This is Mr. Him Soreurn.
I call him Om Som. Som is his nickname. "Om Pro" is the Khmer word for an uncle older than your dad's age. "Om" for short. Ergo, "Om Som".
Om Som is a vaccinator and caretaker of the Health Center I volunteer at. He also goes above and beyond for the health of our community members. Our community doesn't have Village Health Volunteers, so he takes it upon himself to connect with the villagers through house calls and home visits. If there is an emergency, he would also drive patients to our district hospital, provincial hospital, or Phnom Penh. Every time I have an incident (which is quite often), he also comes running to help take care of my problem.
Om Som has 7 children and 4 grandchildren. He and his wife are currently living in a neighboring village to mine, but his children and grandchildren lives separately from them. Since he doesn't have many family obligations at home, he spends quite a lot of time at the Health Center to help guard and maintain it.
I asked him about his hobbies or goals. He says "I'm 63 years old already. I don't have many goals for myself left. I just hope that my children will all be able to achieve their goals, and that the Health Center will also continue to reach many people in the community." His hobby is gardening. He plants flowers, vegetables, and trees at home. He is often seen tending to our Health Center plants when there aren't patients around. In his free time, he loves to do creative projects that are related to gardening. He would collect old tires from the neighborhood and turn them into flower pots that look like geese. He also trims certain trees at our Health Center to look like chicken. (See photos below)
Me (jokingly): Om, you can't just have one thing you like. Don't you have other hobbies?
Om Som: I like doing labor too. Like pour cement to even out the ground so that my plants don't get flooded over. Or building some container gardens.
Me: Om, that's still plant and gardening-related.
Om Som: I also like traveling now and then.
Me: Okay, where do you travel?
Om Som: Country side with palm trees or forests. I don't like cities.
I was thinking this is still plant-related, but I gave up after that. This is a man who is truly passionate about tree, plants, and his gardening work. I am truly impressed.
Not only is he the first Counterpart I've ever had, he is also my #1 Counterpart. When I took him to Food Security and Garden Training in March 2018, he showed his passion and participated eagerly in the training. We are also starting a Vegetable Garden project at our Health Center and in our villages, and I could not have done the research or write the grant without his knowledge and help. Despite our age gap, he has also become a good friend/uncle I can rant to when I am feeling down or stuffy.
I feel truly lucky to have met him and to have the opportunity to be working alongside someone like him.
Peace Corps Volunteers (PCVs) have the best health care coverage ever. This is solely my opinion based on my own personal experiences, but there is no doubt that the Peace Corps takes its volunteers' health issues very seriously.
There is a group of Peace Corps Medical Officers (PCMOs) assigned to each country where PCVs are serving. All of the PCMOs are highly qualified medical professionals from the host country or the United States. Not only do they educate volunteers on public health and disease prevention techniques, they are on call 24/7 for any medical issues. Even though Cambodia as a whole is not a developed country, Phnom Penh is developed enough to have great medical care. PCMOs directly work with the best health care providers (hospitals, testing centers, dentists, dermatologists, etc) to provide us with the medical care we need. In some cases, they will even fly us out to Bangkok if the required care might exceed the capacity of the health care providers in Cambodia or if the PCMO deems it safer to have the surgery or procedure there. Bangkok's Bumrungrad Hospital is one of the best in the world.
I can personally attest to all of this because I have been in too many incidences since I have arrived here in Cambodia. In the last year, I've had to use all the medical services provided by every health care provider mentioned above. Most recently, I had another incident 9 days ago.
I woke up with some cramps. I've never had cramps before so I knew it wasn't normal, but I went to work and forgot about it as it faded. Around lunch time, it came back again as a stomachache. I took some Tums and Tylenol and went to school to teach my students. At the end of my class, my pain slowly came back again. Once I got home, I told my host mom my stomach hurts so I'm going to shower quickly and eat dinner so that I can take some more pain medication. However, I barely lasted through the shower. The pain spread from my left stomach area to my back, pelvic, and abdominal areas. It felt strangely familiar, which scared me. I called the PCMO on duty right away. I don't even remember who picked up because I was in so much pain. After I explained my situation, they told me to leave the village ASAP even though it was almost dark. Usually, the Peace Corps won't let us travel after dark but they made an exception. Both PCMOs (Dr. Haor and Linda) keeps calling me to check with me as I pack, find someone to take me to Phnom Penh, and help explain my host family why I'm leaving so suddenly. It was such a scary ride to Phnom Penh too because there was no street lights and the cars, motorcycles, bicycles, and pedestrians do not abide regulations. Thankfully, PCMOs checked in with me the whole time and came to picked me up at the entry bridge to Phnom Penh. I was taken to the Royal Phnom Penh Hospital immediately and was admitted to the Emergency Room.
