Monday, December 17, 2012

New Blog coming soon...


For those of you who subscribe to this or happen to check it out of the blue, I want to give a heads up that I'm developing a new blog. This blog was great for me. I loved posting to it and having an outlet for a lot of issues that touch me very deeply, but it is too raw to keep going. Now that I'm back in America, that style of posting would just be too volatile and I'm not ready for strangers to start leaving mean comments about things I really care about. I've wanted to be a "Blogger" for a long time now, but I also love writing off the cuff. This new blog will be my first attempt at blogging with a preplanned theme and actual editing before publishing. Maybe I'll even be a bit tech savvy and include photos, videos, and links (yea that crazy stuff). Tentatively the theme will be science-y things in our daily lives that we never think about. How important is that baby toe of ours? How does a person run?

Fun fact: The running/walking motion we're so used to thinking is a "voluntary" action can actually happen without any brain control. We can control it, but we really don't need to for it to happen.

I'm hoping that with all the crazy awesome things I'll be discovering in medical school next year that this blog will be at least a once a week affair. Stay tuned...

All the best (and Happy Holidays!)


Friday, October 12, 2012

I'm in America. What?!

It's been quite a while since I've written and I hope you all know that I'm no longer in Cambodia. I managed to finish service with all my limbs intact though my liver did take a beating from dengue. Now that I've been back in the states for about a month I see more clearly the value of changing your surroundings and of blogging about it. Going from country to country and culture to culture forces you to compare and contrast both your own actions and others. By blogging about it I take events that particularly strike me and process it through the written word. The reason I bring it up now is that this process hasn't stopped and I think I'm going to keep writing about it.

When I first arrived in Cambodia everything was difficult and everything was new. I spent a lot of time taking in new information and trying to process it. I kept trying to understand it all using the set of social rules that I learned growing up in America. As time past, I began to compare it going the other way. Why do I do certain things when they don't really make any sense? This has only gotten more prevalent now that I am back in America and so many things that Americans take as normal are just odd to me.

For example, why are we so obsessed with cleaning?! People in America HATE finding a single stray hair in their food. Hair is not that dirty and it's just a strand of protein. Also, each human being loses tons of hair everyday. Think about all the places that you've been in the last few hours. I guarantee,  unless you're completely bald, that you've left hair and dead skin in every single place. I understand the need for sterility in medical locations or research labs, but finding a hair in your food is pretty normal. It's only unusual because we take pains to make sure it never happens.

We're so obsessed with being clean that we don't realize what we're actually doing to ourselves. People reflexively use industrial cleaners, hand sanitizer, strong detergents without actually thinking about the consequences down the line. Is exposure to bleach on a regular basis worth killing those few bacteria that your body can easily fight off worth it? On top of that is killing all those regular,normal bacteria worth it? Believe it or not they play a role in fending off other illnesses. Think of it this way. You're living in the forest and there are a lot of animals. Monkeys, birds, raccoons, tigers, etc. Normally the tiger hunts the other animals because it's natural and easier. Maybe some tigers are even killed by some animals or illnesses, thereby making you safer. Now imagine you cleaned the forest so all the dirty animals and bacteria are gone. The only things left are you and the tiger. The tiger is going to eat you because there is nothing else between you and the tiger.

This might be an extreme and unbelievable analogy, but the point is that our obsession with cleaning is killing an ecosystem. We are built to live with bacteria and bacteria live within us. Most of us even have a few viruses (think chickenpox). This is the norm. But, society tells us to clean clean clean!

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Was it Worth It?

I think this is one of the most common questions I get asked and I’ll probably have to answer it a hundred more times. I think throughout my service and now that my service is done I have always answered YES. That is the simple answer. Was the last two years of my life worth it? Yes.

I might have gotten a dozen diseases, had thousands of awkward moments, been frustrated, angry, victimized, bored, and tired--so so tired. But, I also came away with an overwhelming sense that one person can change the world. I’m not saying that I have and I have also learned so much about how horribly good intentions can go wrong, but I have worked with some incredible and passionate people. It’s not that one person creates all the change, but passion is contagious and the world needs people who can be responsible leaders. Often, a community just needs a catalyst-- that extra push to galvanize the people. The hardest part is to identify what that catalyst is. Sometimes it’s a person who doesn’t give up and holds themselves to a high standard of responsibility. I really see that now and I am going to work my hardest to become that person. 

Friday, August 31, 2012

My Epic COS Adventure (Part 1)

Here are some highlights: giardia, dengue, medevac, Thai sweets fest, Thai dairy fest, 5 star hotel-hospital, hit and run.

End of July- Going away parties

I threw a going away party for my students. We all gathered at my house and I made a Chinese dish (tomato and eggs) and an ‘american’ dish (pasta). They all brought me presents and food and we had a huge feast with lots of picture taking of course. Some highlights, one girl had her aunt make me an elephant out of leather. It looks sort of like a paper puppet, but definitely one of my favorite gifts. Everyone loved the tomato and eggs, I guess its just a combo no one has ever tried before here. They all also tried to use my party as an excuse not to go to class (though it is summer vacay), but I made them all go anyway.

The second party was thrown for me by my health center. My director and Khmer tutor were in cahoots and invited all the village health volunteers. It was good to see everyone one last time and take  pictures. I got a present from the HC which was an Angkor Wat snow globe, a shirt made from a pashmina scarf, a handbag, and an apsara dancer statue. Of course they made me change on the spot into the shirt so we could all take pictures, I also had to hold my new handbag(see picture below). The most important part were the certificates. I got two certificates. One from the health center and one from my khmer tutor. For those of you that are unfamiliar, a certificate of completion or congratulations, or whatever is extremely revered in Cambodia. Nothing is complete without a certificate. So, it was really touching that they thought I needed them before I left.

july 31-Aug 2

I left for Phnom Penh on July 31 2012. My host family all got up super early to send me to the bus station in Siem Reap. I hugged one of my aunts goodbye and she almost cried which is a big deal because Cambodian adults almost never cry. I’ve even had a person ask me once if I was embarrassed that I cried in public (one time and they’ll never forget it). All the kids, my host parents, my other aunt, and I all got into the car and we left at like 6am. I was supposed to meet Kurt and I knew he wouldn’t make it until 10am.

Luckily we stopped in Pouk which is the big district town halfway to Siem Reap. Everyone got out and had breakfast at a restaurant! That is a big deal because we never eat at restaurants. And they kept wanting to get me coffee so I relented even though I knew it was probably not a good idea before a 7 hour bus ride. We get to Siem Reap around 8am and it’s a little awkward because I know they don’t want to wait until 10 and they don’t want to leave me. But I insist that they go back. Watching little Hoy, the 3 year old, waving goodbye to me from the car as they drove away almost made me burst into tears at the bus station. That’s probably the last time I’ll ever see them again.

