for

negotiations to reach a conclusion.

Finally, after agreement was reached

on the giving of $5 as a token of the Post's good wishes, the happy couple were

prepared to tell their love-story.

Theirs was a whirlwind romance which

began in December when Eth, who had suffered a lingering illness for years,

visited Sokha for treatment.

Sokha, who studied medicine for five years,

was able to cure Eth, visiting her regularly at her home in a nearby

village.

"After curing her, I started loving her," said Sokha. In

January, she proposed, and Eth's parents had no objections. "They said their

daughter's future lay with me, because I had cured her."

For Eth,

accepting Sokha's proposal was easy: "There was no hesitation, no difficulty,

because I love him wholeheartedly."

"I had been sick for many years. He

cured me and I love him - I have to marry him."

She was happy to spurn

her two male suitors who also proposed marriage.

"I don't like men. My

brother-in law used to treat my sister badly, so I was determined not to marry a

man."

Sokha, whose previous marriage at a young age ended in divorce,

said she would never have married a man again.

"I never loved men. I got

married [the first time] because of my mother. She made me get

married."

"Since then, many girls have flirted with me, because I am very

good at soothing people [when treating them for illnesses].

Her children,

aged 11, 13 and 15 - "sometimes they call me mama, sometimes they call me papa"

- love Eth and were happy to see the couple married.

While marriage

between women was uncommon, she believed there were many cases of them living

together as de facto husband and wife.

"It is reasonable that [childless

women] should not be married because they cannot produce children."

Sokha

said she had acted like a man - wearing shirts and trousers, cutting her hair

short and using the male forms of Khmer words - for many years.

A

moto-taxi driver for two years before attending medical school, she said many

strangers never realized she was a woman.

She recalled one day in 1992

when she attacked by three robbers who thought she was a man.

"They said:

'If you want stay alive you must think of your wife and children and give us

your moto.' I said: 'You cannot take my moto unless you kill me first' and

started fighting with them."

Stabbed and beaten over the head, she was

left for dead in a sewage pond, where she was found by a passing aid worker.

Today, she earns her - and Eth's - living by traveling around local villages

curing "general sicknesses" such as headaches.

After a three-day

honeymoon at Eth's parents' house, they have moved in with Sokha's mother,

where, they say, "every day is a honeymoon".

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