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 ;-)

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Monthly Review

I've actually massively failed on the blog front. Posts over the past 2 weeks have been few (none). I'm going to try and recap them all, and attach a few pictures for visual aid ;-)

I think I've now properly settled into my role, I'm now more proficient in Khmer and can just about get myself by speaking (even though sometimes I'll say something in Khmer and people will think I can speak fluently)

Number of abscesses: 3 - One on a man's heel, one on a man's toe (which was quite amusing when we cut into it a blood literally squirted out about 15cm in the air) and one facial abscess.

Number of colds, headaches, weakness: Countless. This is how I've managed to progress so much in Khmer!

Moto accident inj
uries: 15 (maybe more)

Machete accidents
: 1, where the nurse did 7 stitches. (I did half a stitch too!)

Deaths & cremations: 1 cremation. 2 deaths.

Last night another participant passed away in the hospital, he had reoccurring health issues and had been admitted to the hospital a fair few times before, he used heroin heavily and had HIV. When my colleague Vathna arrived he was barely breathing, and was just lying on the floor of the emergency room surrounded by doctors. When the doctors realised that we actually had money to pay them they moved him onto one of the beds, intubated him, put a drip (in his forehead) and then plugged him into an artificial respirator. He was in a coma.

After having paid all the outstanding bills and having seen this participants pulse drop countless times we headed back home. The next day we went back to the hospital, his pulse was stable but we knew that the respirator was the only thing keeping him alive. The bed in the emergency room was costing us $25 a day and the doctors said there was no way that they could move him to a cheaper room. By this point I was pretty fed up with the doctors at this hospital, they really just didn't seem to care about anything but money.

Yesterday evening we went back again to see our particpant, as we walked into where he was the monitor displayed that he had no pulse, he had died and none of the doctors even knew. After we managed to get a doctor to check his heartbeat and unplug him from the monitors, drips and oxygen, we had to transport him to the morgue (I couldn't believe that the patient's family actually had to take their dead relatives to the morgue).

I think the saddest thing about the whole story was the man who passed away had no family, no parents, no children. He lived on the streets and at Korsang. The other guys I work with seemed to be dealing with the situation well: "it's my job, we used to have people like this every other week".

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Moto Burns

So I've heard all about moto burns since I arrived in Cambodia. Too many people pile on to a moto and then when they hop off someone gets a wee bit too close to the engine thingy bit. They say moto burns are a right of passage and oh so painful.

Six weeks into to my time in Phnom Penh I was still injury free, no falls, no trips (despite some intoxication). But this all changed. Yes my friends, little did I know my moto burn was only round the corner. I'll keep the story short and sweet, so here's a photo!

But don't worry about me, I got the burn in the most respectable way, which was entirely down to my complete inadvertence: not driving a moto, not on the back of a moto, but walking past a moto. Well at least now I'll watch where I walk!

Friday, August 20, 2010

Abcess treatment... Cambodian style!

This week the medical team ran out of money... BAD TIMES. Well not entirely out of money I suppose, there was a cheeky $10 spare in case of a medical emergency... We managed to get a wee cash stretch as one of Korsang's participants in the hospital had been diagnosed with TB, he also had two dysfunctional lungs. His condition has been causing him to retain water in both his lungs, resulting in a "big belly" as my medical supervisor, JB, liked to call it. So the emergency money went towards the daily draining of the water.

