Tuesday, December 14, 2010

My final post

As I've now arrived back to Europe, I'm going to bring this blog to a close . I have now left the madness of Phnom Penh and Korsang, for the mountains of France, cold weather and snow.

I can't believe that the five month adventure of mine is over, it's been such a roller-coaster experience and I have seen things that I couldn't even have begun to imagine. In reality I think I've come back a different person (hopefully for the better!). It's hard leaving a place where there is so much poverty, where families live in desolate conditions,and may not be able to put food on the table for their families, to a place where all these issues are obsolete. During my time there I was taken in by these families, who cared for me like I too was part of it. I am still overwhelmed by people's kindness there and wonder if I will ever encounter anything alike in my future life.

I had no idea the impact I would make when I initially left for Cambodia, but with time I realised that something very small in Europe goes a very long way in Cambodia. The time I've spent here and in particular at Korsang has emotionally been the hardest thing I've ever been faced with; my mood has been up, down and all around. There have been times where I've definitely not thought that I could deal with everything I was seeing, times when I've thought that I should just do something easier. I had no idea how hard it would be to work with such a wide range of people: drug users, sex workers, HIV patients, the children of drug users. I believe working with these kinds of people is hard in any case but even more so given the conditions in Cambodia. I don't believe now, that I am in a position to judge the population who chooses to use drugs - having been assimilated into the local community I can understand why there is so much drug use. There have been times when people I know have just used drugs right in front of me, in a restaurant - it's so casual, but it hurts to see it so much, yet you know that there is nothing you can say, nothing that will make their living condition any better. Which is why organisation 's like Korsang are so important - to offer users the opportunity to stop.

I've realised here the true cost of addiction, how far people will go to fulfil their drug needs - chopping people with machetes, stealing from your friends, mugging passers by or even woman selling their babies.

I have been lucky enough to see many births whilst in Phnom Penh, but along with these many deaths have occurred. These were young people, people in their late 20s, some with families, some without. I'm still not sure which is most upsetting, the people who pass away and you wonder who cares or the ones who leave behind a wife and infant? I've carried corpses and babies alike whilst I've worked here, experiences which will remain with me forever. I've seen people inject heroin right in front of my eyes and babies on the verge just because of their mother's lifestyle.

Looking back on my experience I wonder how I coped at times, I hope I wasn't trying to be too strong. I've often not been able to understand the Khmer spoken around me, but I believe that what I have understood and been told has shaped me.

Leaving Cambodia was incredibly sad and it made me appreciate how lucky everyone including myself in the western world is. People have asked me if I will go back to Cambodia. The answer to that is yes, without a doubt. Having been a part of the population for 5 months there is no way I cannot go back, even though one person cannot make a large difference, it is still possible to have a significant impact on a few people around and that is all that really counts.

Thanks for reading my blog over the past five months and if you want to know anything about Cambodia or Korsang don't hesitate to contact me ;-)

Emotional airport departure - Smey, JB, Me, Vathna

JB's daughter, Hazel and me

Cremation the day prior to my departure

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Final Month in Cambodia

So I have just realised that I have had a massive gap since the last time I posted, so I will try and summarise the last months happenings:

1. Celebrated Halloween in Style - Toga style!

2. Went to Chamcar Bei to build some houses and plant some corn

House done!

3. Eat some fish in Kep
4. Visited to Kampot, where we stayed in a charming little guesthouse with no sheets

5. Celebrated Max and Victor's last weekend - Where else than Heart of Darkness! But not before stopping at the gay bar before hand...

6. Went out for Vy's birthday on a Sunday night... Work was far from fun the next day - Thanks for the night Vy and Happy Birthday!

7. Went to my first Khmer Wedding and also another one the week after!

Congratulations Sury!

Congratulations Phea!

8. Dressed up as a Khmer Princess - Officially the most makeup I've ever worn in my life

I might start sporting this back in the UK too...