Leaving site is a mixed bag. On the one hand, my village drove me crazy sometimes. Eating Cambodian food all the time and craving American/Chinese food all the time. The lizard that keeps pooping in my bed. The constant mosquito bites. Nothing ever happening on time. Always having to be careful about what I wear, what I say, what emotions I show. It wears on you. But, at the same time I have met some amazing people, worked with some really inspiring students, and my host mom is second to none in terms of hard working strong women.  She pretty much raised her children on her own cause my host dad was in the army and she never stops.  Cambodia can also be very beautiful. There have been so many days where I just sit and stare at the sky, amazed at how far I can see and how beautiful the clouds are. I’m really going to miss the tropic weather and the landscape.

Ok. So Kurt and I finally meet up and it’s a bit of a struggle to get two mountain bikes, a trunk, plus everyone’s bags in the bottom of the bus, but we make it work (as we always do). When we get to PP it’s late evening already, but we wanted to get there because Saeed is making us dinner! Saeed is one of my closest friends in Cambodia. We were neighbors all through training and I’m sure I drove him crazy. He is extending for a third year and I’m so proud of all the great work he’s done. As part of his third year, he moved to PP and got his own place, which is huge for  PCV in Cambodia. Many of us have no choice in what we eat, when we eat, or where we eat. We have no choice in our room. If I need to go to the bathroom at night I have to leave my room, walk through another room full of people, open up a bolted door which wakes everyone up, walk out to the back, and hopefully there’s electricity for the bathroom light. Saeed can now just walk to the bathroom.

It’s us, Andrea, Justin, Alan, and Garrett. A great group of PCVs to eat delicious chicken curry and rice together.

The next few days are a blur of getting paperwork signed and checked off. By Aug 2nd I have, on paper, COSed and become an RPCV. The only thing I’m waiting for now is Midnight on Aug 3rd, the official date.  So of course, we go out dancing. I can’t drink any alcohol because I was diagnosed with Giardia and I had to take the meds that night, but dancing with everyone was a lot of fun. Kurt and I get back around 2am and fall asleep right away. We have a 7am bus to catch the next day.

Aug 3rd- Dengue

I wake up at 6am and start packing. I feel really tired and nauseous, but I figured that was a combo of going dancing and giardia meds. Last time I took giardia meds I felt extremely nauseous and the next two days I had really bad stomach pains. So, I thought nothing was out of the ordinary. The bus ride up was hell. We had the back seats in a speeding van so I felt every bump and turn.  An hour or two into the ride I was curled up in the fetal position trying to sleep. I thought a benadryl would help. It did help me sleep. By the time we got to the hotel, around 1pm I could barely stand. I took my temp and it was pretty high. Unfortunately, the reason we rushed back to Siem Reap was to meet Kurt’s parents who were coming to visit. I was really looking forward to it and going back to Angkor Wat one last time. I did manage to meet Kurt’s parents under my fever induced haze and what little time I spent with them was great. But, the next day I got my blood tested at the hospital and it came up positive for dengue. I almost convinced the doctor to let me stay in Siem Reap instead of sending me to PP which is the usual since the PC docs are in PP. But in case of emergencies I needed to be in PP so I could be medevac’ed, which is exactly what ended up happening.

So yea, on Aug 5th I had to take that excruciating van ride back to PP and this time there was no Kurt to take care of me so I had to rely on the internet and the kindness of fellow PCVs. Brian Peterson brought me some much needed food and some of the most delicious oranges I ever had. Vaughn is a great conversationalist even when you have dengue.
*Did I forget to mention that the van I was in hit a person while driving on the highway? Yea, apparently it was a mentally ill homeless person who stepped into the street. Of course, we didn’t stop and the guy is probably no longer alive due to the large amount of blood pooling out of his head. Surprisingly, the phnom penh police actually pulled the van over. Probably the first time I’ve seen the police do their jobs quickly and efficiently (or at all).  Unfortunately, usually little or no justice will be served to anyone. But, probably someone will make a lot of money off of this.

On the 7th, I was sent to Bangkok. If you can believe it that commute was way worse than the bus ride. First, I had to lug my stuff to the office, pay attention to instructions, and then I had to wait 2-3 hours until I could get a ride to the airport. Then at the airport I could barely manage to push my cart to the check in counter. And my flight was delayed. Except, none of the airline staff bothered to tell any of the passengers that it was delayed. There was zero communication. When I get to Bangkok, I go through all the check, get my luggage, walk to the taxi stand and from then on I don’t walk a step. I literally go from taxi to wheel chair to bed to another bed. By the time I’m in my hospital room it’s a bit past midnight. Keep in mind that the entire time I am super nauseous. I was so close to throwing up all over these two guys in suits while we were in the airport shuttle. Somehow I made it to the hospital room before I threw up.  This was all sort of expected. In a way a very characteristically Cambodian end to my time in Cambodia.

Aug 7th to Aug 16th- Bangkok

Let me tell you, if you are ever hospitalized you want to be hospitalized at Bumrangrad Hospital in Bangkok. It is a 5star hotel combined with an excellent hospital at a price many Americans can afford. The most expensive part will probably be the flight to and from Thailand. This hospital was pretty much built for medical tourism. They even extend your visa for you. Medical tourism is when foreigners go to another country for medical care. Often they do this because the quality and price combo beat anything they can get in their own country. And it was a wonderful experience besides the dengue.

The first three days in hospital were bad. I was super tired all the time and I had to lug around this IV which is a lot harder than it looks. Especially cause mine was automated and had all these wires, which is pretty hard to untangle in the dark in the middle of the night in a dengue/just woke up to pee haze. Also, IVs make you want to pee a lot.  I was also woken up by people showing up in my room like 20 times a day/night. Temp, bp, food, taking away food, customer service, food menu, restocking free tea/water, changing IV, consulting doc. It was a lot. I’m so lucky I had Kurt to help me. He came on the 8th and he was familiar with the hospital area since he had visited another PCV when he came for his GRE.  He got to stay on the couch in my hospital room for free the entire time.

So, what made me feel so bad was my extremely inflamed liver. Apparently, it was so inflamed that they thought I had Hepatitis. Which I didn’t. Dengue is a systemic disease so it mucks up pretty much everything. For a while my platelet count was also plummeting and I almost needed a transfusion, but I began recovering before that was necessary. I think I was probably discharged on the 11th or 12th and moved into the hotel across the street. They wanted to keep me around for blood tests because my liver was still pretty bad, no alcohol or certain medications for a couple months. Also, when I told the doctor I was going to India he sort of didn’t want me to go, but I eventually did go. I think I’ve become a bit more stubborn about things since being in PC.