Being short of money has not been easy, we've not been able to get patients prescriptions, blood tests or take poorly patients to the hospital for medical care. This became a problem on Tuesday, as a 40 something year old man hobbled into the clinic. His foot was easily double the size of the other foot, and as we peered round to exam it we caught sight of a huge abscess. The old man had fallen down a week previously and had neglected his wound. Unable to take him to the hospital the rest of the medical team dealt with the situation quite routinely. As the man hopped onto the bed, JB prepred the equipment: gauze and betadine. As he squezzed the abcess I could hear the man silently screaming into the pillow. No anesthetic, no doctor, but he didn't seem worried and neither did JB, ten minutes after squeezing we slapped on a bandage and the old man stood up already saying how much better he felt. Job done! We gave him some antiB's and he was on his way. It really makes you think that at this clinic the treatment they provide is as effective if not more than the one given at the hospital. We've seem the same guy every day this week, where we've continued to drain his abscess, we even used lidocaine yesterday! The people giving the treamtent might not be doctors but they all easily know way more than what I thought and I hope that before I leave in Decemebr I'll be draining my very own abscesses ;-)

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Flying Solo

So I've been really rubbish at updating this blog, I'm coming up to the end of my first month in Cambodia and so far have managed weekly updates, so I'm going to try and increase the frequency of posts for the keen readers ;-)

This weekend has probably been the most excessive since arriving in Cambodia... It was Chris's, one of the other volunteer's last weekend, so we decided to go out with a bang! We agreed that happy hour at Corner 33 was on the cards. As we arrived to the bar and ordered our first round, the heavens opened up and rain began chucking it down. The rain so far hadn't been too bad and only really ever lasted an hour or so, however this night it was different... As the rain began to pour down we figured all we could do was make the most of the cheap drinks. The water level on the street was gradually rising and the pavement was slowly disappearing, motos were getting stuck, people were bathing in the water and there was also flocks of monks traversing the water. We saw all of this happen in the company of many cocktails, so things weren't all bad! We stuck it out in the bar until the rain stopped and the water on the streets only reached our ankles, before heading back to the volunteer house... After then that things started to go down hill, we decided to pick up a couple of bottles of liqueur from a nearby Cambodian off licence and continue with the drinking back home. Needless to say we didn't remain classy for long after that!

Apart from copious drinking I've been pretty busy at work this week, I sorted out a whole new list of equipment and medicine for the Clinic at Korsang, and we rinsed the medical supplies budget and went shopping. We spent 300USD on loads of medicine and first aid stuffs, probably the most exciting $300 I've spent so far! Before our massive shop the clinic only had a very limited range of medicine so we bought everything from Gaviscon to scabies cream!

I also finally realised how rubbish some of the doctors/healthcare system here is too. On Wednesday one of the guys from the centre, Curly, fell of his moto and fractured both of his collar bones. We took him to the hospital, where they did all the routine stuff: consult, x-ray, diagnosis, treatment... Not to sure about the treatment though: Curly came out of the consultation room prescription in hand and a bandage (a small compression bandage, to be precise!) linking just one of his wrists to his neck. Now, I'm not a doctor but I was definitely thinking that if you break both collar bones you want a slightly better treatment. The best thing about the treatment was that they tried to charge us $20 for the bandage they had done (we chucked the bill away on our way out of the hospital)...
So after that pretty much pointless trip to the hospital we brought Curly back to the clinic where we cleaned up his wounds and make shifted two slightly more acceptable slings.

As I explained before Korsang have outreach programs, where a team drive around the main drug use areas in Phnom Penh and provide first aid treatment as well as information about Korsang, hygiene and safe needle use. Friday was the first time I went on outreach by myself, I was really excited about the prospect and the responsibility. As we arrived to the site there were four drug users who were high, one of whom I recognised - he was a deportee who I had met a few times at the drop in centre and who was currently on methadone treatment. All four users had minor injuries, cuts to their feet, heads and faces, and a few also complained of headaches. As I opened my kit and started to treat the paralytic users it finally dawned on me what I was doing, these people were unable to talk and had syringes sticking out of their pockets. Being out of the clinic and also unable to understand or talk to the drug users was really difficult. Eventually a few of them began to regain consciousness and crowded around me and began to look through my first aid kit, searching for something more. The whole experience was pretty intense, it's one thing dealing with the people who come to the drop in centre but being by myself on the streets surrounded by drug users was something else. Even though I was a bit shook up by the encounter I'm definitely going to do more outreach, it's very good exposure and is quite different to anything I have ever done before.

