HOW MANY APPLICANTS CAN WE REGISTER IN ONE DAY?
On the first day of voter registration in the market town of Skon, Cheong Prey District, Kampong Cham Provence, Cambodia, circa 1992, my team of locals worked hard and registered 398 people to vote in the United Nations-sponsored, first ever-democratic elections. On the next day, they worked even harder and registered 436 people! I heard from another electoral supervisor in a nearby district that their team registered about 360 people, so I believe that the record for the most registrations in one day was ours, Cheung Prey district! The competition between teams and districts bubbled up naturally among the local Khmer staff; as their supervisor, I basked in their success.
So, I was surprised when my interpreter, Meng, my right-hand man at the ripe old age of twenty, asked me, “Momma*, why don’t we work as hard as Sisters* Beatrice and Marylou? They leave before sunrise and return late in the evening after dark,” he said, backing up his claim of their hard work.
“They do, but have their district teams registered anywhere near as many people as we have? No!” I let that sink in for a while. His face screwed up in the effort to arrive at an appropriate reason for the discrepancy between work and outcome.
“Meng, my little friend, the secret is working smarter, not harder.” Meng cocked his head, squinted his already slanted eyes, breathed deeply, and said, “Yes, Momma. You are right.”
Thirty years later, Meng is a millionaire—self-made and proud. Every time we see each other, he reminds me that he works smart, not hard, and that he learned to do that from me.
I’m not a millionaire. What does that mean?
*Momma and Sister were how the locals addressed us foreign election workers. As the oldest, the only American, and someone with a PhD, the title of Momma went to me. Despite the lack of an official hierarchy among the electoral supervisors, even my UN colleagues seemed to defer to me.