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May 11, 2015 | by  | in Opinion |
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The man from Top Banana

It was in a smoky, boozy hostel bar that I saw my beautiful well-built Nigerian man. He was sitting with his friends drinking red wine, sucking up way too much laughing gas. After making eyes at him for awhile he came over and asked to buy me a drink. I was sitting at the bar with a lovely 52-year-old Australian man who was trying to relive his wild South East Asian youth. As his wife and children were at the hotel it was completely innocent fun and once I told him he was absolutely cock-blocking me but thank you for all the drinks, he disappeared. Despite the fresh beer in hand from the successful Australian I went to pursue conversation anyway; his name, a solid Christian name that unfortunately ended in “z”, should have alerted me to the other warning signs—he was stunning and way too wealthy for 24, no professional footballer hangs out in a hostel bar called “Top Banana”, and no one in a hostel bar drinks red wine.

The corruption in Cambodia is so bad that the army generals fund their own football teams just to bet against the other corrupt army generals. They bring in foreign players, mostly from Nigeria, to improve their teams and outplay the locals. These boys, probably about 15 of them, were on year-round salaries, which meant that for the entire off season they would play African gambling games all day and drink in the hostel bars of Phnom Penh at night. They also talked lovingly of the amount of money they had to send home: good boys helping their families out. There was a large part of me that couldn’t stand where the money was coming from; the Khmer people have so little, and these boys were living the high life off the country’s money—but at this time I was a self proclaimed woman of the world and wasn’t going to pass judgement on those who had made it good for themselves.

The conquest of a professional footballer was worth a message or two home but when he told me to add him on Facebook the options were only to follow him or message him, probably because he was “famous”. Without thinking about it I gave him a cheeky follow. My friend from home replied to my message—she wasn’t by any means racially profiling, but did I just “follow” last night’s lover on Facebook? Even caught up in the moment I was aware that he wasn’t playing for bloody Arsenal, and he promptly lost a follower.

This boy was full of empty promises—saying he would take me to the movies and his football match, asking indignantly why I got up to leave the next morning instead of staying to hang out with him. He even went as far as telling me that his apartment was my apartment now and I was welcome to help myself to the leftover pizza in the fridge or drink straight from the carton of fake orange juice if I wanted. And even though he wouldn’t pull through with his daytime plans I’d see him every night through the smoke at the bar. His job was questionable, as was the badly done JESUS tattoo in gothic font. Even worse was his ex-girlfriend’s name on his right pec.

The days I spent with him were interrupted with quick trips to the Western Union and long Skype calls to friends in Nigeria, or business contacts in China. Luckily for him I have no grasp on Pidgin English, so I sat happily in the passenger seat and let the negotiations unfold as we drove through the busy streets of Phnom Penh. Finally, kind of sick of his shit, I turned around and hotly (but probably more ignorantly) asked him why a footballer needed to make so many damn business calls. He looked at me very honestly and told me he was a money launderer.

It was right then and there that my stance as an accepting, sexually liberated woman of the world narrowed slightly, just enough to exclude the stereotypical Nigerian scammer. Who woulda thought.

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