There was one point where I began to question whether what I was doing was serving a purpose... It was disheartning seeing all these people on the streets high, after having had conversations with them, after having seen them play with the children at the drop in centre and having seen them receive the methodone treatment...

I guess that's why they call it an addiction.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Bicycling, Happy Hours and Khmer

Phnom Penh, 3 weeks on. So I finally feel like I'm starting to know my way around, I know some of the tuk tuk drivers, how to give directions in Khmer and the cleaner even told me I was the same colour as Khmer people too!

I've started to settle into Korsang too, even though it's only been a week. It's basically like being a first aider full time! Although I have to admit the language barrier is quite challenging, on the plus side I'm getting quite good at using my hands to describe things. The main things that I've treated are moto burns and other small cuts, nothing too exciting yet! Although they have loads of cool equipment in the medical post like bibs, blood sugar level testers and one of those really sophisticated syphgys which give you about 5 different readings. So as you can probably imagine it is very exciting. The items listed above are only to name a few, if you're lucky I might even reveal further fun items in my next posts, so stay tuned! I've also been put down on the on-call list, so I'm eagirly awaiting the night I will be rung up...

Last week I went to visit the methadone clinic, located at the Russian Hospital. Everyday, Korsang take 25 of thier drug users there to receive mathadone. The clinic seemed to be very well run: there were at least 2 doctors, 3 nurses and a pharmacist. It seemed like administration was very well controlled: each participant was required to have an interview in order to assess the dosage of methadone, whether it should be increased or decreased, whether the patient was using less heroine, ect, ect. If the dosage given was changed from the previous day each drug user was asked to stay in the clinic for a further 2 hours in order to monitor their state. The whole process ran very smoothly and the doctors and nurses were all very friendly, and didn't not seem to be passing judgment on the drug users (unlike in other parts of the hospital). Oh, and I forgot to mention that the whole treatment is entirely funded by the WHO and FHA, which just goes to show that Cambodian healthcare treatment isn't all bad!

So apart from that I also soaked up some of Phnom Penh nightlife this weekend. Cambodians have many traditions: 3 day weddings, the krama (scarf) and of course happy hour. Happy hour in Phnom Penh takes place in pretty much every bar, every night (and even all day for some). So Friday night after work, a few of us decided to head down to Riverside (where all the touristy bars are) to see just how happy Happy Hour was.... Well I can definitely say that I wasn't dissatisfied by the drinks on offer: $1.50 for a cocktail (and they were all delicious too!). Now if that's not a reason to come to Cambodia I don't know what is! After having made the most of the cocktails, we figured we'd keep up the happy theme so headed to a place called "Happy Pizza". The food at Happy Pizza was nice, although we could have done without the neverending propositions of the tuk tuk drivers, stationed nearby...

I'm just going to include a brief note on tuk tuk drivers. Now these are the most persistent people I have ever met in my entire life and on Friday night this came to an all time high. The drivers are just waiting outside restaurants for tourists to finish eating and once one person gets up to leave it's literally a race between drivers to see who can get the client first. In retrospect it's quite funny how persistent they actually are, they're almost like "Hey, don't mind me, I'm just going to sit at your table whilst you eat. And then when you're finished you get my tuk tuk, OK?". And also note, if the tuk tuk driver quotes you a price to go somewhere make sure you never pay more than half the amount he told you.

Luckily I don't have to deal with tuk tuks on a daily basis as I'm cycling to work. Remember how crazy I said all the drivers were in Cambodia... Yeah, enough said! Bearing that in mind I'm still alive and have not had an accident, not even close! Although I do feel like I'm tempting fate everyday... It literally is mental on the roads though, but most people don't drive too fast and stop to let you pass. So far so good! As the adrenaline from the cycling isn't quite enough for me, I've also asked to try out driving one of the medical vans at work, I've been given a provisional yes, so will post that experience up next time!

