"It's hot in Cambodia" is an understatement.
It was hot in the rainy season. It was also hot in the somewhat cold season. Now that we are in the hot and dry season, the word "hot" isn't going to cut it. It is hotter than hot and dryer than dry!
I wear light color clothing. I drink lots of water. I try to stay in the shade or try not to sweat. I shower 4 to 5 times a day. I also always have the fan on when I'm in my room. Even then, I couldn't sleep well most night.s Sometimes, it would take me hours to fall asleep. Sometimes, I would wake up often throughout the night from the heat or sweat. Sometimes, I would wake up with my pillow and mattress soaking wet from my sweat. Some nights, it is SOOO hot that, I leave my safety mosquito net, take my fan, and go sleep on the tile floor where it's slightly cooler.
I'm also breaking out in rashes and dermatitis because
How do I fix this? I don't. I can't. All I do is give up... or cry... or both. I also complain about this a lot. Either way, the heat is hard to beat.
Food Security Training, a.k.a Garden Training, is a hands-on training provided by the Peace Corps to all the Community Health Education Volunteers.
I was pleasantly surprised by how I enjoyed the training, because I usually dislike gardening. I'll admit, I still don't know much about gardening, but I am glad for this opportunity because I was able to bring my counterpart who loves gardening.
Through this training, we learned the importance of the role of women in agriculture, the importance of vegetable gardens, and the ways to successfully create and maintain one.
I went to Siem Reap for the first time in March 2018.
It was kinda cool and stressful for me. I casually rode my regular tuk tuk to a nearby town I've near been before. We literally waited for an hour to track down the right bus going to Siem Reap. The tuk tuk guy helped me bargain the bus price so I was able to get there with $5. It was stressful because the bus stopped way too much. Every time someone needed to use the bathroom or buy some snacks, they would stop. Once we got to Siem Reap, the bus wouldn't go into the city so I had to use a tuk tuk to get to the hostel. Thankfully, the guy knew exactly which hostel I was going to.
By the time I walked into the hostel, I was exhausted from the week, heat, lack of sleep, and bumpy and multiple rides. The One Stop Hostel staff warmly welcomed me and showed me to my room. I got there one night before my friends did so I reserved a bed in an all-female room. It was my first time staying in a hostel by myself too. The second I walk in, I met a very friendly roommate who's from Slovakia. We got along very well and talked for an hour before I headed out for dinner. She told me that we have another roommate who was from Australia.
When I got back from dinner, our Australian roommate greeted me eagerly and started asking me questions. She felt bad after realizing that she's been asking me questions nonstop as soon as I walked in. but I totally appreciated it because it gave me a sense of familiarity. I enjoy chatting about traveling and volunteer work, which I haven't been able to do as much these days in the village. Moments later, our Slovankian roommate came back and joined in on our conversation. We started talking around 6:30pm and continued til almost midnight. Before we went to sleep, I told my roommates that I would be in the city for the weekend and that they're welcome to join my group of friends. Our Slovakian roommate unfortunately had a bus to catch the next day so we parted our ways. However, our Australian roommate, Kat, said she'd be interested.
Once my friends arrived, we just hung out and chill in the morning and early afternoon. Kat joined us for the afternoons, evenings, and late nights. It was super fun and exciting to have Kat around. She got along with all my friends, and it didn't even feel like she was tagging along. It felt like she was already part of the group, so it was just so easy and nice to have her spend time with us. On our last night, we were having a group dinner, and it goes something like this (paraphrased, of course):
Kat: I loved hearing about your work!
Me: Yeah, I loved sharing too. I'm so glad you're so interested to hear about it. If only there was enough time to plan, I could have asked you to come visit my village.
Kat: Yeah, that's a shame.
Dallas: No, she totally has time to go to your village.
Me: *rethinks* OMG, yeah, she actually does! Kat, if you're done touring Siem Reap, do you want to come to my village with me tomorrow? You'd be coming back to Siem Reap alone but I'd help you with lodging and transport of course.
Kat: That would be awesome!
The next day, Kat literally woke up and bought the bus tickets. The entire process was so easy! We rode a tuk tuk, bus, and another tuk tuk to get to my village. I also went into my tour guide mode and randomly keeps showing and explaining things to Kat as we pass by different sceneries or stop at a couple of places.
