During my six weeks in Cambodia, I was able to work alongside Phare, the Cambodia Circus. I have training in different types of creative writing, and they wanted me to interview their performers and create artist bios for their website and perhaps, if their budget allowed it, programs later on. Phare Ponleu Selpak is the mother organization for the Circus, an NGO school that gives a free public education to more than 1,000 children in the Battambang area of Cambodia and also free artistic vocational training. They have instruction in the circus arts, traditional Cambodian Apsara dancing, animation, graphic design, painting, and sculpting.
I was able to interview about 30 artists to create artistic bios they could use for either the website or their programs in the future. One of the most challenging parts was the language barrier. While English and French are the two most common languages after the local Khmer language, many of the poorer or more rural areas aren’t very strong in their English. My translator, Vattanuk, had studied English and much of the translations he gave me during our live interviews I could tell were simplified. It was hard to put nuance into the stories when both the questions and the answers were losing meaning in translation. I had to experiment with a variety of questions to see which would elicit answers that were more useful.
Another challenge was talking about people’s past. Many came from a lot of hardship and it was difficult to capture their life as a person but also be sensitive to what they may and may not want to share. Some of the performers, (not many, but some) were very standoffish and did not want to talk to me at all. I did my best with their interviews, but it reflected into the bios. They were less detailed and fully realized, but I worked with what I had.
Overall, pushing myself to work through all the challenges I felt helped me grow in my communication skills and overall ability to adapt. Often times I had to work on the fly because there was a lack of a plan or I would just be thrown into situations. But I’m better off for having had this experience.