After CT Scan and a Urine test, the doctors confirmed that I did indeed have a Kidney Stone and UTI, as I feared. I was admitted to the Hospital for 3 days to be monitored, controlled for pain, and received additional testing. While I was on my own in the hospital room, the PCMOs called me every 1-2 hours to constantly check in with me. They also keep in touch with the nurses and doctors who were in charge of me too. At the time of discharge, I was also provided a hotel room, meal budget, and travel allowances to continue resting in Phnom Penh. I was able to relax and recharge comfortable as they keep me checking in with me. After a week, they finally cleared me to come back to my village.
Before coming back, they gave me a full annual medical check up. In addition to getting 3 unexpected tooth fillings, I also received some unexpected news. The PCMO realized that I had a big mole on my neck, which has grown along with me since birth. Even though I've done a biopsy before to ensure it wasn't malignant, the PCMO was very concerned as it was still growing even though I stopped growing. He sent me to the dermatologist right away, who also agreed that it was safer to surgically removed the entire mole. This concern is something I have had my whole life, but I stopped worrying about it because of the previous biopsy. In a way, I feel that I would have never gotten it removed and continue to live with the mole and the possible risk of malignant melanoma. Now, I have an appointment next month for this surgical removal.
This is why I was very impressed by my PCMOs. They went above and beyond to not only care about my current medical needs, they also carefully think about my potential future health problems too. Moreover, they are very warm and kind in the way they treat all of us volunteers. We are so far away from home that we especially feel home sick when we are sick. The PCMOs make sure we don't feel alone and are well taken care of. Most importantly, the Peace Corps takes care of all the medical, transportation, meals, and lodging costs that comes with the medical issue.
I feel truly blessed and immensely thankful to have such a great team of PCMOs and the Peace Corps looking out for me in my times of need.
I also want to give a big shout out to my wonderful friends who came to be with me while I was stuck in Phnom Penh. Thank you, guys! <3
Ki Ki was a sweetheart.
For the last 10 months:
- she kept me company during my meal times when I was eating alone
- she sat next to me quietly as I watch TV on my iPad in the hammock
- she never gets jealous when our other dog wants my attention
- she always look for my face and depending on what I do next, she would stop or come closer
- she would wait patiently for her when I give them special treats from Phnom Penh
She was such a quiet and gentle dog. Even visitors and family members say she was "sophiep" or "sloat" (both meaning gentle in Khmer).
When I came home from Phnom Penh today, I was unloading my bags in the living room. As I was turning to go back outside again, I see a car hit Ki Ki right in front of my eyes. I screamed so loudly. I don't remember ever screaming like that before. The car didn't stop. None of the neighbors out and about reacted. My host grandma saw it happened, and she couldn't get up (leg issues) so she yelled for her son, my host dad. He came out to drag Ki Ki by her legs and put her next to the gate. As he picked her up, he confirmed that she was dead. He made a call and 2 of his staff showed up a few minutes later. They bagged Ki Ki in a rice sack and took her away. My host mom arrived home at the time, and she began to cut her vegetables as she was asking what happened to Ki Ki. Other people resumed their activities after exchanging a few sentences about the situation. It was like talking about the weather!
I was so surprised of how casual and normal this whole situation was. I was the only one who felt like the wind was knocked out of me. The only person who reacted more than me was our other dog. This is his wife, and she was carrying his babies. She was about to give birth in a week or two.
This is the reality here. People are wonderful, but house pets don't really get special treatments. While some city dwellers might treat their pets better, most villagers usually don't get attached to animals that much. This is part of the culture, and there is nothing we can do about it. I understand that nothing I say or do will change the reckless drivers or how society treats animals. However, days like today are just really hard to deal with, and it just really really really sucks!
On July 17, 2017, my cohort (K11) of volunteers arrived to Cambodia to begin our service. We were wide-eyed and excited. That was also the day we learned our first Khmer words.
Now, 1 very fast year later, we have came to call this place home. We have created unbreakable bonds and unforgettable memories with our host families, villagers, and other volunteers.