I've also started having Khmer lessons, I've got lessons twice a week so hopefully I'll get ace really soon! Although I think my pronunciation's not up to scratch quite yet as people definitely can't understand me and ask me to speak in English. It's not got me down yet though!

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Korsang - Serving Cambodian Drug Users With Dignity, Respect and Compassion

So after a fair few days of wondering whether I would actually be working at Korsang, I finally managed to visit the center, whoop! Anyone wanting more info on this NGO can visit the following link :-) http://www.korsangkhmer.org/index.html

After some informal introductions and casual chitchat, I was shown around the center by the Director, Tango, he explained to me Korsang's vision and some of their current ongoing projects: including an alliance with the new Methadone clinic at the hospital and a nursery construction, which was being funded by UNICEF. Korsang seemed to have come quite a long way since they started up 6 years ago when there were only just 5 members of staff. The NGO was housed in an open space building and had recently expanded to the building next door which had become the shelter for woman drug users. There were makeshift beds lined up in both buildings where the occupants of the center lay, I was later told that there were around 80 people currently staying at the NGO. As the locals arrived they were patted down in order to ensure that they had no weapons or drugs.

I was also shown the medical room, I was told that they had neither doctor nor nurse, both these healthcare professionals had recently left and they were in the process of hiring new staff. The medical room was filled with first aid equipment and drugs (shame no one could use them), it seemed quite well equipped (I think I had low expectations based on everything else I had seen in Cambodia), so was pleasantly surprised! I met the medical team leader JB, and he told me how he had spent his previous night on call: a guy who got his leg caught in a moto wheel the night before. He also told me about some other injuries he'd seen: dismemberment, gangrene, child delivery. All this information was highly exciting and hoped I would be able to see something as remotely exciting as what he had told me about!

The next morning I showed up for my first day, which consisted of running jobs in the local hospital as well as some outreach to local drug users. At 8.30am I hopped in the tuktuk with 7 other volunteers and I went on my first outreach. We didn't need to go far to find the first drug users, just of the main road people were gathered around cooking up heroine and crystal meth, there were dirty syringes around and the users didn't look they had seen a bed in a long time. It was pretty intense seeing people shooting up that early in the morning, and I felt pretty helpless as I couldn't speak or understand Khmer. The other workers chatted to the users and handed them out small packs containing soap, shampoo, a toothbrush and a condom, as well as offering them a safe place to stay at Korsang if they so wished. A few users had injuries and one man was taken back to the medical post as he could no longer move his leg after injecting heroin into it 4 days before. I was glad that he agreed to go back to the center as I have noticed people here tend to put off getting medical help until it becomes a substantial problem. Outreach was like nothing I had ever witnessed before, the passers by seemed so nonchalant about the drug users, who were located just by where they lived and small children were also walking by unaware.

In the afternoon, I accompanied the medical team to the hospital, where they were checking up on various patients who had become ill whilst in Korsang: one person with pneumonia, one with TB and another who had water in his lungs. Although before we could go and see any off them there seemed to be a considerable amount of bills to sort out. The phrase "no money, no honey" clearly applied in hospitals in Phnom Penh, as even if someone is on their deathbed the doctors refuse to give treatment if payment has not been received... We also took the man with the stiff knee to the hospital who was prescribed some meds.

Other than the drug use and grim money issues it's pretty relaxed here, and the staff and residents are all very nice (like most Khmer people really). I saw the man with the bad knee today when I was working and he seemed so much better, and was very grateful to the whole medical team. It's difficult working here as there are no HCPs so people must often go to the hospital, which drug users particularly are very reluctant to do, but those who do go seem OK once they've received treatment (apart from the ones are required to stay in the hospital and try to escape...). The medical team are great too and you can tell that everyone who works here really cares about the NGO: most of the staff were drug users before and there are many deportees from the US who work there (which is good for me because it means people who speak English!).

