Saturday, August 27, 2011

sick sick sick

This post is slightly gross if you arent used to peace corps illnesses so if bowel movements gross you out then skip this post...

I am sitting in my hotel room bed laughing at the current situation I am in and I feel its definitely blogworthy. Around the time my bout of depression was ending, I became sick with something that prevented me from eating anything but a bowl of rice and water per day for an entire week. I came to learn that it was possibly giardia and soon enough I was able to eat again. Buuuut about 3-4 days later I was back to not eating anything, diarrhea everyday, and lots of horrible gas. So I am 5 days into this second bout of it and it is absolutely horrible. I took the medicine for giardia treatment yesterday and I was under the impression that I would be better within 24 hours but o how I was wrong. This medicine does wonders to the human body and some people actually do get better in a day. But the volunteers I have talked to have undergone some pretty bad bouts of diarrhea (or what we like to call peeing out the ass... really thats what it feels like but in much bigger quantities), vomiting, cramps, nausia, and gas. I feel like the medicine has multiplied all my symptoms by 100 and I am sitting here in my bed waiting for the next round of diarrhea to hit. Its coming every 20 minutes and in such large quantities... so yea... not my favorite moment of peace corps.

The next part to this story is the fact that I have a fractured bone in my foot from playing soccer. Around the time I started getting better from the first wave of giardia symptoms, when I was SUPPOSED to go to phnom penh, I was playing soccer and went to kick the ball the same time another person was kicking the ball in opposing directions at full force on the top of my foot. Immediately after we hit I felt something wasnt right. The pain was intense and I knew it wasnt a sprain. the foot swelled, was very painful, and I could definitely not walk on it. The villagers told me to rub tiger balm on it and it will be fine in 2-3 days. haha... they say that for everything. Well... it didnt get better and a week later I hobbled around the hospital to get an x-ray which confirmed a fracture. That was yesterday and now I'm sitting in my hotel bed, peeing out the wrong end with a foot that is less than useful at the moment. I feel hopeless but its almost to the point where its funny. I'm not sad or upset at the situation. The depression that was described in previous posts was much much worse, but as far as health goes I have seen better times. For now, I am trying to chug water faster than it comes out. Its almost like a battle. I am determined to win!

So this is a peace corps volunteer who is sick. Many volunteers have actually been much worse and many have never seen anything like this. Diarrhea is a normalcy for many of us. Its no longer gross and comes up during daily conversations between us. Much worse is discussed but I will leave that up to the people who actually suffered from them. Food poisoning is the normal cause of sickness for me. It feels pretty much like death. Something is coming out of every opening, cramps are debilitating, nausea is rediculous, and there is nothing you can do but replace the fluids and wait it out. Luckily those things dont last very long... maybe a day or two. This time around tho... unfortunately its a little worse and caused by something different. Heres to hoping my foot heals sooner rather than later, and I start peeing out of the right place!

Thursday, August 25, 2011

one last tid bit

So i was so engulfed in what has been happening that I forgot about today at the health center and I thought it was worth sharing so here's a little side note to the previous post.

I arrived late because I'm pretty sure I'm sick with giardia and havent been sleeping too well. There weren't that many patients to begin with but the front yard to the health center was full of crap from yesterday's mango tree dilema. They decided to cut down the beautiful mango trees that were covering much of the front area because of a fear that the branches would fall down in a storm and damage the building. So they did what everybody in this country does to trees and cut them down. A little bit of info on mango trees, they are carpeted in large fire ants and these two trees were no exception. They cut down the tree which was strewn all over the yard sending pissed off fire ants everywhere. Then with a cigarette in one hand and can of Raid in the other, they started spraying all the branched and wood with Raid to kill the ants before they went in with the chainsaw (which they dont know how to use properly). Needless to say, 3 cans of Raid later the air was drenched in Raid fumes and the health center got just a little less appealing.

Anyways... today I was sitting there kind of bored because of the lack of patients when two parents came in holding their 2 year old's hand tightly. I then saw that the baby had cut its finger from top to bottom all the way to the bone using a butchers knife. Yes... babies play with large sharp knives here and that is perfectly fine with parents. I cant even begin to describe how stupid that is, and today was proof of its foolishness. The kid was not crying at first but as they started cleaning it with iodine the kid started wailing. Eventually stiches were needed and it was not something I enjoyed being apart of. My job became holding the kids legs down so he didnt kick something and consoling the mom who was crying. I was actually kind of hard to watch... a mom who is very upset with herself and her screaming kid on her lap. The blood was nothing, but to see the emotions in the mom and kid I was kind of upset inside. Eventually the stiches were performed and the kid stopped screaming but I can tell the mother was very dissapointed in herself, which I guess she should be, but its hard to see.

Then towards the end of that a person came into the health center who was hit by a van while riding a bike with no helmet. I am the only person in this village who wheres a helmet on a bike and with these roads I can again no begin to describe how stupid that is. This lady had half of her face swollen to the size of a football, with abrasions and blood everywhere else. I didnt do anything with this but observed while the nurses cleaned her with iodine, stuck her with an IV, and just bandaged everything with cotton and tape. There is not a whole lot the health center can really do and it kind of scared me to think that if shit goes down here there is very little help out there other than in phnom penh which isnt exactly close. Needless to say I strapped on my helmet extra tight before leaving the health center this morning.

absolute ecstasy and rock bottom

So i cant remember what has happened since the last time i posted on here so im just going to go through what has stood out the most in the past 3 months and hope things come back to me. The past three months have been some of the best and worst times in my life. I think we all constantly think things are the worse they have ever been until we hit something that just seems to top everything else and I'm sure we all have those moments of pure joy and ecstasy where we think life can simply not get any better. I have come to some realizations about life and myself, and have been making some great changes. Here's whats been going on...