Over the next couple of days Kurt and I just went around Bangkok. I wanted to get moving so I could begin recuperating for India. Too bad having Dengue left me as weak as a newborn lamb. On the first day we walked around to a park and having walked for 3 or 4 hours I almost fainted . Normally, walking for 3 or 4 hours is no problem. I think I recuperated by watching Brave and eating 7eleven. One of the perks of the hospital was nausea medication, but now that I was out I didn’t have it anymore and heat/tiredness also makes me nauseous. After the park we sort of took it easy. We went to a sweets festival and  dairy festival.  Both had many delicious free samples, but I think we probably had to take 5 different forms of transportation to get to them.  Over the course of 4 or 5 days, Kurt and I took taxis, tuk tuks, boat, public bus, railroad, MRT, BTS,  and walked. Bangkok is pretty awesome. Also, the food is so much better...

By the 16th, my liver function tests were pretty much normal and I was feeling good because, not only was it my birthday, but it was time to fly to INDIA!!! I have pretty much wanted to go to India for the past two years and not even dengue could stop me from going. Also, Kurt gave me an awesome camera to replace the one that broke earlier so expect some crazy pictures soon. At around 3pm, I landed in Delhi dengue free and ready for an adventure.  

Friday, July 27, 2012

Last Day of Work!!!

Wow, these past few weeks have gone by so quickly. I had my last day of class yesterday in which I admitted that teaching these kids has been my absolute favorite part about working in Cambodia. I'm pretty sure that without them I wouldn't have made it through my service. We're having a small get together this afternoon. Originally it was supposed to be a lunch thing. I had bought pasta and sauce from Siem Reap and I was going to make it for them. I'm still doing that, but for some reason they didn't understand that it replaced lunch. Instead this will be second lunch for them...

As going away presents for most people I printed out a couple of pictures and I've been giving them out slowly each day. Just like each day my room gets a little emptier, but somehow manages to look just as messy as before. It's weird going around and thinking that this might be the last time I bike to the health center or almost fall face first in a pile of mud and cow shit. Yes, I even miss the slippery muddy ditch filled roads because I know that New York City won't have anything like it.

I've been pretty busy these past few weeks which is why I haven't been updating so much. I submitted my application to matriculate into medical school in August 2013. That was about 2 months ago now...and since then it's been a furious race to write and revise essay after essay. The way applying to medical school works is that you spend months/years preparing for the MCAT and the AMCAS application. The AMCAS is considered the primary application which you must submit to all the schools you're interested in...this year it cost 160 for the first school and 33 for each successive school. I applied to 16.

Once that's done you wait for about a month (I submitted June 5th the first day available). Around the beginning of July schools start sending you secondary applications which cost between 70 to 120 dollars each to submit. On average it's 100 bucks a pop. In addition to all the money you're giving them you also have to write all these essays. It wouldn't be so bad if the schools coordinated and set similar word limits or questions, but each school just has to do their own thing. One school might ask a typical question such as "What did you do after you graduated?", but they would have a 300 word limit whereas another school has a 2000 character limit and another has a 100 word limit. It just drives me batty trying to keep track of it all. Especially, since at the peak I had about 5 drafts being written and revised simultaneously. I definitely couldn't have survived this without Kurt helping me revise almost every essay and my other friends who came in when I needed a new perspective. It's really really hard to find people to help your writing when you're the most fluent English speaker around for 16km and people in America are super bad at replying to emails.

I think something that I didn't expect to happen was how much more I value face-to-face conversations. Even if it's just to make a simple request I really prefer to do it in person because email and telephone just exacerbate the breakdown of communication. I've also realized that the majority of people don't know how to listen and they don't know that they don't know. It's also much harder to ignore someone than to ignore an email. I understand that sometimes you save an email for later, but so many people just forget. If I came up to you in person you'd give me an answer right away. Unless you're extremely rude, I don't think you turn away and mumble to yourself about saving it for later and then forget about me. That's why there are some people I almost never email and if something needs to be a done a phone call or personal visit is the only way. I think for those of you that knew me before Cambodia you can tell from this preference how much I've changed over the past two years.

Monday, July 16, 2012

The view from my window

I'm at work. Sitting at a desk in an adult sized chair. Typing on my computer, going through emails, working on my med. school apps. Next to me is our new printer and a bottle of water. The Health Center is quiet. There's a breeze coming from the open window. I look out and I see a few trees. The school in the distance and the rice fields surrounding it. There is also a barbed wire fence between me and the rice fields. And just beyond the fence is a butt. The butt of a bulky water buffalo eating the grass. Superimposed on all this are the metal bars on every window in Cambodia. Beyond, the sky is blue and clear. It's beautiful.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Guest post?

Replace gunfo with prahok and watching paint dry with killing mosquitoes and you've got Cambodia. This post by another PCV in another continent is remarkably accurate to my own experience. As he said, every PCV has a different experience no matter how close or far away you are from each other, but I think there are collective similarities which may be abstract, but which bind us together in the end.

Most people I know wouldn't be able to tell you what month it is if you asked them for the time.

Monday, July 9, 2012


Chikungunya has nothing to do with chickens. Instead, it has a lot to do with primates. Ever since I got my invite to Cambodia I've heard the term Dengue more times than I can count. Dengue is the big bad. When you get it your fever is so high you could hallucinate. The pain in your muscles and bones is so intense that they call it "bone break fever". On top of all that, you end up sleeping with your toilet because it causes vomiting.

Chikungunya is not Dengue, but it's similar. It's transmitted by the same mosquito and it has similar symptoms. There's fever, pain, rash, and maybe vomiting. It's so similar that a lot of children with it are misdiagnosed as having Dengue (generally Cambodians believe adults cannot contract Dengue because most of them had Dengue as children and are immune). It's probably a cause for the 300% increase in Dengue cases this year. The arrival of Chikungunya 2 months before my departure was an interesting coincidence.

In early June, I was probably tested for dengue and malaria for the 500th time and both came back negative again. I was one of the first ones to get it in my village, probably because of my complete lack of immunity. My host niece also got it. About a week after I got the disease patients flooded the health center with the same symptoms. Patients from all 20 villages in my catchment area. Very few adults had immunity and so the disease spread quickly. Just last week one of the midwives at my health center was bed ridden with rash, swelling, and an intense headache.

This week I found out that chikungunya causes arthritis for months possibly years. I thought I was just getting old. I hope it resolves itself soon, but as with any disease it can have unintended consequences. I'll take this moment to tell everyone to vaccinate their children! Vaccines protect children from lethal and disfiguring diseases and you never know where they might catch one or who they may give it to. Unless you want to be the cause of the next measles epidemic then be sure to vaccinate your kids.

Now, my case isn't confirmed yet and I really wouldn't be surprised if I got another negative test result. Being sick so often here has really given me a deeper understanding of how medicine really works and how the best doctors are also the best detectives and magicians.

Friday, June 29, 2012


Being in a rural village in Cambodia means you can live in your own little world. I never watch tv anymore and I don’t have a radio. Newspapers and magazines aren’t sold in my village and most people can’t read them anyway. My only source of news comes from the internet and that only happens if I truly try to seek it out. It would be easy for me to remove myself from all the politics happening in America and from this perspective I can tell you that everyone in America seems a bit crazy to me right now.

