Given the way so many Cambodians lead their lives, you might be forgiven for thinking you are in a nation with an enduring epidemic of contagious diseases.
Masks are prevalent on the streets, where a growing horde of motor vehicles spews fumes and spins up dust. It is understandable, then, that numerous Cambodians don flimsy masks that cover mouth and nose in the expectation of discouraging infection. Some may wear them to avoid spreading disease themselves.
But I understand that such masks actually offer little in the way of protection even while they may maximize peace of mind. Although masks that are more expensive and effective are available, I rarely note them.
What disconcerts me is how often I find myself in conversation with individuals who keep wearing masks indoors and outside of healthcare settings. They might be sales personnel, men and women waiting table or cashiers, really anyone engaged in routine commerce.
Although the eyes may be windows to the soul, they do not always provide a clear view into all of what a person is communicating. I find that I need to observe a curl of the lip, the tightening of a muscle and shift of the jaw to grasp fully the message someone is sending me in conversations that could be only routine as well as complex.
Especially when speaking with a salesperson, I have discovered that I really need to see the whole face to evaluate and trust, never mind understand, what she or he is saying.
Eyes and eyebrows help, to be sure. But when the bottom half of a face is obscured, I realize I am receiving only half a meaning. At least, it seems that way to me.