So the kids in Cambodia started their vacation in june and that was a time of great uncertainty for me. I had become very reliant on a certain group of kids that I hang out with every day and I wasnt sure if they were going to drop off the face of the earth or not. These are the kids I see every night during their private english class. They make me smile every time I see them and have become one of the main reasons I am so in love with this country. I have overcome that barrier of being the foreigner and they have taken me in as one of them. We play soccer at the pagoda every night and whenever I have free time I am over their houses listening to khmer music, playing with my computer or ipod, and talking on hammocks. Well, once vacation started I found myself completely immersed in these kids every moment I wasnt at the health center. I would leave the health center, go over somebody's house, go home for lunch, then go back to another kid's house till the private class started. This was a constant till my trip to malaysia which is what I guess I will talk about now.

Malaysia was absolutely stunning. I thought it would be hard to top since going to Sumatra in April, but it failed to disappoint. I was bummed initially because me and a friend were to supposed to be going to Burma. But after realizing how horrible the travel would be in the country, we came to the conclusion that we would be sitting on a bus more than we would be seeing. As beautiful and unique it would have been, we needed to relax and chill somewhere where there were no worries and complications. Traveling anywhere in a 3rd world nation is pretty much a nightmare when you do it the local's way so we opted for going to a beach. After lots of research we decided on Parhentian Islands in Malaysia. I wasn't too keen to go back to somewhere I had already sort of been (kuala lumpur) simply because im only over here once. But kuala lumpur was just as awesome as it was the first time around. That city is wonderful and I never got tired of it. We ate Mcdonalds every chance we got, saw the Petronas Towers, went up the KL Tower, and to top it all off we saw the last harry potter film. One of the biggest dissapointments I had with being away from the states for two years was that I was going to miss seeing this movie in theaters. Luck was just on my side this time because it ended up being planned on the perfect weekend. That pretty much made my trip and nothing could do anything to ruin it!

Well, it wasnt all great. To start out with, we were late arriving in the phnom penh airport so my friend's bag did not make our flight. We had to spend a night in kuala lumpur, which we werent planning on doing, and wait forever for the airport to deliver the bag once it finally arrived. It was kind of stressful to say the least but we got it literally 2 minutes before our over night bus departed from kuala lumpur bound for kuala besut. We arrived at kuala besut at 5am after an 8 hour bus ride and took the first ferry over to the islands at sun rise. It was a very fast and bumpy ride but we managed to get there without being propelled off the boat. The sunrise was stunning and the malaysian islands were just starring at us, beckoning us forward. We made our way by boat to the first island we decided on, palau besar. It was the larger of the two islands but geared more towards families and a little pricier. I am stingy while living in cambodia so I dont have to be stingy while on vacation... thats how this show goes. Plus we didnt want to mix with the back packer crowd for multiple reasons. That island was beautiful. The place we stayed at was called Mama's Challet and we had a bungalow all to ourselves. We were situated on a beach that was connected to all the best beaches on that island. The sand was powdery white and the water was both crystal clear and warm to the touch. The reefs were situated literally right off the beach so there was no swimming required to be engulfed in tons of colorful fish. Just sitting on the surf break putting on my snorkel gear I could see fish swimming around my immersed butt.

The sights on land were nothing compared to the sights underwater. My first trip underwater was awesome! The water was very clear and the fish swimming around the loads of coral was unobstructed. The fish would gather around me at times, swimming right up to my camera and following me wherever I went. I snorkeled everywhere on that island. We even rented a kayak for a day and found a deserted beach which offered some great snorkeling. I saw giant puffer fish, black tipped reef sharks (one of which I swam after), clown fish (finding nemo), parrot fish, and tons of small neon colored fish. There were giant sea urchins, and even blue spotted sting rays. The coral came in mounds and was scattered all over the shore line. I found the good spots and kept going back to them every now and then. The great thing about this place is that you can snorkel whenever you want. If you are feeling hungry then you can grab a shake and pizza on one of the many restaurants and when you want to snorkel you can simply grab the snorkel gear and sunblock and head into the water. It was simply bliss and I cant being to describe how amazing each and every thing I saw. The shoreline alone was cool because it had tons of large very smooth rocks. You will have to see my facebook photos because no description that I give on here will do it justice.

The last couple days we decided to head over to the other island to take a look at this place called D'Lagoon. It is a more rustic outdoorsy kind of establishment. It reminds me more of jungle camping than the resorts on the other island did. The other island was for people to be pampered on and this one was all about cheapness and nature. My friend and I brought hammocks for that night so we were going as cheap as possible. The moment we arrived we stowed our luggage away and headed into the water. What I saw in these waters still blows my mind thinking about it now. The coral was all alive, which was hard to find on the other island in large quantities. There were twice as many fish, all of them beautiful, and the things we saw were breathtaking. Large mounds of coral that stretched from sea bed to waves contained coral of every shape and color which were littered with giant clams and sea urchins. The anemones all had large families of clown fish living in them which i guess proved the claim in finding nemo. We saw a huge moray eel which I think was the highlight of the trip for me. We even got the nerves to go out really deep to where people were scuba diving. The movie Jaws did a number on me and going in deep ocean water is always unnerving but being in such warm, clear, beautiful water puts all those fears aside. We snorkeled for a good 4 hours that day before my friend cut his foot pretty badly on some coral. So we headed in and enjoyed the resort and the people who were staying there with us. That night was a very odd experience. You would think camping in a hammock on a beach would be nothing but pure awesomeness but it was kind of unnerving. Its a very exposed feeling sleeping in a hammock with nothing below you and no way of knowing who is right over top of you (due to the tarp). There were 7-10 foot monitor lizards roaming around so I wasnt too keen to have one of those bite me in my sleep. I managed to fall asleep to a thunderstorm off in the distance while watching the waves crash on the beach and before I knew it the sun had rose and another day was about to start.

