Friday, January 28, 2011

Happy six months?

I've been here for half a year now and still everything is new. Always, there's the feeling of standing on the edge. That any minute I could be pushed over or back. One day I could lose my temper and destroy a much needed relationship or another day I could feel so defeated that I choose to speak to no one. Feeling constantly like I'm in a valley of confusion and simultaneously on the precipice of decision. I always have to do something, but I have no idea what I'm doing all the while everyone is watching. But that's just me being dramatic. In Cambodia, this is how I feel, but I know that I can always escape.

I'm young and stupid. I make mistakes and this is the perfect time to make them, in a twisted way. So many of my fellow PCVs are constantly wrestling with the question of "how do we do this job?", but more importantly "how do we do this job right?" But since no one really knows how to do this job right I have the opportunity to experiment.  Coming from a science background I already know that about 80 to 100% of early experiments fail. I know I will fail and I will walk down the wrong path, but I have the freedom to do that, no matter how much I hate making mistakes. Through my mistakes I will learn and I will keep working. No matter what I have to keep working. And I hope and hope and hope that when I finally get things right that I will have done no harm to those around me. Though that seems like an impossible wish. Even if you just choose not to smile one day you may have done harm. There's no way to account for all your actions and the impact of any action or inaction is incalculable. So should we be extra careful or should we not care at all?

I think there should be a scale. A scale that measures how philosophical my posts get with how crappy I feel at site. It's a direct relationship. These past two weeks were hard. The longer I'm here the clearer it is that doing my job is the hard part. People think of Cambodia and think life must be hard. The bathrooms, the food, the lack of soap. But that's the easy part. That is survival. The hard part is pushing yourself past the basics. I could be happy just living here. Just going from village to village socializing. Teaching a little here and there. Smiling. These days I'm mostly unhappy because a project is going wrong or someone that I force myself to work with is being extremely disrespectful (though I've only really met one of these people out of the hundreds). It makes me upset when I put everything behind a proposal and no one steps up to the plate to take it on. But everyday there are people and events that remind why I need to do my job. That I'm not just here to chill out and say that I lived in Cambodia. Sometimes I'm scared though. I'm scared that I'm forgetting about those things.

Last week I went out to a village to give out vaccinations. It was a routine visit. Usually you show up in the village and people bring their children and babies to you. But this time I went with a particularly dedicated midwife who went house to house to people that didn't show up. The last house we went to was clearly poor, but no poorer on the outside than those around it. The grandmother brought the baby up the road to us and with them came the aunt. Immediately, I knew this baby was in danger. He was a year and a half old. Naked, as is common here. Arms and legs skinny sticks. Not much hair for a year and half. His stomach a rotund semisphere. Jutting out when every other aspect was shrinking in. Clear signs of malnutrition. He was feeding from a baby bottle, something that is typically discouraged here because no one can afford formula. If they are fed from a bottle it is usually only water or sometimes rice water from porridge. Practically no nutrients at all. The mother? In thailand, which happens with frequency. The midwife gives the vaccine. We talk. They've taken the baby to the doctor in siem reap already, but clearly no changes have occurred. The midwife tells them they need to give the baby milk, but at this age milk is no longer enough. I try to tell them about enriched porridge, but like with most people they either already do it or they need to be shown. Then I forget about him. I really do. And so does the midwife. I think that haunts me more than the baby does. The fact that I could forget so easily. A baby that I know will die without help. A week later I finally remember to ask. I want to go see the baby, but the midwife is reluctant. She tells me to wait until next month, a ridiculous request. I ask her why? And she says because she doesn't have free time. I say I want to go by myself. I've biked to that village more than once already. I just don't remember the family's name. She looks it up for me, but she's insistent. She wants me to wait until she's free. I want to go and I could, but I haven't yet. Why haven't I?

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