American Soothsayer Rakes In Small Fortune

In the northwest corner of Phnom Penh’s Boeng Keng Kang market, a new stall is creating a buzz among shoppers.

Its occupant is a 28-year-old former U.S. Peace Corps volunteer who offers tarot-card readings in Khmer. And customers say her predictions are on point.

Eileen waits for customers at Boeng Keng Kang market in Phnom Penh on Wednesday. (Matt Walker)
Eileen waits for customers at Boeng Keng Kang market in Phnom Penh on Wednesday. (Matt Walker)

With strings of fake leaves hanging from the ceiling, colorful paper butterflies affixed to one wall, and a sign that reads “Mantis Magic,” the booth—which has been open for two weeks—stands out from the neighboring hairdressers and food stalls.

“I didn’t have a job, I needed something to do and I wanted to help people through my spiritual work. I was getting messages to do this, so I just followed my gut,” said Eileen, who speaks conversational Khmer and asked to be identified only by her first name so that her mother in the U.S. would not find out about her new trade.

Originally from New York, Eileen said she graduated from West Virginia University with degrees in gender studies and criminal investigations before relocating to Cambodia nearly five years ago with the Peace Corps.

After spending two years writing grant proposals for a local NGO while pursuing a master’s degree in development at the Royal University of Phnom Penh, she grew restless and earlier this year decided to pursue a passion for mysticism she had cultivated since the age of 10.

A Cambodian friend helped her lease the market stall two weeks ago, Eileen said. She said she had met with unexpected financial success, earning about $450 since opening while charging 10,000 riel (about $2.50) per session.

“I wasn’t sure how it would go honestly. Like if it was a bad thing or if they’d be taken aback by an American working here. But they’ve seemed to generally like it,” she said.

Horn Sreypov, 26, who owns a beauty salon in the market, said she had always been skeptical about fortune-tellers, but decided to visit Eileen on the recommendation of her customers.

“I had never let a Khmer fortune-teller make any prediction of my fortune, but my customers said her interpretation was 100 percent correct,” Ms. Sreypov said. She said she had since sought the American’s prognosis on two occasions—once to ask about the future of her relationship with a three-year boyfriend—and deemed her predictions “70 percent correct.”

Eileen said most of her customers were women between the ages of 20 and 40 who would rather talk about romantic relationships with someone who was not predisposed to Cambodian ways of thinking.

“I’m not Cambodian, so I get younger customers that will be more honest with me about their boyfriend situation,” she said.

Asked for an overall prediction for Cambodia in the coming months, Eileen dealt her tarot cards and stated that June would be a prosperous month for entrepreneurs and risk-takers willing to invest in new ideas.

“This month [June] is about people that move forward and do not stop. As long as they put all their energy into their business or relationship, I feel they will be successful,” she said.

But July, she warned, would be a “disaster.”

“There is going to be an issue with justice, it is not going to be fair and there will be an emotional upheaval,” she said.

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