We eventually left the Parhentian Islands with sand in between our toes and smiles on our faces. We headed up to Koto Baru for a 9 hour jungle train from top to bottom of the country. We saw limestone cliffs which were spectacular and rode through hours of rainforest and palm tree plantations. I feel like I can actually say I got to see the whole country and I loved it. The nightmare getting back to the airport is too long of a story but 40 dollars later and 3 hour bus ride which was supposed to take 30 minutes, we arrives at our departure gate 10 minutes before the plane was to depart. Normally they close the gates 2o minutes before hand so needless to say we were running like mad men through the airport trying to get to our plane which we found out was late arriving. We boarded and to top everything off I was seated in the middle of a malaysian soccer club who had no idea of what the word quiet means, but eventually we made it to phnom penh and I was heading back to site.

Whenever a volunteer leaves and goes back to site, it is with mixed emotions because of what is soon to follow. Malaysia is an impoverished country, but it is nothing like cambodia. They have a road system, laws that are followed for the most part, people are aware of what the outer world is like, and the living conditions are much better than here. I knew that going back to site would be good because I was happy to see my kids, but post vacation blues were sure to hit, as they do with everybody who has traveled to a place where laws and good food exist. I arrived back at site and was very happy to see my host family. I have gotten very close to them and treat them as I would my family back at home (dont worry mom, your not being replaced). My host brother is one of my closest friends in the country and my parents have been some of the most understanding people ever. I am not an easy person to have to care for compared to the normal cambodian and I know that my presence has to put some extra stress on the day for them. Yet they give me everything and more, and understand when I am sick or depressed that they cant do anything for me but leave me be and know that its not them causing it. They are understanding about so much and for that I am so greatful. They have taken me into their family as their son as he has taken me in as his big brother and I feel extremely connected to them. I was happy to get back and talk about all the fun I had which they really enjoyed. They missed me alot and it showed when I saw their huge smiles as I walked onto our property laden with bags and a sunburn.

But here is where the story turns down. The week I got back I ended up spending every waking moment at my student's house.It was getting to the point where I was not doing anything productive in the health center and wanted to simply chill with my friends. These kids have become the best thing about this country and I felt extremely close to them like I am my host family. Well, about 2 weeks after my trip things started to change. The kids were all of a sudden very distant and not calling me anymore. They were quiet towards me in private class and things were just strange. I tried talking to a few about it and they said they were lazy and wanted to sleep. Thats the thing about people over here, they use laziness as an excuse for everything. They really are some of the laziest individuals on this planet and it has woven its way into every part of this culture. I became very upset that I had no one to talk to. As volunteers we strive for that human feeling of care and love because we are so deprived of it in this environment. Many volunteers do not find that in the locals but I was fortunate to have. We could talk about anything and I felt they truly cared about me and not just because of my foreigner status. Many volunteers will find this acceptance and caring through younger kids for several reasons. The older generation does whatever they fill their day up with and are not interested in doing things with us other than drinking and smoking, but the younger kids are interested in us and aren't corrupt by the cambodian culture yet. So I connected through these kids and all of a sudden they seemed uninterested in me.

This went on for a week and by the end I was starting to get very depressed. I couldn't stand not having my sense of normality and friendships around me constantly. I shot myself in the foot by relying on these kids so much. I relied on them to get me through the day and it became the sole source of my personal happiness. By the end of the second week of this absence of student friends, I became severely depressed. I felt this absolutely gut wrenching feeling every minute of the day. I was completely hopeless and saw no end in sight. I was at my absolute rock bottom and I could see no way of getting out of it. I felt like I had no friends, the isolation became that much worse, and I had nothing in my work to be proud of because it all got kind of put on hold for a while during which I focused my energy on forming friendships. I had several volunteers talk to me to try and get me through this but nothing anybody was saying could help. All I wanted was the kids to call me again so we could chill like normal, but then I had some very inspirational talks with some friends. I have this tendency in life to make having friends my top priority. If things are wrong with my friends or I had a fight with somebody, I make myself entirely too depressed. I look at things in the wrong light whenever there is something left up to my imagination. I guess you could call me pessimistic. I realized however that I cannot keep on doing this to myself. A great friend reminded me how awesome I really am and that relying on these kids (or any friends for the matter) is not something I can keep on doing to the degree I have been doing it in. Everybody needs friends, but if you cannot be happy with yourself and your life then you will never be happy. I believe Mark Twain wrote something like "never make others your priority while you are their option". I have realized this a while back and have a tendency to do that but now thats stopped. I finally said I have so much more to be happy about then worrying about my relationships with some high schoolers. They are immature and that is that. I dont feel like any individual in this country ever matures. The culture is just not designed for people to grow as we do in America so I was left to suffer due to this at the expense of my health and sanity. I was very close to throwing in the towel for the first time, which I would have never actually done, but my health was taking a downwards spiral, I wasnt eating, constantly crying (yep... I cried), and I had to realize that this is not worth putting myself through. But after several very good conversations and finally being able to flick that switch in my head, I have snapped out of my old ways and am looking at everything in a much different light.

The kids finally started calling me again, but that is no longer a constant daily worry of mine. They really were just being lazy and didnt feel like hanging out with me but now I am over that. I am in this thing for very different reasons now. I still love those kids and will maintain friendships with them, but if they want to come along for this ride then good and if not then so be it. I have done some awesome things in my life and I think I finally found that self happiness I have been yearning for all these years. I dont know if anybody is a believer in life changing moments but feel like I had one recently. I am much happier because of it and im thinking things will be very different from here on out.