Seeing American politics from Cambodia brings to mind a number of things. On the one hand I think Americans tend to argue over the most arbitrary things. I’m in Cambodia dealing with child malnutrition and maternal mortality, but those seem to be forgotten in America even though almost half the kids in the Bronx rely on food stamps. Instead, our media and our politicians are creating hot issues for us to obsess over.

On the other hand, elections in Cambodia...let’s just say I can’t comment.

I read two articles, one recently and the other a few months ago, about how flip floppy American politics is. There seems to be no politician or American who isn’t a flip flopper if you actually look at the history of the current political hot topics.

One of the articles was about the history of the birth control movement and the backers of the movement over time. At one time many religious organizations were the ones promoting birth control options. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find the link.

I think the New Yorker article highlights one of the great ironies of the American mindset. “Maverick” “Rogue” Two words that have been thrown about with great pride in America since the days of the founders. These are the words that the Republican party used to gather a great number of FOLLOWERS. Once a “Maverick” has groupies are they now the “Mainstream”? As usual, our brain is doing a lot of the behind the scenes work before any individual decision comes to our conscious mind. I think that once we realize that we can take a step back and really look at the issue instead of going with our gut.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

The strangest thing...

A lot of people ask me questions like "What's the strangest thing that's ever happened to you?" My answer is usually " I don't know." I've touched upon this before, how strangeness is really relative. The nature of stangeness means it can never be commonplace and yet it occurs often enough in my life that I no longer take the time to remember those moments of strangeness that happen on a daily basis. It's a paradoxical feeling of knowing that what is happening is odd and I don't understand it, but simultaneously it's expected to happen and not important enough to talk about.

I only realize this paradox in certain instances when I experience of do something that is strange and I think to write it down. This is such a moment. Just a few minutes ago I was wearing my head lamp (it's noon), cleaning my swiss army knife with hand sanitizer and proceeding to cut off parts of my foot. Let me backtrack a bit in case this seems alarming to you. A few days ago I was in Phnom Penh for routine medical checkup. We all get a thorough physical right before we finish our service. I've had a wart (looks like a callus) on my foot for years (I always thought it was from walking so much in nyc), but turns out it's caused by a virus that's infected my foot. I know at least 5 other volunteers with the same issue. To remove these warts you freeze them with liquid nitrogen, wait for a blister to form, then cut off the top layer of the blister. Normally, a medical professional does this procedure which occurs over a 3 day period. Unfortunately, I had to return to site and the PCMO felt confident that I could cut the blisters off myself.

So, after lunch today I proceeded to attempt this with my available resources. One thing I've learned in Cambodia is that I really dislike afflicting pain upon myself. One day not to long ago I was ordered to test myself for malaria. I had to poke myself about 8 times before I drew blood. It really takes a lot of conviction to stab yourself. Anyway, removing the blisters seemed straightforward enough except my swiss army knife is about the size of my pinky and has never been sharpened. Eventually, I started using the mini scissors which were much sharper, but there's a reason doctors use scalpels. Scissors, apparently, tend to make many small cuts and if you're not precise (I am not) you end up cutting in different places. Cutting the blister itself really doesn't hurt until the raw skin underneath is exposed to air. Then it really really stings. This entire time my leg is falling asleep because I have to be curled in a very awkward position on my only chair (made to fit a 5 year old) in order to see the bottom of my foot. All the while, I'm squirting hand san onto toilet paper (which I don't use for the toilet) in order to clean my instruments. Eventually I get to the part where I have to swab things with this giant q-tip of iodine. So now I have on my head lamp in the middle of the day, I'm sitting in a child's chair curled into an odd sitting position, in my left hand are tiny tweezers from my knife, my right hand is holding a giant q-tip dripping brown liquid and a swis army knife with tiny knife and scissors deployed. Next to me is a pile of toilet paper and a bottle of hand sanitizer. Not to mention I'm in Cambodia. If that isn't weird then I don't know what is, but for a while I didn't even notice how odd it all was.

In the future, if you ask me what the strangest thing is then expect an, "I don't know" because I really probably don't even remember the weirdest thing that's happened.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Tuk Tuk drivers

Tuk Tuk drivers are ubiquitous in Phnom Penh and Siem Reap. They are so common that I think most volunteers forget to write about them because we have to deal with them all the time. A typical walk down a city street consists of every tuk tuk driver yelling at you to ride their tuk tuk. There are so many drivers that any given block will have at least 3 or 5 guys (they are all male) yelling at you. Sometimes its a simple "Tuk Tuk!" or a "Lady! Lady!". If they mistake me for being Khmer they'll yell "Hey Miss!" in Khmer. Hearing this for 2 years really wears on you, but I wouldn't mind so much if it was just yelling. I'm from NYC and I have perfected the ability to ignore things around me.

Unfortunately, tuk tuk and moto drivers are also very aggressive. If a tuk tuk or moto is passing by sometimes they'll drive straight into you, pausing maybe 2 inches from hitting you, and then yell "Tuk Tuk!". I've had times where I'm trying to cross the street and the guy stops in front of me and forces me to walk around him.

The worst part is when you're getting off a bus or a taxi. Before you even get out the guys are chasing the bus or car down the street. They follow the vehicle until it comes to a stop and they knock on the windows yelling "Where are you going? Take my tuk tuk!" Once I saw the moto guys in my village reach into the trunk of a car (it was too full to be closed) before the car even stopped and try to take people's luggage so they would have to take their moto. When you get off the bus/car you are literally mobbed by men. All of them asking the same questions " Where are you going? Take my tuk tuk? Where do you want to go? Do you have a hotel room? See angkor wat?" If you try to ignore them they just follow you around like a really annoying large puppy. If you say, "No I don't want a tuk tuk" they still follow you around, not believing that you wouldn't take their tuk tuk. Part of this aggressiveness might be caused by sheer boredom. These drivers spend all day sitting in their tuk tuk just shooting the shit with other guys that are just as bored. The only excitement they get all day is chasing down buses.

I'm actually really curious as to how a tuk tuk driver lives. Lets say that you actually want to take a tuk tuk. Fees here are always bargained and depend mostly on distance unless you have a large number of people. I've gotten so sick of bargaining that I always do the "walk away." I say a price and if they don't agree I walk away and most of the time I get the price I want. Sometimes they follow me a few blocks to keep bargaining. I learned this after months of trying to reason with people. Tuk tuk drivers use every excuse known to man to overcharge you. They've been saying " gas prices are so expensive now" for the last 2 years. On the one hand, I can't trust them. If I ask them to go a place which I know is not far at all they'll say "3 dollars" and then complain how far it is. Normally, I wouldn't pay more than a dollar to go somewhere in Siem Reap. On the other hand, they never seem to work and I wonder how they support themselves. However, if a driver gets one passenger a day to go to the airport (about 5 dollars) then in a month they make 150 which is more than most people in my village. Tourists often pay a dollar per person when they take a tuk tuk anywhere. So, one ride alone would be 1 or 2 bucks. It seems like it would be easy enough to make a living without doing any work except excessive yelling. One day taking a tourist around Angkor Wat can range from 10 to 30 dollars depending on the tourist. I've seen tuk tuk drivers so used to being ignored that even through I tried to flag him down after he yelled "Tuk Tuk?"  he kept going. His yelling had become a mere reflex.