Once we got to my village, I showed Kat my health center, high school, favorite Tuk Umpow (Sugar Cane Juice) place, and the rice fields near my home. We also went to eat some grilled pork sausage at my friend's house. Being able to show someone my village around and the work I do to someone is such a rare opportunity that I am also so appreciative of Kat's genuine interest too!
Later, my students came by and met Kat at my house too. They had a great conversation about Kat, Australia, and the kind of work Kat does back home. This was their first time seeing an Australian, and it was Kat's first time seeing rural Cambodia. Their excitement to see each other was sooooo apparent, and I felt so happy being able to be this bridge for them. Unfortunately, the meeting was cut short as the tuk tuk driver arrived to pick us up to take Kat back to a bigger town to sleep the night. Unfortunately, the guest houses there was fully booked so we tracked down a torry (public minivan) for her to ride to Kampong Cham city. She spent the night and the next morning there before heading back to Siem Reap.
It was such a whirlwind visit, but it was sooooo much fun! It feels as if I've known Kat for a long time even though we literally just met. My mind was so blown on how well receptive she is of everything I was suggesting for her. She not only went with the flow, she did it with a smile too! She's currently in Myanmar exploring the country in ways I haven't even done so myself even though I am Burmese.
I'm just still soooo touched by her visit, the way she treats everyone, and how we were able to get along so well! Even though our time together was brief, I can feel it in my heart that we will meet each other again in the future!
Until then... <3
I knew my luck was slowly running out and that it was just a matter of time before something happens to me in the village. I had imagined something along the lines of my bike running out of air in the middle of nowhere.
Surprisingly, when it finally happened about 10 days ago, it was the best possible scenario. I decided to go for an exercise bike ride on my regular route to the district town. It's relatively easy for me and takes about 30 minutes each way. As I leave my house, I realized it felt really heavy to bike. My legs felt heavy; the bike felt heavy, and even the usual hill seems harder to climb with the bike. At first, I didn’t even think about the possibility that there was anything wrong with my bike. I was biking (and panting) for about 25 minutes already and I was nowhere near the district town yet, when I finally thought to myself “I really can’t be this out of shape. I wonder if there’s something wrong with the bike.” I got off to look, and it seems there was almost no air in my back tire. Just luck would have it, there’s a gas station across the street. I went and asked for help, but the staff said I should cross the street and go 3 stores down to the moto shop. I went to the said moto shop. The guy said something like “There’s a bike shop down the road. You should go there.” I definitely didn’t know why he was saying that so I asked “Well, can you put air in my tire?” and he did it for free! I thanked them and kept on biking and felt how easy it was to bike with a full tire! Of course, that lasted about 2-3 minutes until I started to feel the strain again. That’s when I realized that the moto shop guy was telling me there was a hole in my tire and that’s why I should go to the bike shop. Just luck would have it, when I came to a stop, I was literally right in front of the bike shop. I tried to explain to them in my broken Khmer. They were very nice and helped patched up the hole right away. It took about 30 minutes, which gave us some time for friendly conversations. After they learned that I bike a lot on that street in front of their shop, they invite me to stop by to rest, to chat, or to fix the bike anytime. Starting from that day on, I notice that they’re always on the lookout for me. Whenever I bike pass them, they always wave and so would I! It definitely beats having a flat tire in the middle of nowhere for sure!