My work in the health center has taking a sudden halt due to everything over the past couple months. I wasn't really planning projects, school is out so I dont teach right now, and my talks every day have been few and farther in between. I was in a very good spot for a while because I had such strong friendships formed but things at the health center were down and out. I have recently been planning a bunch of projects though and things are changing fast and for the better. I am working on a project that combines a bunch of things I feel the health center needs the most. I am going to be buying 3 beds for our new post natal care room, a sink for everyone to wash their hands in before they are treated, a resource center in our lobby so patients can research different health topics on their own, a guppy farm to hand out fish to villagers which eat mosquito larvae and cut down on the mosquito borne illnesses, and a blood glucose tester for diabetes. I am hoping to get all this started mainly because I want the health center to start educating patients as opposed to simply handing out medications. Currently there is absolutely no educating when it comes to health. Patients arrive, quickly describe their symptoms, and are given a cocktail of pills in a little plastic bag and they are off on their moto to go back home and continue doing whatever they were doing to make them sick. I want the nurses to finally educated about why they might actually be sick and how to prevent in the future. My hope is that each of these projects leads to more educating and helps think about prevention along with treatment. The hard part about the project is that there needs to be a 25% contribution from the community which is no easy feat to acquire. The health staff seem to think I just ask Peace Corps for money and they will give it to me, which is definitely not how the process works. I am trying to find a way of making up this money from the community but it is proving harder than it should be.

Thats all I have for now. I will try to get on more in the future. Things have been up and down so my time and energy have been spent doing other things. I injured my foot badly playing soccer, I probably have giardia, and im convinced pink eye is setting in so my health is not at its best, but I am happier in other ways than I have ever been and I'm thinking this next year is going to be the best yet.

Monday, May 23, 2011

hitting the gym

I want to start a gym! I had training last week in phnom penh and while walking to the gym one of my friends suggested I start one at my site. I thought about it and it actually sounds like a really awesome idea! I love going to the gym and I love what it does for my health. I have even bought weights that I use in my room every other day and I always feel my best after a nice work out. I have come to realize that these Cambodians are lazy lazy lazy and something needs to be done about it. Whats worse, is they are so self conscious about their bodies they don't eat enough of the right foods all in the name of staying skinny. They want to be ripped and they want to be skinny, but they are against doing anything that requires physical exertion. Having a gym at my site would solve pretty much all of those issues and lead to a healthier group of people that understand the benefits of physical activity.

I will give them one thing... its hot here. Many days I can't even muster up the balls to start lifting because of the stifling heat and humidity. I have even started working out without any clothes just so I can save some of my already sweat ridden shirts from further destruction... plus its not something I will ever be doing in the States. I get that its hot, but these people are used to it and I feel like they use it as an excuse more often than not. The good thing about a gym is that they don't have to be in the sun, there is no running involved, which they hate, and the stationary motion keeps them from overheating like they can easily do playing soccer or volleyball.

Right now, I am thinking about the items used to lift with. The bars would be metal and I plan on just using cement to make the weights. Many of the buffer kids in the village use cement that they made into weights and they actually work pretty well, plus they wont rust if they get wet and if they are stolen, then they are easily replaceable. I was thinking of creating some pull up bars which would have to be sturdier and even some benches for things like sit-ups and bench pressing. There are a couple other things I am looking into but you get the gist. After materials, I am thinking about where to have it run. I would love to be able to get an NGO help me out with acquiring a building or something like that, but for now I will probably just run it out of my house (or underneath it). Once those two things are done, I will think about having classes and such which promote healthy exercising like a girls day and a heavy lifting day for the bigger guys out there. Idealy it would be at the school so the kids would get more use out of it. Many of the adults are hopeless at this point in there lives. They have drank one too many cups of palm wine to get rid of that belly they have formed. The kids are where its at and I really think it would make a huge difference in their health and overall well being. Whats everybody else got to say?

Sunday, May 8, 2011

big heart, big opportunity, what to do?

This is going to be one of my shorter posts, but i'm in the mood to write so here it goes. As mid-service approaches, I look out on the past 10 months with a smile and with a frown. There is no doubt I have done a lot with my time here. I have seen many things, met some great people along the way, and tried my best to do what I came here to do. While that is so, I have this uneasy feeling that I am not doing enough and that I'm not satisfied with the work I have done thus far. Personally, I have made much larger advances towards changing who I was before I came. As I am grateful for this, I am still as uneasy about this as I am my work. There are times when I amaze myself by not getting annoyed at something that would throw me over the edge in the states, or simply moving on and realizing things aren't a huge deal when I would have blown things way out of proportion in the states. But then I get those moments where I see myself doing the same old shit I would in the States and its somewhat depressing. I am at this crossroads in my service where I need to make some decisions, act on those decisions, and see where that takes me in the next year.

The most pressing is the matter of my work in Cambodia as a health educator. I give health talks in the health center and I teach health classes in the high school once or twice a week, but I need to be doing a whole lot more. I don't have this shining project most volunteers have started developing and I am starting to need something like that to keep me wanting to be here and keep my morale up. Some volunteers have some amazing projects in the works, and while I must keep on telling myself its irrational to compare myself to others, I do realize that one or two projects would be nice and benefit the community greatly. I try and analyze what these people need and what will benefit them in the long run and I am at a loss for words. Building wells would be good, but what would building 5-10 wells in the community really do for everyone in the long run. I want to do something that is going to benefit the majority of people and continue in the long run. Building wells or getting water filters for the community helps a specific group of people and in the end its not going to help the people as whole improve the quality of their health. I have ideas up in the head that are simply just ideas at the moment, but I need to make a decision and act on it or my happiness and self-fulfillment are going to decline, which is bad for a foreign volunteer in the middle of a Cambodian village.

As far as personal change, I need to find it within myself to make the most out of this experience and make some hardcore changes that will improve the quality and duration of my happiness and self imposed value of this experience. I find myself getting depressed a lot recently, whether its because of the way people are behaving in this country, my lack of personal friendships, or my unease about not doing enough and making the most out of this time. I have to realize that I am only living in Cambodia for 2 years (maybe) and this opportunity is something I will always look back on. What I do now is going to determine how I look back on this and I will be damned if I spend it moping about what is not perfect and what I could be doing better. I used to run off the idea that things happen for a reason. Sometime during the last 10 months I forgot about that ideology and turned towards wondering why why why. Just accepting that things happen for a reason, even if its not apparent at first, is such a wonderful way of going about things and I think thats what I'm going to start doing again. I need to continually look at things in a positive way instead of negative, which I have doing a lot more since coming here, but there's always room for improvement!