I'd really like to read the study of the life of a tuk tuk driver. It might convince some people to make changes and prevent massive mobs of men from attacking people getting out of vehicles.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Traditional Medicine vs. Modern Medicine

I think every volunteer (health and english teaching) faces this issue of tradition vs. modern at least once in their service. As American citizens, we grew up in a culture that values the MD degree, prescription drugs, and a certain faith in science. Often, alternative medicine is seen as a fad and not bearing up to the scrutiny that modern medicine has passed. Coming to Cambodia, we’re faced with a completely different culture.
Modern medicine in Cambodia is not entirely the same as modern medicine in America. The basics are the same in that you are supposed to have an individual that has gone to school to earn a degree. They make decisions based on facts that have been tested scientifically.  Some differences are: there are very few doctors, most health professionals earned their degree after one year of studying, villagers more often visit the local pharmacy for medicine rather than a health center. Pharmacies are a major provider of modern medications to Cambodians. Pharmacies range from modern stores like U-care which provide quality drugs from countries like France and a cardboard box of a variety of medications doled out of a neighbor’s home (her provider is a son who works at a health center).

Traditional medicine is widely practiced in Cambodia. In my experience many Cambodians believe that spirits can adversely affect health among many other things like types of food you eat. There are some common practices that some people may categorize as religious, but I think these practices are also critical, from a Cambodian perspective, for their health. For example, putting food on the family altar, wearing ghost beads, being coined. Many of these activities have a superstitious nature to them and their purpose to protect general wellbeing. Horoscopes also play a large role in health. My host mother was told that this year she would get sick often and she has been sick with headache, what seems to be a strained ligament, diarrhea, and dizzyness. To counteract these illness (caused by illfortune) my mother has been through a number of blessing ceremonies in the past month. These blessings are traditional medicine in a way. In addition to blessings, my mother also visits a Khmer traditional healer. I’m not sure what the healer did to her, but she also provided a mixture of herbs that seemed to act like a hot pack and my mother also boils khmer medicine (herbs and bark) to drink each day.

Both modern and traditional medicine is used by almost every Cambodian I’ve met. In Cambodia, it almost seems like modern medicine and traditional medicine work together. My host mother spent a lot of time and money on traditional remedies, but she also takes acetaminophen for her pain. I think this causes some confusion when Cambodians opt to use modern medicine. Often, Cambodians may intrinsically trust providers of medication even though they are handed a medley of random pills in a plastic bag. This is similar to Khmer healers, whose validity is more based on lineage and reputation.  On the other hand, Cambodians often distrust modern medical practitioners especially when modern medicine does not show an effect immediately or does not give the desired affect.

I think, most often, people are just confused about what works and what doesn’t. The older generation is more likely to recommend traditional remedies and Health Center staff sometimes directly contradict those recommendations. For example, after giving birth a traditional remedy is drinking urine and sleeping on a bed that is heated by hot coals. In a country that is already hot, this can be extremely dangerous if the mother is not properly hydrated. It is hard for a young woman to disregard her elders and tradition in order to follow a midwife.  As a PCV, we’re taught to accept cultural practices, but also to teach Cambodians new information. The relationship between traditional and modern medicine is one of the more difficult areas to tread. How do you show cultural sensitivity and help people change simultaneously? Sometimes you can compromise. Tell the new mothers that they can practice tradition, but stay hydrated when they are on the hot bed.   However, this can also be difficult because you are essentially condoning a potentially dangerous practice.

I don’t have an answer for this issue, but I think what most people would say is that if your community trusts you then they will listen. Unfortunately, it’s difficult to build a relationship of trust with every single person you encounter at the health center. And, it's hard to know how far you can push your trust when trying to change traditions.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

COS conference/Snobby people

Our last all K4 PCV training has come and gone. We celebrated on a boat that went in circles on the Mekong. I think in most of my major life experiences things come to an end with a graduation. A day where everyone tries to forget all the teasing, bullying, and gossiping that went on and we all pat each other on the back for making it this far. This conference was partly like that. While this conference did affirm that I know some truly understanding and kindhearted people it also showed me that sometimes we all just tolerate too much. Sometimes people are just real assholes and the only way to stop them is to just stop associating with them. But, I think that's a step most people hesitate to take.

It's good to be nice to people. It's good to have patience with people. But, if you're nice and kind to people that blatantly use and discard other human beings like they're trash then you're condoning that behavior. I just can't pretend to be comfortable with that kind of behavior anymore.

On an unrelated topic, one of my friends is doing fundraising for an event to raise awareness about violence against women (actually not totally unrelated). She tabled outside one of the largest and most popular supermarkets in Phnom Penh and had some interesting encounters. A few of her stories really struck me because they were really unexpected. The basic progression of these stories is like this: person is passing table, friend asks person to donate to help her cause, person says that they worked in Cambodia for x period of time already or they volunteered and they don't need to donate because of that. When I heard that I just thought "what??"

As a volunteer, who has lived and worked in a small village for 2 years, I still actively donate to my friends projects and charities. I supported a friend biking for HIV and I donate to local NGOs that I think have great potential. It's always small, definitely no more than 20 dollars, but I feel good doing it. I choose my donations extremely carefully these days so I know it will have an impact. I have never thought that volunteering in Cambodia would somehow exempt me. It impacts how much I donate, but I've never thought "Oh, I've helped enough."

One moment that sort of highlights the attitude of these individuals is the point in the conversation where my friend shares the little tidbit about how she's lived here for two years. While there are some expats in Cambodia who have lived here many years, the majority of volunteers and development workers will probably not have been here as long as 2 years. It's at this point of the conversation where the proud smile of the person who has just declared that they've worked here for 6 months or volunteered every summer crumbles. Time for them to eat some humble pie.

I think it's ok to be proud that you've lived here for 6 months or volunteered for a long time. But there are some people who come here and feel like they're the next messiah and then there are people who come here and remember that they're here to help people.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

It's been a while...