I'm going to visit the Methadone clinic tomorrow and I am also on call over the weekend with JB, so hopefully should be interesting :-)

From Phnom Penh, Alex Malet, Over & Out!

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Training in Chamcar Bei

After a week and a bit of settling in it was finally time for me to start some work. Destination Chamcar Bei! (Which is where we spent one night over the weekend) I was going to be working at "Our School" delivering first aid training to some of the locals. Blissfully unaware I prepared my presentation (in English), some exercises (in English) and general puns, when Vy and I arrived at the school I was told that I would need a translator. Damn. Oh well, I think to myself how bad can it be?

So on Wednesday I started my training, I was going to be running 2 sessions with 2 groups covering the topics of wounds and bleeds, chocking, burns and other fun things. When I started, to be honest I felt slightly out of my depth, I was faced with 7 people who spoke no English and had little knowledge of hygiene and injury treatment. I found it very challenging trying to teach the people one thing when they had probably known otherwise for such a long time. They told me stories of how someone had just choked in front of them and then died, so I hoped some bits of what I was teaching would be useful. I managed to finish the training and hoped that they would be able to pass on the information which I had taught them to the rest of the community. I think over the 2 days they learnt a lot, as did I. Despite the first session being hard I think it has helped me to better understand the local community and adapt my future training to their needs.

The healthcare coordinator from the school also asked me when I was coming back when I had finished, which was also a good sign!

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Weekend down South

After 5 days of madness in the city, 4 other volunteers and myself decided to have a girly trip down to Kep. Bags packed, food stocked, suncream and sunglasses in hand we embarked on the 3 hour taxi down to the beach. The taxi was cosy, as 4 of us jumped in the back the driver was not at all phased.

Our first stop was Chamcar Bei where we pulled up to an eco resort "The Vine". It was a nice getaway from the city: solar heated showers, fresh vegetables and fruit grown from the garden and a hamac on the balcony, as well as other squishy chairs. After settling in there we rented some bikes and rode off to find the local NGO: the woman's empowerment center, where local woman were employed by the community to weave scarves, create jewelery and bags. Before arriving there we stopped off at "Our School" the local school affiliated with BAB-C. This school was by far the most impressive one I had visited so far, a large play ground, 4-5 class rooms and a library, there was also a football pitch round the back. Following this one of the teachers led the way to the woman's empowerment center, where we were given a very detailed guided tour. In this NGO woman received payment for the work they performed, which was consistent with the time that they put aside to produce these items. It was very refreshing seeing such a self sufficient community, who was encouraging the local population to work and was not exploiting it. Before leaving, we all paid visit to the gift shop where we purchased some local jewelery as a souvenir and obviously to help out the community ;-)

The next day we continued on to Kep, with high hopes of clear sea and general sunbathing... Pulling up to the guesthouse the sky was gray and the sea was brown, we put it down to the rocks and set off to the pier to get a boat to Rabbit Island. Rabbit Island had been described to us a paradise, "the most beautiful place I have ever been" by other volunteers, so needless to say, we all had high hopes. We hopped on the boat with a boy who was probably about 10 years younger than most of us and headed of to the Island. Reaching land we trekked through the woods for about 10 minutes and arrived to the other side where the beach and restaurants where, the water wasn't clear and we could definitely not see our feet, but oh well we made the most of it! About an hour after we arrived the weather started to turn... We faced the wind and rain, monsoon was upon us! We seeked refuge in a small refuge and started to envisage ourselves not being able to get off the island, building our own shelter and having to catch our prey... I can say that this did not happen! Luckily the weather cleared and managed to get back to Kep with our 12 year old captain without capsizing. Yay!

After all that drama we were all pretty tired so chilled for a bit before Julia, Trixie and myself headed to the Crab Market to sample the local cuisine and take out some not so local cuisine (vodka from Liverpool).