Now for the heavy. To return or not? I have been meddling with this idea in my head for a while and now I think its time to let people know whats going on inside the white/grey matter (yea i know... im a dork). As I spend more and more time here, Cambodia is becoming a home I don't want to leave. I could tell you about all the positives this country has to offer in a whole new post and while there are definitely negatives, I love every minute here for the most part. I haven't been cold in 10 months, every night and day during rainy season massive storms roll throughout the country-side, I can look out my window and enjoy a jungle full of palm and coconut trees, and the people are some of the friendliest I have ever had the pleasure of meeting. I am helping these people get healthier, one talk at a time and I love doing what I do. I am experiencing a culture I find very fascinating and awesome to be apart of. There's rarely any kind of stress like I used to endure in America and I know that what I am doing is effective and worthwhile. I have always wanted to help people, learn about other cultures, and see other lands so why should I give that all up to come home and bury my head in books for the next 4 years? I have all these skills that any NGO worker would kill to have so why not use my talents for the betterment of Cambodia health care?

Thats my argument for staying, but then there's the argument of why I should definitely come home, or atleast travel to another region in the world. I have a wonderful family back home and some amazing friends that i have surrounded myself with throughout the years. While I know they would be happy for me in whatever I decide to do, I don't know if I could live with myself if I just up and left and never came back. I did have a great life back home and if I really do want to come back to Cambodia I can always do the whole doctor without boarders thing after becoming a doctor. While living in the States does have its negatives, I have come to realize that it is definitely the best damn country there is out there and there's a reason why people love the USA. So friends, family, and becoming a doctor would be a great path to follow... right?

The middle ground I have come to learn of is extending my stay. There is this option I can take to extend for another year and that is something I am deeply considering. While 2 years may not be enough, I think by the 3rd year it will be out of my system and I might finally be ready to go home. Still not sure about this yet for a variety of reasons, but its being thought about heavily. In 6 months I have no idea what will be happening or what I will be feeling so for now I am putting these thoughts of post-peace corps service aside and focusing on whats here and now.

So that's it. I have a huge desire to do something special and help improve health care in the Cambodian villages, Peace Corps has given me the opportunity to accomplish this and now its just up to me what happens from here on out. There's no study guide for this, no class syllabus to follow, and no friend to study with to make it better. Its just me and my ideas and I have to make them a reality.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011


My Sumatran / Malaysian trip has come and gone and many things have happened since then. I have gone through one of many transitions at site, some good and some not, but that can wait till after I talk about this amazing trip I took while gallivanting through Indonesia and Malaysia.

I decided to wait a couple weeks and let the experience soak in. It was by far one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen and the sites and sounds I was fortunate to experience will surely be with me for the rest of my life. The story starts before I even left... I need to paint the picture of what mindset I was in as I was departing Cambodia. Khmer New Year fell directly during my trip, which was planned. I was at first disappointed I was missing Khmer New Year, but soon enough I was to realize this country is not some place I want to be during such a holiday. I have experienced holidays before in Cambodia... people drink warm beer, play cards, students don't go to school, and any sense of productivity is lost. Cambodians take that to a whole new level during Khmer New Year and it was to a point where I simply did not want to live here. The students at the private class I help at every night stopped coming, the health center staff decided not to work for the most part, and while everyone was out and about doing stuff I was stuck sitting in my room with no one to talk to. People play their Khmer card games which always involve money and not something I even remotely know how to play, and the drinking gets to a despicable level many times. I saw many husbands wasting away drinking their palm wine while their wife is probably home taking care of their 6 hungry children. It was almost a guarantee to spot this behavior anywhere throughout the village and I needed out.

I packed my bags, headed to phnom penh, and before I knew it I was flying away from my troubles with two friends to a tropical paradise. We arrived in Kuala Lumpur and headed straight for the city. It was a surreal experience traveling to this place pretty much on my own accord. I have never planned a trip like this and alot went into it. Busing into the city was a sense of relief and accomplishment as I gazed at Kuala Lumpur's beautiful skyline. With all the planning I did, I didn't really know a whole lot about the city itself and what it had to offer. We decided to find a guesthouse in China Town and stroll the city for the evening. We ate.... get ready... MCDONALDS! While I never really ate there a whole lot in the States, devouring that chicken sandwhich felt pretty damn good and lifted my spirits immediately. It was almost as if my taste buds were awoken for the first time after a long 9 month nap. As we were trying to find our way around the city I noticed how awesome the people were. Everyone was helpful and all I had to do was take my map out and someone was garaunteed to help point us in the right direction. The people were a mix of all cultures. Many many muslims with women dressed in full body garments (some even in burkas) filled the streets. It took me by surprise to see such a heavy influence of muslim culture dominating everything. With that said, it was still a very tourist friendly city and nothing says it better than an Outback Steak House which we filled our guts to capacity at.

I ended up splitting off from everybody else the next day. I went to see the Petronas Towers which are currently the world's tallest twin towers. They are magnificent pieces of architecture that grace the Kuala Lumpur skyline. They are a mix of shinny metalic and glass and I couldn't help but stare in awe for a good hour once directly under their massive shadows. The shape of the building itself has some islamic culture woven into it. The structures were simply impressive and it has been a dream of mine to get as close as possible to them. Next I traveled to the KL Tower which is a good 250 meters into the air. The views were spectacular and I couldn't have asked for a better day to view the city from so high up. Next I bussed to Batu Caves which were stunning beyond words. They sit high up on a mountain and lead into a cavernous chamber that could easily fit a 200-300 foot building. I was taken aback at how large the cave itself was. The echos were awesome and the atmosphere inside is unlike anything else. There were monkeys everywhere, some trying to bite the people as they entered. I steered clear of the monkeys and managed to catch some great pictures. The rest of the day we all spent together, drinking some beer, smoking some hookah (no... not pot), ate Indian food in Little India, and even managed to go to a rock concert held under the twin towers that night. All in all Kuala Lumpur was a success.