I haven't posted in about a month because April is the month of vacation! Pretty much everyone does nothing this entire month. Ok, that's an exaggeration. The hotel staff all work very hard. At the beginning of April I went to the Pehentian Islands in Malaysia with some friends. It was relaxing and fun. I would suggest it if you're in the area because the islands are easy to get to from kuala lumpur. It was about a 7 hour bus ride (we took a night bus) and then a quick boat ride out to the islands. The snorkeling is good, there are a few scuba diving 'companies' (?), and the beach is beautiful. We even had to make an emergency visit to the island clinic for my friend and I highly recommend it. It's a public government run clinic, but I've never seen anything run by any government that was so clean. Plus, there was no red tape and the staff was super nice. On top of it all they gave the exact correct treatment and it all cost only about 5 dollars. I give it 5 stars in terms of government run clinics on remote islands in south east asia.

Snorkeling was an adventure. It started with this conversation:

Sally: It looks like a storm is coming. (Points to ominous clouds)
Hotel staff: No. Today is fine weather for snorkeling.
Sally: Could we change to tomorrow?
Hotel Staff: No, today is great weather for snorkeling.

About an hour later we're out in the open sea in the middle of a thunderstorm being yelled at to jump out of the boat and chase the sea turtles around. I loved it. I had really forgotten what it was like to be out on the water and I miss it a lot. I was never a very strong swimmer, but something about being in a vessel with the waves under you and the rain coming down is exhilarating. The ocean is so huge.

Unfortunately, I had to go back to Cambodia. But, the next two weeks were really great too. I got to spend about a week in Siem Reap just relaxing and swimming everyday with Kurt. Then my mom came to visit; an experience in which I learned many things about myself. The last couple days I felt a bit sick, but sleeping a couple days has brought me back to 100%. I'm back to the usual routine this week, but next week I'm going to PP again. It's already time for COS conference (Close of Service)! So soon, but some days still so far away.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

You know you've been in a Cambodian village for a long time when...

  1. It starts pouring two hours after you just hung up your handwashed laundry to dry and you don't even bother trying to save it.
  2. The laundry sitting out in the rain right now is pretty much your entire wardrobe and you still don't care.
  3. You don't dare to turn on the light during a thunderstorm in case of "electrocution"  even though that means sitting in your room in the dark.
  4. You hide the fact that your cell phone is still on because otherwise people might blame the lightning strikes on you.
  5. You put on your running clothes because your host mom might make you run to the wooden shack in case your house gets blown over.
  6. You're tempted to leave your bike outside in the storm because it's like a free carwash.
  7. You resign yourself to no pee breaks until the rain is over because all the doors are locked and a giant tarp is blocking the front gate.
  8. Sitting in your room in the dark inspires you to start a blog post.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Oh Singapore!

If you happened to be searching for the exact opposite of Cambodia then you need not search further. I have found it, experienced it, and returned to tell the tale. Before I go any further, I will say that the climate is the same so don't be disappointed that there's no snow.

Yesterday afternoon, I got back from a 5 day trip to Singapore to visit my old college friend Jess. She was nice enough to let me stay over at her apartment and show me around/pay for some things. I think I'll bulletpoint some things that I noticed.

  • It is clean and so much quieter than Cambodia. The entire time I only heard one screaming child. People don't honk their horns. They don't yell. In fact, I had a really hard time hearing people because they spoke so softly. Selling gum is illegal there so there were no gum spots on the sidewalks. Nobody litters because there is a 500 dollar fine for littering. According to a website Kurt sent me, if you are caught littering three times the punishment is cleaning the streets on Sunday with a bib tied around your neck that says "I am a litterer". Unfortunately, I cannot verify that since I did not see anyone litter or get caught littering. This was actually my greatest fear in visiting this country. In Cambodia, littering is second nature. Sometimes, people look at you funny for carrying your trash around and NOT throwing it on the ground.

  • There were no beggars, thieves, or hecklers. For once, I could relax and not worry about fending off a crowd of begging children or holding my purse with two hands. I'm pretty sure I could have run down the street with 100 dollars in my hands and screaming "I have 100 dollars" and no one would have accosted me (except maybe the police because I'm disturbing the peace). At the end of my trip, I wondered "where are the poor people of Singapore?"

  • The police are secretive. In Cambodia, the police wear their uniforms everywhere and wave orange batons at you to get you to pullover so that you can bribe them. In Singapore, I do not remember seeing a single police officer though I am assured that they are there. Singapore has an interesting way of making it easy to think you're not being watched but also reminding you once in a while that you are. They have cameras everywhere except maybe the bathrooms, but you usually don't notice them. However, every so often you'll be confronted with a giant plasma screen mounted TV showing live feed from the security cameras around you. Every couple of feet you'll see a sign saying something like "No eating Fine $1000" And yes, every fine I saw was either 500 or 1000 dollars.

  • People are of many different backgrounds. It's common for people to speak English, Malay, Hindi, or Chinese. I would order food in English and people would automatically reply to me in Chinese. It seems like they all get along. A mosque in Little India is a few blocks from the temple. Though I wouldn't want to know the punishment for getting into a public fight in Singapore. Caning is a common reward for breaking a law.

  • Jaywalking is technically illegal. Sometimes I would just wander into the street and my friend would be  all "Helen! What are you doing? The cars won't stop for you!" But after living in Cambodia I'm just happy that all the cars go one way and I don't have to worry about being blindsided by a moto coming around an SUV. Dodging slow moving, big cars that follow traffic rules is no big deal.

  • The subway is on time and people are nice to you. They give up seats. They get out of the car to let you "alight". The day Cambodia builds a subway is the day motos start being driven underground. Then we'll have to dodge trains and motos and probably also fend off tuk tuk drivers that are really desperate. 

  • Two words: Sushi buffet. I would never knowingly eat raw fish in Cambodia. That is where I draw the line. Though lately the fermented fish has really been growing on me. But, 30 dollar sushi buffet in Singapore is a dream come true (ok 30 bucks is sort of a lot of money). 

  • Showing my shoulders and not being ashamed of it. Wearing shorts that don't cover my knees. It's a wonderful feeling to have sunlight hit those parts of me again.

  • No mosquitoes. I got bit 2 times the entire trip. I went into the "rain forest" part of the botanical gardens and was not bit once. I don't know how Singapore does it and I'm not sure I want to know. 

  • Botanical garden with grass you can sit on and no fire ants. It also has a really beautiful orchid section and I was so tempted to buy one. They sell these little sprouts that are sealed with nutrient gel in a capsule, but I realized quickly that I probably would not be able to take care of it.
Overall, it was wonderful. I think it's been the most relaxing trip I've taken in a long time. Honestly, that's mostly due to the lack of fear. Growing up in NYC, visiting two big cities in China, even rural Cambodia has been dangerous. I've had my fair share of accidents and mishaps and many because some people made bad life decisions, but Singapore is probably the first time in my life since I was a kid that I haven't had to worry about being robbed or assaulted. It would be really nice to put the blinders on and think that the world is like Singapore and that Singapore's government is perfect, but I don't think that would last long for me. 5 days was perfect.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

The weird things you wish for...