9. Became a first aid training MACHINE, been running 2-3 sessions a week now. Think I might go pro! Doing the training has also been quite exciting and a nice change from my regular Korsang routine.

Teachers from Rudi Boa doing some sexy bandages

Be prepared for a whammy of post coming up - I'm making up for the past month of blog neglect :-)

Monday, October 18, 2010

Babies, Babies, Everywhere!

So this weekend there was a grand total of 3 newborns! This is highly exciting, although I missed ALL 3 deliveries which I'm massively gutted about. Luckily there are two other woman who are 9 months pregnant so hopefully I'll be able to take them to the hospital when they go into labour, fingers crossed guys!

Mother 1, baby girl. Voila a picture of the healthy baby at 5 days. Her mother was methamphetamine user, but cut her use during pregnancy, hopefully this little girl will have no health problems in the future!

Mother 2, baby boy. As you can see this little guy is white, or as the Khmer like to say "Barang" (literally French). So Mamma 2 is a sex worker, hence the white baby, she doesn't know who the father is. To add to this, medical are also worried about the well-being of the 5 day old baby boy - we don't know if the mother is going to keep him or sell him...

Monday, October 11, 2010

Malet does...... Saigon, baby!

So last week was Pchum Ben - major Khmer holiday, for us westerners not so important, but hey I got a week off of work so it worked for me! Unlike doing the traditional activities that are usually practised during Pchum Ben such as visiting the temple, making offerings and eating rice; Juliet, Will, Max and myself decided to head off to Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam, to partake in activities which probably have no national holidays dedicated to them.

We left PP at 1.30pm, Wednesday 6th. With our picnics in our backpacks we had all the food for the next 7hour bus ride. Surprisingly enough the bus ride over went quite smoothly - minus the 2 hour wait at the border, where our passports were checked, stamped, rechecked and restamped. We got a checking from the police a couple of times and then we were on our way! Driving in to Vietnam was SO different to Cambodia. Firstly, people there actually wore helmets on there bikes, there were no tuk tuks in sight, good start, not being perpetually hassled to get a tuk tuk already seemed appealing.

So we arrived in Ho Chi Minh around 10pm and began to find guest, after shopping around for a bit we settled into Hai Nuong guesthouse for a cheeky $4.50 room, with AC & breakfast (the breakfast left a lot to be desired though). After that we headed out to explore the local nightlife....

The next day we went to visit the Chu Chi Tunnels: Rise and shine at 6h30 for scheduled departure at 7h15. As we got on the bus little did we know we were in-store for 2 hours to get to Chu Chi, luckily we had a really offensive tour guide who made the time fly by! At the Chu Chi tunnels the tour guide took us on the standard route, to begin with we watched a short video on the War in Vietnam, were showed some of the traps which were set up by the Vietnamese to catch the Americans and finally a select few explored the tunnels beneath, which was highly exciting! After the informative, educational and slightly propaganda'esq day we got on the long bus ride back to Saigon.

Max in a hole hideout

We continued to soak up the Vietnamese atmosphere in the evening by hitting the local market, a traditional French bakery (Tous les Jours (thank you for the happy times)), getting some Pho and buying $1.50 Rhum. We proceeded to drink said Rhum back at the guesthouse, details from this night have been omitted for the benefit of all readers.

Will and Juliet sporting the sexy hats we bought

Day 2 in Saigon: on the agenda, late rise and War Museum. The Ho Chi Minh War Museum was pretty interesting, in addition to being quite graphic. It was crazy reading all the stories from the war from the Vietnamese point of view. What was even stranger was the fact that this was all so recent, the war in Vietnam happened only a few years before the Khmer Rouge but Vietnam is now probably 10 times more developed that Cambodia. This made me think that maybe all Cambodia needed might be 10 years in order to develop as much as Vietnam...

Just a few guns...