The rest of the trip was spent in Sumatra. We flew to Medan early in the am, which was a chaotic mess trying to get to the airport when the sun hadn't even risen. We eventually made it, purchased our visa's and made our way to the bus station. Immediately upon arrival, I noticed how different Medan was from Kuala Lumpur and how absolutely annoyed I was at being there. Kuala Lumpur is like a clean, nice, tropical New York City, but Medan is like taking the worse parts of Phnom Penh and combining it into one big cluster fu@$. There was pretty much no use of the English language which made doing anything in that city very difficult. The traffic is the worse I have ever seen, anywhere in my travels, there are no trees whatsoever, and the tuk tuks are about 1/3 the size of those in phnom penh. Luckily we were leaving the city immediately and about 2 hours later we were on a bus out. Buses in Sumatra are a discussion within itself. First and foremost, people are allowed to smoke on the buses and news flash, everyone in indonesia smokes. I saw people of all ages lighting up in the buses which have very little air flow and are hot as heck. People are crammed as tight as possible and the roads don't help the situation at all, seeing as they are covered with potholes, if paved at all. It took us around 2 hours just to get out of the city simply from the traffic and by the time we got to our destination of Bukit Lawang we simply wanted to eat and sleep.

It didn't take long though for our luck to change because once we stepped off the bus we were smack dab in the middle of one of the most beautiful villages I have ever seen. We made our way to the village from the bus station and I still remember very clearly the view of the village opening up to us for the first time. It is a quaint, very homey village situated on the Bokhour River with huge mountains covered with rainforest on the opposite bank. Bungalows and treetop villas scatter the village side and locals are going about their business with a sense of happiness and calm rarely seen back home. The locals knew how beautiful this place they call home is and it is easily transparent in their body language and personality. The Sumatrans in Medan were cold and not very friendly, but those in Bukit Lawang were anything but. We found our guesthouse and were amazed by what we saw. Our room was a treetop bungalow with an amazing panoramic view of the rainforest on the other side. The rooms were awesome and the bathroom was open aired and very clean. The view offered was stunning and one could take it in even from the shower. The wall in the bathroom was a little higher than our heads which prevented peep shows yet allowed for some spectacular sights. I don't think I have ever had such a good time taking a shit before in my life! That night we went to a party thrown by one of the guesthouses and the local jungle guides and I can't remember ever being in the presence of so many happy individuals. The locals played music with various instruments, sang some awesome songs, had an awesome time conversing with us, and made that one of my favorite memories of the trip. There was this guy Donney who would always swear he was by far the happiest person on Earth. He had never gone to a day of schooling; he simply works as a tour guide for the Orangutan sanctuary and meets new people every single day of his life. I'm sure many of them were high at the time, but I doubt their sense of happiness and peace were fake. I went to sleep smiling that night.

The next day we treked the jungles of the Orangutan sanctuary and saw amazing creatures very close up. It was a real life adventure going up and down huge mountains, climbing over gigantic vines, crossing rivers and streams, and getting as dirty / sweaty as possible. We spent a good 6 hours in that jungle and satisfied all my expectations in the process. The jungle had a huge canopy with trees taller than any I have ever seen. The plants were wild and vines wove their way in and out of everything. We were fortunate to see many different kinds of monkeys. From what I know they were a combination of Thomas Leaf, Mokaks, and Gibbon Monkeys. The real treat were the Orangutans. The first one we saw was mere feet away and resting ontop a tree stump similar to a sitting buddha. I was taken aback at how large these primates are. They have massive and powerful arms and their stature is very impressive. I was in awe at how they can hold themselves up in the trees as they did. The next one we saw was much latter in the trek but was anything but event-less. This Orangutan was a mother with her child and decided to follow us for a good 20 minutes. Every turn we made she decided to take and we could not shake her. The guide was actually worried by this cause she apparently has bitten more people than any other in the park. I think she is up to 25 people at this point. Finally we got rid of her with some threatening gestures and she wallowed away into the dense brush calmly and peacefully.

We ate lunch in this stream on rocks and it was tastier than anything I could have hoped for. We had so many delicious fruits from fresh pineapple to passion fruits. Rice was prepared by the guide's mother which was seasoned, topped with an egg, and wrapped in banana leaves. The whole experience was unreal and afterwards we washed off in the waterfall right beside us. We finished the trek with a rafting trip down the river after a lengthy swim in a deeper section of the river. The water was crystal clear and pretty damn refreshing (I would go as far as to say its much cleaner than the water I drink in Cambodia). The entire rafting trip the jungle towered over us, climbing the steep mountains of the sanctuary. We passed many monkeys along the way and had a blast manouvering through the rapids. We ended the day with a bat cave located a couple Kilos away from the village. The cave had a darkness you can't find many places above ground. It engulfs everything that steps inside and with the tiny flashlight we were given we found our way through the puddles and mountains of rocks all the way to the back where there were bats resting on the ceiling. The trek and cave exploring were exactly what I was looking for in my Sumatran adventure. I was not all about going to the beaches and relaxing on the sand... I can do that in Cambodia! This trip was supposed to be about thrilling exploration and seeing things I can't see anywhere else and Bukit Lawang helped me achieve that feeling, if only for a day or two. That night we were pretty sore from all the climbing and walking so we headed to bed early, but not before I took a nice shit in the open aired bathroom, staring out upon the jungle.