Today I was thinking about a bunch of things that I wish I could have that people typically take for granted. These are things that I would really not care about if I were in America, but over here I think about it quite often. I think about these things so often that I've forgotten all the things I thought about except for one: a desk. I would really love to have a desk and a chair that is made for an adult. I would like to be able to walk over to my desk and set my computer down on it. I would like a chair where my entire butt has room. I would like a window that allows light to enter by the desk. Instead, I work on the side of my bed with a small plastic chair made for a five year old. I'd like to be able to lay my head on it as I used to watch my fellow bio lab workers do in exasperation. On some days, the only way to cure frustration is to be able to lay your head down on the cool hard surface of your desk. It's a clear sign to any passersby that today is not the day to bother you. If I remember any of the other things I would like I will be sure to update this blog post.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

(Part 2) A day in the life...

Yesterday, I started my post about a day in the life. This will be the second half of my day starting with LUNCH!

Lunch: sometimes the most exciting part of my day. As you may remember from my last post I was really really hungry when I left the health center. Sometimes I daydream about food. On that particular day I remember daydreaming about how awesome it would be if I could have fried rice for lunch. Nothing fancy, just some rice, oil, garlic, and maybe a little egg. I rationalized that fried rice was unlikely to happen because my mom only makes it when she is reminded of it in some way. I would say she makes fried rice maybe 4 times a year.

But, this was a special day. Not only did I get egg fried rice, but I also got 2 fried duck eggs in addition to the usual salted fish. Eggs are awesome. I try not to think about the cholesterol as I bring each delicious yokey spoonful to my mouth. The yoke mixing with the fried rice and doused with copious amounts of siracha sauce (thank you Kurt!) is almost more than I can handle. This day is a two plates of rice kind of day. I try really hard not to eat the whole pot of fried rice on my own and, as usual, my willpower of steel prevails. There is still rice left at the bottom of the pot for others that may come later...

The rest of my afternoon is not so eventful. After lunch is usually nap time. I like to open my window and lay on my bed to read. Usually, my room is as dark as a bat cave, but around noon to 3 the sunlight is in the perfect spot. I get abruptly woken up from my nap by a fellow PCV who needs to have some questions answered about her Small Project Assistance (SPA) project (I'm on the deciding committee).

1pm: check my emails and update myself on the outside world. I just started a new class of 7th and 8th graders english, but some of them don't know how to read yet. The other day they didn't recognize the word 'you' and I decided to scrap everything and start from the beginning. I've been looking online for some resources and trying to cobble together a curriculum that's challenging, but also covers the basics. In Cambodia, you formally start english class in school in 7th grade, but somehow kids are expected to already know how to read and write a completely foreign alphabet. By that age, most middle to upper class kids already have a firm grip on basic english due to years of private lessons. The kids in my classes may not have that history since my classes are free and get a wider range of students. I've noticed that the 8th graders are hugely different from the 7th graders and I'm trying to figure out why. It's been about 5 months since school started and the 7th graders can't read yet (but they just took their midterms). It seems implausible that the 7th graders would catch up to the 8th graders in 5 more months of the same type of teaching. My theory is that in 7th grade, everything is new and it's ok not to know stuff, but by 8th grade the kids that can't catch up just stop trying. They've learned that they can't learn and so they don't come to class.

I spend an hour or so on the lesson plans and then I try to revise the SPA handbook one last time before the new PCVs get to hear about it at a training in two weeks. The rest of my time goes into India. My research on India takes up all the time until my 4pm class. It's such a vast place and it seems logistically hard to plan a trip there, but I'm tryin'.

4pm- One hour english class at the school down the street (it's next to my HC). Today we're trying to master pronouns and the to be verb. Asking basic questions about names and forming appropriate answers. They've definitely retained more than I hoped from the day before and I spend about 20 minutes going over the alphabet and some phonics. Trying to work on their pronunciation and give them a feel for the sounds of the letters.

I get home around 5:30 and it's already time for dinner! Dinner is fish soup, which is not so delicious, but I eat all the red pepper and tomatoes. Veggies don't usually come in the soup so I savor each bite. I also get some cold cut up fish cakes. When I say fish cakes I mean that they take whole fish and sort of mash it up in a machine and then make cakes with them (bones and all). This is not an industrial blender so you can still feel the bones in the cake. It's not bad. I've just grown a strong aversion to fish bones since I arrived here a year and half ago.

After dinner, I change into my sarong and take a shower/ brush my teeth. I see that some animal has pooped in my bike helmet, but it's ok. The poop has already dried and I just scrape it out. It's about 7pm when I get back to my room and reply to a friend's email. Around 7:30 I get into bed and read by headlamp. 8:30 Lights out and fall asleep.

Friday, February 10, 2012

(Part 1) A day in the life...

Having only about 6 months left in service has turned many of the questions people ask me from the topic of what life is like in Cambodia to what I'm going to be doing after Cambodia. My answer to this question is well rehearsed and if you ever get the chance to ask me you'll know that you weren't the first person to hear it. Another question I get fairly often is, "Are you used to things yet?" People seem to assume that the longer you live in Cambodia the more normal things seem to you. That is just not the case. I may have a better understanding of why certain things happen, but I still retain the ability to look at my surroundings and say, "That is quite odd."  What has changed is the length of time I retain that reaction. When I first arrived in Cambodia, everything seemed at odds to what I was used to and it used to be overwhelming. Nowadays I just think, "that's weird" and then I move on. People have asked, "What's the craziest thing you've seen so far?" and I honestly can't even recall though reading through this blog would probably help my memory a bit.

To test this theory I decided to really record a day in my life (I did that yesterday). You can judge for yourself.

February 09, 2012

5:40am- I wake up to my host parents talking extremely loudly. Check my cellphone for the time and reluctantly roll out of bed knowing I gotta be out of the house on my run in 20 min or I'll be late for work. I grab my chamberpot and toothbrush and walk out to the bathroom.The moon is full and bright yellow in the sky.

With a mouth full of toothpaste, my mom informs me that a woman died from malaria in Thailand. They had just brought her 20 yo body back and she left behind a small son and a husband. It's not until she mentions it that I notice the wailing khmer funeral music playing in the background. Yet another death to a preventable and treatable disease.

I go into my room to change into my running outfit, basketball shorts and large t-shirt, and unwrap a precious peanut nature's valley bar. It's been so hot lately that the bar has melted onto the wrapper. I always eat my bar out in front of the house because any crumbs will attract ants.

I go for my usual run up a wide dirt road. The weather's not so bad today. The strong wind keeps down the clouds of dust that get kicked up everytime a car, truck, van, or moto passes by. When I get back I eat 2 bananas and stretch.

Time to do laundry! My house only has 5 out of the usual 10 people that live here this week. It's the perfect time to do laundry since there's no competition for the clothes line. I pick out a couple items from my laundry bin and put them in a small metal basin out back. As I start dumping water on my clothes a lizard pops out! I'm hoping it was the lizard that's been living in my room for the past 1.5 years.