After the war museum, we headed back to the GH in order to get ready for our night out on the town. Ho Chi Minh is renown for its cheap jugs of alcohol, so being the good tourists we were we decided to sample a few, as well as a couple of pitchers, long island ice teas, B52.... And, well, the rest I forget. Anyway, it resulted in us doing loads of dancing! So much dancing! We rolled out of the club around 3am, and literally rolled in (army rolled if you're interested) to the guesthouse. We will not talk about the events which proceeded this.

Fun times in GO 2Bar!

Day 3 in Saigon: Another lazy morning, where we woke up to the carnage of the room in addition to a hangover for some (Will). After a traditional cooked breakfast, Juliet, Max and I went to Independence Palace. We looked on in awe at the neatly mown grass, tanks, fountains and leisurely walked in, where we were greeted by a tour guide. We agreed to be shown around the large palace by said tour guide, who took us through all the secret passages and showed us all the many maps, elephant feet and royal cutlery. The tour ended in the kitchen where this massive mixer was.... (Have you ever seen anything so big? Imagine all the cake mix that they could make with that?)

Independence Palace and said massive mixer

For our last night, we hit a local restaurant for some cheap food (no thank you alcohol), fruit smoothies and a trip down Saigon memory lane. For our last night we decided to have a quiet one, no alcohol this time (Will was still fragile from the previous night's jugs), just some educational Nat Geo.

We got our beauty sleep, ready for our 6h30 wake up and the 7 hour bus ride the next day. As we left HCM city I think we were all excited about arriving back to PP - the land of no helmets. Little did we know our 7 hour bus trip was going to be one of 14 hours! As it was the end of Pchum Benh it seemed everyone was coming back to PP, all at once, this combined with flooding was not good. After our long and arduous wait in the bus (which also broke down), we finally made it back to BABC for 10.30pm, where we all quickly crashed in our respective beds.

All in all a great trip! Even though the bus trip took twice as long, good times were had all round! Definelty good to get out of Phnom Penh and just have some mindless fun! Thanks Will, Juliet and Max for the good times!

Team Saigon!

PS Sorry for any grammar, spelling mistakes I may have made throughout this post. I feel like they are numerous!

Thursday, September 30, 2010

How you know you're in Cambodia

So after being here almost three months, I think I have a pretty good idea what are the major Khmer traits, which I will attempt to summarise in the following bullet points:
  • 4 people on a moto, 1 helmet (if you're lucky) and also as many people in a tuk tuk/car as possible
  • Babies on a moto (I know it's so dangerous, but actually it's kind of cute)
  • Person driving the moto is on the phone (often with 3 other people and baby)
  • Road signs? What road signs! No jokes guys, red lights, no turning, one way street rules just DO NOT apply here.
  • An abundance of Lexus cars with no number plates (for some reason people prefer to have a massive car than a nice home)
  • Crashing whilst driving is totally normal, if it's not bad you just keep on driving if not you just abandon your moto in the middle of the road.
  • Woman and pyjamas: it's like the ultimate outfit here
  • Every time you drink you get food. Yes, even if you have just been out for a meal.
  • Men holding hands
  • The love of the colour pink: pink phones, pink tuk tuks. You name it, it's in pink.
  • You get used to bartering and questioning every single price you are given
  • Singing karaoke is completely normal, ALL THE TIME.
  • When you're sick you get scratched with a coin
  • Loos have no loo paper, only a bum hose. This is more hygienic in my opinion, but walking around with wet trousers just isn't worth it.
  • You eat fruit with chilli, salt and sugar - Actually quite nice! It adds a bit of a zing ;-)
  • You drink hot tea with ice.
There are probably many more, so if you can think of any faithful reader feel free to comment!

Special beer ingredient

So far I've not really talked about the booze in Cambodia. To be honest, when I first arrived and found out that everyone was drinking beer I was dreading it. The last thing I generally ever want is a beer. Wine, spirits, fine. Beer, no thanks. Although after years and years of beer repression I decided to give it a go in PP and you know it was actually really nice! The secret ingredient here is ice (I never would have guessed it). Anyway, now I'm totally bumming beer and sometimes even have a can by myself on an evening, classy! So girls, if you usually hate beer, don't knock it until you add the magic ingredient of ice!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Malet goes down under!