The rest of the trip took place in Lake Toba. I hired a guide to take us around Lake Toba for a 3 day kayaking trip and it was definitely worth every cent. We rode by private car with our guide for about 5 hours through mountains and rainforest. We stopped in Berastagi and got to glimpse two active volcanoes. There were thunderstorms all around and it was cool/misty. The altitude rose to about 2,000 meters so we were no longer suffering from the hot Sumatran heat. The drive was one of the most scenic I have had the pleasure to experience, all along with this german born kayaking guide who kept things interesting the entire time. We arrived at Toba by driving over the huge rim of the volcano. It was storming still so we settled down into our shabby guesthouse with some fried rice and hot tea. The next morning was brilliant and sunny and before we knew it we were out on the water of Lake Toba, basking in the Indonesian sunlight.

A little background as to what Lake Toba is and was. Thousands of years ago, a giant chamber of crap erupted creating the largest volcanic eruption known to Earth. It covered much of Asia in hundreds of feet of ash and covered the Earth in a layer, killing off species and causing population declines in many more. The caldera filled with water and years later, the super volcano erupted again, creating this island in the center of the world's largest volcanic lake. The entire lake is surrounded by high rolling mountains with waterfalls and lush vegetation running down their sides. As soon as we were on the water I started taking photo after photo and found it hard to stop due to its sheer beauty and size.

Now I am no experienced kayaker... actually... I have never kayaked in a boat like this ever. I was under the impression that I was going to capsize fairly easily yet once on the water I found the experience of kayaking very natural. The silence other than the boat slicing through the water or the paddle making its way into the clear deep blue lake was very refreshing and a nice change from barking dogs and crying babies. We went from village to village during our three days at Toba, stopping at places rarely ever seen by tourists. Our guide was basically the first to start the industry of kayaking and white water rafting in Sumatra and he knew his stuff. He was friends with all the hotel owners we stayed with and knew pretty much everything there is to know about life there. I heard many stories about Sumatra in general and several involved the tsunamis of recent past. He has a very unique outlook on how the country was affected by the many disasters to have plagued the country. His wife is the leading news anchor of the major news station in Indonesia and had the chance to cover many of the events that surrounded each disaster. One such story was of this man who learned from an NGO to run if the water recedes after an earthquake. He was told to run to higher ground cause the water is going to return and be much higher than before. During the 2004 earthquake, he ran to the beach to find the water very far from the shore so he went home packed his things, gathered his family, and told his fellow villagers to run to the neighboring hill. The rest ignored him and instead ran to the beach to collect the fish that were stranded. He said as he was running with his family he could hear the thunder of the incoming tsunami yet he couldn't turn around to look out of fear of what he would see. He heard the screams and the crashing of buildings and it wasn't till he was on top of the hill that he turned around to see the entire town under water. He and his family were the only ones to have survived the wave. We learned all about the other tsunamis, the NGO response and the bad it is doing, and many other stories. We had alot of time on the water and in the hotels to talk about pretty much anything we had questions about, which helped alot in understanding the country and where these people are coming from.

The setting of Lake Toba was as serene and unreal as I could have hoped for. Just being on the water, kayaking at my own pace, basically alone surrounded by gigantic mountains was good way to end a vocation I could have only dreamed of a couple years ago. My muscles were sore and my hands were blistered but it was worth every bit of pain and discomfort. The scenery was breathtaking and the experience was something I still find hard to believe I went through.

We ended the kayaking trip on Samosir Island, right across the waters from Parapat and stayed in a pretty swanky hotel. The guesthouses we stayed at during our stay in Toba were pretty run down... and this is me saying that after living in Cambodia for almost a year. We enjoyed the last night to the fullest and headed back to the hell hole of Medan the next day. We decided to go cheap and stay at this shoestring of a hostel. The room literally had 3 beds lined up in a row and that was it. Absolutely nothing else but a little fan sitting on one side of the room. We said to ourselves, we only need it to sleep in and were tired anyways so no biggie... right? Wrong, none of us got any sleep that night due to the noise and the wonderful call to prayer that blasted from the nearby mosque at 4am. We were glad to be leaving the next day and I was actually kind of happy to head back to Cambodia. The trip was a success and before we knew it we were riding a tuk tuk in Phnom Penh reminiscing on the previous adventure.

I returned to site the following day to find Cambodia just as I had left it. The people were still very unmotivated to do anything close to something productive and I still didn't know how to play card games. I sat in my room again, feeling the post-vocation blues, wishing I was somewhere else. It was probably the lowest I have felt since arriving at site. I couldn't work and nobody seemed to want to invite the foreigner with them for whatever they were doing. I am used to being lonely... its a part of being in the Peace Corps. I have gotten used to being happy with myself instead of what friends I have and what my friends think about me. But something about sitting there by myself for a week after Sumatra made me horribly depressed and it is something I don't want to experience again. In America we will always invite the foreign exchange student to do whatever we are doing, simply because we are the new family and what he or she is relying on for the time being. We introduce them to everybody we know and show them around, explaining the culture and lifestyles of America. During my week back from Sumatra I didn't get the sense anybody really wanted me to do anything with them. Everyone was out and about doing their own thing and I was left alone to mope around in my room. And its not just me, many other volunteers experienced the same damn thing. I asked some people why it was so and I got answers ranging from they don't want us to have an accident or they don't want to incovenience us. I think its simply because they wanted to play cards and drink and not have to translate everything from Khmer to English when I dont understand.

O well.... that time period has come and gone. Things are back to normal at site and I am feeling much better than I did right after coming back from Sumatra. I'm back to helping out the private class every night, taught a health lesson at the high school yesterday, am giving many health speaches at the health center, and have gotten back into my routine of eating rice every meal. My mom came which was awesome awesome awesome! Thats for a whole different blog though. Life is back to its sweet normality and the experience of Sumatra lives on. Again... loving life.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Current, Past, and Future

Next week I will be gallivanting all over south east asia so I thought I'd take some time to fill everybody in on the past, current, and future.

