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.