Sadly, my second incident wasn’t as fortunate. 5 days ago, I was biking to the health center to meet with my tutor there. As I was about to turn left into the health center, one older lady was coming from the opposite direction and blocking my way into the health center so I paused to wait for her to pass. I had checked behind me already so I decided to turn left into the health center as soon as she passed. Somehow, a moto showed up between me and the lady. At the time, I think the moto slowed down too late. He could either hit me or the old lady, so I think he swerved my way. Thankfully, I was wearing a helmet and my bike was pretty shock absorbent. The old lady was not wearing a helmet, and her bike was rather old so if they had hit her, the outcome could have been worse than mine. The moto hit the front of my wheels before it stopped. With that force, I fell sideways off of my bike. I hit the ground hip first, legs second, shoulder third, and head last. At the time, I was just flustered so when the old lady and the moto guy came and helped me, I told them it’s fine. I picked my bike up and walked into the health center. I was still fine. When I finally got to the reception area and saw my health center’s vaccinator (who is also my counterpart and like my grand uncle), I started crying and told him a moto hit me. Of course, that was definitely an exaggeration but all the pain came rushing in at the time so I thought I broke something. Still in shock, I called Reaksmey (Peace Corp’s Security Office), who advised me to talk to Peace Corps Medical Staff. Fortunately, Dr. Haor called me right away, thanks to Reaksmey. We assessed my situation. My HC’s vaccinator helped explain too. We decided that it wasn’t an emergency so we waited out the night with some pain killers. The next day, my HC’s vaccinator helped drive me to the outskirt of Phnom Penh (for comfort and security), where Dr. Haor met me. We did x-rays that morning right away and found out that it was just a non-displaced fracture on my pelvic bone. The specialist said the pain should fade in a week or two, and I will recover completely in 6 weeks. I recuperated in Phnom Penh for about 4 days, and now, I’m finally back in my village enjoying the weekend. I can't bike yet, squat, or sit for a long period of time... but I'm functioning normally!
All in all, despite the pain, I came out of this second incident quite easily too.
I can’t stop gushing about how efficient Peace Corps Security Staff and Medical Team are or how kind and helpful the Khmer people are. I am so thankful towards everyone who’s helped me in any small or big way during my incidences.
I thought I've experienced it all. However, the scariest part of being a Peace Corps Volunteer in a foreign country is when you've been severely hurt, you can't move on your own, and there's a language barrier. Not to mention not having close family or friends around.
No, this is not my story. It's about my friend.
About 9 hours ago today, she was biking in her province. A guy on moto (motorcycle) hit the back of her wheels. Both of them flew off as he landed on her. He got off and drove away. As she was trying to assess the situation, she realized that she can't move one of her legs and the other one was in immense pain. Thankfully, she did not hit her head. She kept calm (while freaking out) and called the Peace Corps medical officers, who were able to send an ambulance for her right away. She told me that they were pretty fast and patched her up nicely at a referral hospital before bringing her to the hospital in Phnom Penh despite the fact that it was the roughest ride of her life. She also mentioned that it was so difficult to explain on the phone or in person because of the language barrier (and the pain and hysteria too, of course).
She spent a couple of hours on the ambulance, and I am so surprised that she was able to text our group of friends so calmly and coherently. She really is a tough cookie!
However, I had a feeling that I really need to go to her so as soon as she was taken on the ambulance, I packed within 3 minutes (yes, I timed myself) to leave. Thank God for Reaksmey (Peace Corps security officer) and his lesson/reminder on always having a "Go Bag". I literally tracked down a tractor/rice plant carrier to go to the nearest town since there are no tuk tuks or cars around at the time. Once in the district town, I quickly found a torry (mini van) going to Phnom Penh thanks to the friendly locals. During the whole ride, I was worried, so I prayed and became calm.... and then got worried again, and so repeats the cycle. Thankfully, the torry ride wasn't too awful. They also parked right near a pizza place in Phnom Penh........ which was so fortunate because pizza is my friend's favorite food! I bought us a large pepperoni to share and rushed to the ER in hopes of making her day.
She greeted me with a smile and all my worries washed away. She told me about her diagnosis and recounted her adventures from the day. I could tell she was exhausted and in lots of pain, but she sure was a trooper! She was also staying so positive! When I tell her that, she admitted to screaming and crying... but regardless, she handled the situation so much better than I ever could have! I'm super proud of her.
Now, she's fast asleep in her hospital room... as I slump on the couch next to her. The day's not over yet, but I really needed to write this down. There is so much of today that I want to remember. The feeling of worry because you're so far away from that person and you know she's all alone too. Yes, there were medical staff to help her, but it's still not the same. Days like today, being away from home and close friends is hard. Even us volunteers in Cambodia, we are in different provinces and roads/ public transportation aren't that great so it's so hard to get to each other. When this happened, all us friends could do was talk with each other about our concerns for her. There is so much that I haven't written down because I'm not eloquent enough. However, I think that if I read this again in the future, this will remind me of the emotions we all had today.