I know this blog is entitled "Malet does Cambodia".... But, Malet went down under! Yes I did, literally. So I think some of you must think I'm absolutely mental, and I can agree with this on some levels, but hear me out there was actually reason behind my madness. The reason was an exam, I'm not going to go into boring details, but essentially it mad loads of sense ;-)
So now you can decide whether I'm an absolute nutter or not, but in the meantime I'm going to tell the tale of my aussie adventure! So I departed last Tuesday morning from Phnom Penh, I have to admit I was quite looking forward to heading back to civilisation briefly. I figured it would be nice to not be perpetually sweaty and also not have that constant feeling that you're being ripped off, and also being stared at all the time. As I arrived to the airport I thought my days (or at least day) of not having to worry about being taken advantage of were over. Well guys, it wasn't. Somehow I had to pay $25 before exiting the country, now this fee seemed massively crazy to me they were only asking certain people to pay it and some people had to pay less, ect, ect, ect. MASSIVE FAFF.
Anywho, I didn't dwell on this as I hoped happier times would lay ahead, and they did! My next stop was Changi Airport Singapore where I was transferring. So, maybe I'd been in PP for too long but this airport was the most magical place I had ever set foot in. There were long chairs, free internet, water fountains, a cactus garden, a gym and an outdoor pool, ouh and also these machines which massage your feet. All of these features made my 10 hour wait highly enjoyable.

Changi Cactus Garden

After my somewhat long wait I jumped on the plane to my final destination Melbourne. Armed with a jumper (thank you Ida), shorts and leggings I hoped that this would be enough to keep me snug throughout my stay. To be honest I probably could have done with more layers but I coped ;-) Melbourne was a pretty nice city, pretty big and the weather was EXACTLY like Hull weather (except less wind), and no chavs (although that's not really weather related I just thought I should mention it in case anyone was wondering).

Sooo, long story short I few days past, I sat my exam and then enjoyed a couple more days just soaking up the atmosphere. I didn't get up to anything uber exciting, mainly because Melbourne seemed quite expensive after having survived in Cambodia on about $20 a week, turns out it's more like $20 a day there. But I coped! I stocked up on all the western fav's like pizza, pancakes, donuts, it was pretty unhealthy really (I'm glad I've gone now because I'm not sure whether I'd be able to handle all the temptations!). So here are a few pictures (at the end) for you guys to ouh and ah at.

My Hosts!

So after a few very relaxing and stress free days (thank you Chantelle and Patrick!) it was time to head back to the heat: Phnom Penh! But first, Singapore. This time round I only had to wait 6 hours for my connecting flight, the waits are just getting better and better it seems! This time though the flight was at 6am :/ Needless to say, as much as enjoy sleeping in airports overnight I like beds more. Although luckily Changi Airport has been catering to many of my needs and I have enjoyed just being able to try 10 types of different moisturisers free of charge. In addition it seems to be a very safe airport even at 4am there were officers walking around with massive AK guns...

So, in a nutshell, that's what happened when I went down under. I realise now that I have not actually included any of the activities I did so have listed them here for people interest:

Shopping (this seemed to be the main activity of interst): I visited DFO (the aussies go crazy for it!), Melbourne Central
St Kilda Market - cool crafts
Queen Victoria Market - cool food
Pancake Parlour - yummy pancakes
The Shrine Memorial - Very impressive, some ouhs and ahs were apparent
Botanical Gardens - very green
Woolworths - yes, it still exists (and is massive!)
Visited many coffee and chocolate shops

Melbourne's solution to pollution!


Memorial Shrine

I hope you enjoyed my brief summary of events. From now I must leave you as the last leg of my journey is about to depart shortly!

Thanks for reading and stay tuned for more injury related posts once I arrive back to Korsang ;-)