The next day we got a bus back to Phnom Penh. Not exactly the relaxing weekend we all had planned but funny at the very least!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Getting to grips with history

As I continue to settle in to life in Cambodia things are becoming slightly: I have extended me vocabulary to "how much does that cost?" and "sir/madame". Hopefully by the end of the week I will know all of 8 words! I'm also much more accustomed to crossing the road, which I thought may never happen given my constant fear of being run over in the UK.

So, yesterday I ventured out to the provinces with Vy, she took me to Rudi Boa a school there which had been funded in memory of a previous volunteer. In the school I was also told the story about a 6 year old pupil who was having to take care of both his siblings as their parents worked in the city 45 minutes away. The province where the school was and where people were living was like a block of garages: one room, 3 walls, with occasionally a smaller room at the back. There was no door, only a sliding gate, which had been replaced with wood or other materials in the occupied houses. Going into the "centre" there was a market as well as a pharmacy and some other places to buy food: this community was self sufficient, buying and selling to one another. Around every school I had been so far people seemed happy, was this what it seemed like to me, were people actually dismal or did they just not know that they deserved any better?

This morning I visited the Genocide Museum (also known as office 21 during the "Kampuchea Democratic"), which chronicled many of the events and peoples lives during the Khmer Rouge. The museum was very graphic, there were 4 buildings in Office 21 one of which was used for torturing the prisoners and the other 3 which were used for detention. In each room there where photos which had been taken, some of the dead prisoners as well as others of families killed by the Khmer Rouge. There were skulls of prisoners where you could see large cracks where prisoners had been electrocuted or had received blows, building B was surrounded by barbed wire to stop the detainees from trying to kill themselves. In each room in Building A the beds and other machines used to torture people suspected of opposition remained, as well as pictures and photos illustrating the uses of each instrument. The whole place was very grim and I didn't feel at ease that this had happened less than 40 years ago, furthermore that tribunals were still ongoing to bring the people who committed these atrocities to justice. As I left the museum there where beggars who were missing limbs and that had been severely burnt waiting for tourists at the exit. The whole experience was pretty depressing and an explanation for the poverty which was all around and which I had seen since I arrived began to make sense.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Arrival to Phnom Penh

So I left the UK on the eve of the 16th of July, a journey which I must admit I was not entirely looking forward too. The 8h30 flight to Delhi followed by 15h in transit zone is hardly as exciting as it sounds, luckily I managed to mingle with a few other travelers which made the overall wait slightly less painful (that coupled with an overpriced vodka).
I arrived to Bangkok at 7.30am on the 18th, managing a total of 3h sleep as well as a curry (thank you Kingfisher Airline), so needless to say I wasn't completely on top of my game and by this point I had had enough of airports. I waited another 8h for the final leg of my journey during which I managed to catch up on some shut eye. I almost did enjoy it a bit too much as I woke up 20min before the flight, any later and I probably would have spent a great deal more time in airports...

As I arrived to Phnom Penh and got off the plane I was already faced with the humidity and heat (better get used to this!). Vy, the volunteer coordinator from BAB-C picked me up took me to the volunteer house where I would be staying. The tuktuk ride from the airport was intersting, it seems that most people in Phnom Penh ride motos and driving is slightly chaotic ("only worry about what's directly in front of you" I was told by another volunteer), despite this it seems to work and even when we crashed into a moto driver both parties just seemed to continue driving as if all was well.

On my first day in PP, Vy took me to see the surroundings, this included some of the slums as well as the schools which lay within them. Down a small alleyway we visited Aziza, where there were two small classrooms where 30 children where being taught English. The children and teachers welcomed us with a smile and then introduced themselves; never would I have thought that a school could be in these slums. We then went up to the roof of the building where we could see where the people used to live and had been evicted from, in its place stood tall buildings: offices and flats, as well as some workers building more buildings.
In the afternoon, I visited another slum and 2 schools which were by the "lake", I was told that this lake was being filled up in order to build more housing flats and offices, a bit disheartening for all the locals who lived there,who would most probably be evicted...