To celebrate our 1 year anniversary, my group of friends and I went to Siem Reap province. We rented a weekend home, made our favorite foods, drink to our hearts' content, went on an adventure to Phnom Kulen waterfalls, pampered ourselves, hang out in the pool, go out at night, got some tattoos, and spend quality time with each other.
It was definitely a memorable weekend.
I did so many things this month that my memory is all jumbled up at this point. Thanks to me posting regularly on Facebook, I am able to retrieve the events that happened.
We went to visit Takeo. We stayed in this sleep little town called Doun Keo. Our meet up location was close to Jim’s site so he graciously showed us around his high school’s cricket farm as well as Phnom Chisor. The next day, we also went to Angkor Borei and Phnom Daa. These were long tuk tuk rides full of fun, songs, and rain. We finished the day with some good Khmer family BBQ. Right before we left, we were able to see Dallas’s student who came to get his eyes checked as well.
A Facebook Rant:
So many people told me “Wow, you look like you’re doing well in Cambodia judging from your social media posts. You’re always traveling or having fun.”
The reality is we don’t usually post about the negative things that happens on a daily basis.
Well, here’s a little something that happened today. I was just working at my desk at the Health Center when this high rank official in the district showed up and said hello to me. We knew each other already. I asked him how he was, and he answered. However, literally the first comment he makes after that was about my weight. How I haven’t lost any. How I said I bike a lot but I don’t look healthy enough because I look fat as usual. All of this was said in front of many patients and staff.
Now, if you know me, you know that I can’t hide my facial expressions very well. I should win an oscar, really. I kept on smiling and nodding. Conversed with him politely and even got up and bowed my head to say goodbye formally.
Of course, the second he left.... the health center staff who’s working in the same room with me could tell by my face that I was PISSED OFF. They said “It’s okay, Christine. Don’t listen to him. You do what makes you happy.” I’ve ranted enough to them about it and educated them about US customs before already so they know fully well what I was feeling. Thank God, I have such understanding and supportive people around me too. Otherwise, I would have exploded in a blast of anger already. 😡😡😡
Sadly, this is the reality here. He wasn’t being rude. It’s culturally acceptable to say these things. He’s a high rank official so I don’t want to make him lose face by educating him either. So what else can I do? I keep on sucking it up and living like this every day. Getting upset or sad, but always trying to pretend like I’m okay because it’s the culture.
At the weekly Cambodian Youth Leadership Club meetings, I shared the snacks I bought from Myanmar with my students. They were so surprised and happy that it made me happy!
Some of the volunteers went to Phnom Penh this weekend to participate in the Project Development and Management training at Peace Corps. We went a day early to explore Oudong. Oudong was a Royal residence and Cambodia’s capital for more than 250 years until 1866. A royal necropolis of sovereigns from many centuries is scattered on top of the mountain, Phnom Oudong.
Eventful, Exhausting, and Exciting training at Peace Corps. It was night to see some familiar faces again though! We ate some American food and checked out the new Aeon Mall 2.
Jamil came to visit my site and met some of my family and students. After a look around at my site, we went to stay a night in my provincial town Kampong Cham city. It was an evening with some drinks and breeze by the river. The next day Carley and Oscar came to join so we all went to Phnom Pros and Phnom Srei mountains near the city.
My students and I went for a long bike ride to Kbal Tuk. My 12th graders claimed that they are so stressed about the upcoming exams that they just need a fun day to relieve their anxieties. We rode with each other. We ate together and played in the water. They showed me their secret spots, and I shared some American games with them.
My Program Manager Sedtha came to visit me at site. We met with the primary school director, high school director, and with my health center staff. We also ate lunch together at my home.
Off I went to Singapore and Bangkok with TJ. In Singapore, I was fortunate enough to meet with some old friends since Kindergarten. I was also soooo happy to meet my little sis from church in Bangkok too. I was super happy about eating my favorite Thai food too.
During our trip to Singapore and Bangkok, I realized that TJ and I didn’t really cared much when we heard people speaking English or Burmese in public places. However, when we hear Khmer, we lit up like little Christmas lights. We got even more excited when we get to talk to them in Khmer.
Isn’t it interested and endearing that we miss speaking Khmer already?
I can only imagine how hard it will be for us when we finish our Peace Corps service next year and go back to the US.
I went to Kampong Cham City again. This was a new record because I biked from my home in the village all the way to K Cham City. My stomach was not well, my cardio was awful, and the heat was intense, but I somehow did it.
...and just like that June came and went.