As I scrub my clothes I slap at a couple mosquitos that are biting at my legs. Somehow I manage to capture one alive on my wet finger. I can see it's swollen red glowing belly and it's small legs stuggling to get free of the trap I'l got it in. It's wings are too wet to fly. I smash it against the water container.

After laundry, it's time for a shower. Unfortunately, my host family used up all the shampoo in my jumbo shampoo bottle. So, I had to improvise with some body wash. I brought this body wash with me all the way from America and it's only half used up. It's only for special occasions or days I need a pick me up.

I change and bike to work up the highway about 500m. It's a tough ride because the headwind is insane and I realized that I need to get both bike tires pumped. As I slowly make my way past a woman biking with what looks like a 50kg bag of rice on the back of her rusting bike I yell at her, "Wind strong!" and she replies, "Yea!"

When I get to the HC, I park around the side so kids/adults won't mess with my bike during the day. They just love to change the gears. The first patient of my day is a mother with a 9month old baby here for a measles vaccine. I weigh the baby with the mom and record the weight in the child's book. The baby hasn't gained much weight over the last 6 months and is mildly malnourished. Apparently, the baby does not like veggies in her rice porridge. I suggest to the mother that she adds some water flavored with mashed fermented fish to get rid of any bitterness from the veggies. This is a trick I learned at a training I went to a few weeks earlier and it works...

The second baby is only 1.5 months and is a healthy weight. This is usually typical if the mother is available to breastfeed. Most healthy babies here start to go downhill around 6 months when weaning is supposed to start.

By 8:30 am I'm already finished with 2 liters of water.

I get a call from the PC med. officer. She apologizes for calling me at 9:30pm the night before, she knows it's late for us. But, the real reason for the call is to followup on my kidney stones. They started acting up over the past week, but it seems like the worst is over for now. After the call I walk around the HC, but it's almost empty already. The theory is that everyone has gone to Thailand for work. I see two girls waiting and I give them some coloring pages about food groups (we only have 3 in Cambodia). One of the girls is reluctant and her mom tells me that her daughter doesn't know how to color. This is actually a pretty common response. Most people think that coloring is a skill you learn when you start school...

One more mother comes in with her 9 month old and the baby is also mildly malnourished. She seems to be giving the right foods, but not the right quantities. The kid get one egg split between 2 meals in his rice porridge.

One of the midwives has to go to the Operational District (25km away) to drop off a book and she asks if I want to go along. I decline on account of not having my moto helmet with me. Then we talk about how much and where she got her cute blazer made. It only cost 2.50 to have someone tailor a blazer for her.

I go to the "office" which is a semi-clean room with a bed and a desk in it. It also has our brand new printer that no one knows how to use. As I write, flies are flying into and out of my hair. A little girl keeps peeking her head in and runs away everytime I look up at her.

I leave the room and talk to a mom who brought her 7.5 month old baby girl. The girl is cute and chubby and gets a firm grip on my shirt sleeves. Apparently she's had a cold for over a month, but I don't see any signs of illness.

In the waiting area, the new TV is on and showing the usual khmer dubbed Korean soap opera. By 9am there are no more patients coming in. I watch the pharmacist give women birth control injections. The first mother I spoke to today is still waiting for her child's vaccine.

Since there aren't that many patients I just walk around the HC. One patient stops me and tells me she sees me run past her house everyday. We chitchat. I see the woman in the back who has just given birth eating. She's wearing the usual outfit for women that just gave birth: wool hat, scarf on top of hat, shit, long sleeved shirt over the shirt, sarong, socks, gloves, and felt blanket. Next to her is a plastic bowl of steaming hot water.

9:15am: I'm starting to get hungry because I decided to skip my typical bowl of noodle soup because I'm paranoid that all that salt will irritate my kidney stones. The 2+ liters of water I've had need to leave somehow so I make the 100m walk to the bathroom in the back of the HC. I subconciously steer around the piles of cow poop. On my return, I pass by one of the consultation rooms. It has 3 grubby looking kids squating on the floor. They are all staring at each other and periodically sticking out their tongues. The two adults are focused on talking to the nurse.

At the reception desk, a man from an NGO that we work with walks in. He asks if we're going out to the villages. Everyone suddenly looks confused. They deny knowing about the program. He walks out a defeated man.

10:15am- No patients left except for the woman in back recovering from child birth. I smell cigarette smoke and walk back there, the husband immediately exits.

A grandma walks in. The pharmacist asks her a question and the grandma points at her crotch and says some words I don't understand. Immediately afterward, the Khmer cover video of Lady Gaga's Telephone comes on the tv.

A mom then walks in with her daughter and turns to the nurse who is trying to refill our water container. She starts rooting around in her daughter's hair looking for something and her daughter is near tears. There are about 5 people staring at her because this is all going down in the middle of the waiting area. Later, she turns her daughter around to show everyone the blood on her pajama top that obviously came from the cut on her head. Someone jokes, " If you can't find it it must have healed already." Not funny to me, but hilarious to everyone else, except maybe the girl. The mom asks, " I put tiger balm on it do we need to clean it?" Tiger balm is a cure all in this country.

10:35am- HC staff begin to leave on their motos. The HC director arrives on his moto with a bag of eggs. He walks around the HC with the eggs and then leaves with them. I'm still not sure why. I get asked by someone about how many months I have left, blah, blah, blah. I take this opportunity to make my escape. While putting on my bike helmet I hear, "Should I put more tiger balm on it?" coming from a loud motherly voice in the HC.I bike back home hoping for a really delicious lunch.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Noise complaints

In college, noise complaints were the bane of every party's existence. One noise complaint and campus police would come investigate. Warning lights would be flashed on an off. Red solo cups abandoned recklessly by the underaged. Pyramid formations suddenly became rectangles or a zigzag. Glass bottles hidden in old laundry. The only thing you couldn't hide were the 50 people packed in a 2 person dorm room.

These days I find myself wishing I could pick up a phone and call those police. Actual noise laws have the following benefits:

  1. Stops the neighbors from singing offkey karaoke at 6am.
  2. May stop your host sister's 6am alarm from going off at 5am.
  3. Preventing surround sound weddings (4 simultaneously in a circle around your house).
  4. No more need to worry that walking past the speakers will burst your eardrums.
  5. Funeral music from three doors down will not make you want to rip your hair out.
  6. No more groups of drunk men banging on a drum and singing in chorus at 3 AM. (outside your house)
  7. The Wat outside will not be blasting dance music into your room until midnight on Monday and Tuesday nights (my bedtime is around 8pm).
Right now, I'm sitting in my room with my earplugs in. The difference between now and before the earplugs is that now it sounds like someone closed a door on the crazy rager going on next to me, but it's not enough to keep my bed from shaking.