Rainy season has started and I couldn't be happier about its arrival. The dry season in Cambodia is something that does nothing good for my sinuses and lungs. Everyday I breath in tons of smoke and dust kicked up by the dirt paths and dried out rice fields. Ever since November I have had this constant dry cough, pain behind the eyes from inflamed sinuses, horrible allergies, and a very dusty set of clothes. The dirt sticks to everything and there seems to be an endless supply waiting for the next moto or car to kick it up into the air. The rice fields turn into huge windswept plains that frequently are dotted with cattle munching on the dried up rice stalks. With the dry season the heat seems to dissipate to a small extent. I sweat everyday... there's no getting around that, but during the dry season the humidity is down which helps to make the constant 90 degree temps bearable. Also, the dry season seems to keep the rats and spiders out of the house. I haven't heard the rats partying below my bed since November and the spiders are much fewer in numbers (in my house atleast).

The rainy season is something that I both love and despise. I do welcome the relief in sinus pressure, eye pain, coughing, and allergies, but on the downside all my clothes now become coated in mud. Not only does that mean the process of doing laundry has to be done more often, but drying the clothes takes twice as long with the high humidity and lack of sunshine. With the rainy season the temps actually get much hotter. There have been some scorchers already. I can't really say I notice a hot or cold season because like I said, every day I sweat and every day it gets into the 90's. FYI to all you back in America who are jealous about the previous sentence... its very much overrated. What I would do to jump naked into a pile of snow. Anyways, the mornings were a bit chilly during the dry season. With the rainy season comes warmer mornings and equally warmer afternoons when the sun is out. The greatest thing about this season though is the storms that come with it. most nights are a light show with lightening flashing at the speed of a strobe light at times. Cambodia is flat which allows for views of storms miles upon miles away. When the storms actually do hit it is something that I never take fore granted. Its very clear that rain is coming when it does and when it hits I always take the opportunity to sit, relax, and enjoy the show. It comes in great waves of downpours that inundate every nook and cranny of my village. The palms sway and the rain pounds on the hut roofs with a force that drowns out even my ipod. the wind almost always is blowing at gale force strength and the ground soon becomes a muddy mess / river. I like to sit on my porch in my kroma and soak in the mist that manages to reach me. The lightening isn't very intense, but it is more than made up for by the intensity of the rain. Many times the rain lasts quite a while and its one of my favorite things to fall asleep to. As far as spiders and rats go, I haven't had a problem with them yet. The malaria and dengue ridden mosquito population sky rockets though and I'm sure its only a matter of weeks before the big spiders start popping out all over the house.

So that's the weather. Now for work related stuff. Everything is going great! As I mentioned in previous posts, I love my health center and everything that comes with it. I am doing what I came here to do and I couldn't be happier with the way things are going. I am teaching in the high school still about 2-3 times a week and my lessons are really starting to take shape. I teach a different class each week so I have only talked about diarrhea and nutrition so far, but both of those lessons have turned into great discussions that really get the kids talking about what is healthy for them. I always get kids coming up to me asking me what food group this belongs to and what foods make them grow. At first my lesson was weak and I don't believe I connected with many of them on a level I was hoping for. But nowadays I am really getting through to these kids what they should be eating and why it is important. I go through the three food groups, go over what each of them does, and why they are important. There are many misconceptions out there about food, how one gains weight, and what is actually considered healthy. I introduce the calorie to them and manage to explain that if calories are not used then they turn into fat. I go through an explanation of how one actually does gain weight and I even have to explain how water CANNOT make them fat. Many girls are under the impression that if you drink alot of water they will gain weight and be ugly. Some even think that if they eat alot of rice and only a little meat they will lose weight. Both trains of thought are completely wrong and I have been going through that with them. I even touch on the misconception dealing with chemicals in fruit. Many have been told by their parents that fruits from Thailand and Vietnam have chemicals in them that will make them sick so many forgo that food group when eating meals. They are under the false impression that fruits from Cambodia are all natural which couldn't be further from the truth. In my opinion yes, fruits may have chemicals in them, but not all chemicals are bad and I doubt there are actually enough in the fruits to do any harm whatsoever. It is much more beneficial to eat the fruits than not and I do my best to communicate that to the students.

In the health center things have also been going great. I recently started an overhaul of the entire process dealing with patients and how they are given treatment. As mentioned in a previous post, I started a number system at the health center. Patients now have to pick a number before entering which eliminates the need to fight over who gets treated first. It was amazing to me how patients who had been waiting for medicine for over an hour could be knocked out of the way by a demanding old person simply because elders have a much higher stance in this society. The number system was working perfectly but I was still not happy with the way things were going. Those who were there to see the midwifes for ANC checkups crowd into the ANC room and those who were there for vaccinations crowded into the vaccination room which does no good for anybody when you have a room full of screaming babies. I already give health education to those who are there for general health issues because the consultation area is basically in the lobby and that is where I set up my table of pamphlets, health magazines, and the number system which I still have to man. I wanted those there for vaccinations and ANC checkups also to wait in the lobby so I could get education out to them also. So what I did was divide the lobby into sections where the people now have to sit and wait for their number to be called. This allows for one on one contact between patient and doctor and greatly improves their supposed right to privacy. Ever since I have started doing this the people are doing what I wanted them to do... they wait somewhat patiently in the lobby for their number to be called and the level of service has greatly improved since. The doctors are actually spending time with the patients and I can tell a huge difference in the way the nurses have been acting. They seem much more into what they are doing instead of herding cattle in and out of the room. I have been able to come up with many more talks to give to people and I feel as though I am really giving some good health education to those who walk in to the health center. I have even started making my own handouts in Khmer about health issues I feel like talking about. I will be doing one a month that talk about a health issue I deem important. I give one to everyone who walks in and it is a great lead into talking with patients about a wide range of topics. All in all the health center is going better than I could have imagined.

Family life also couldn't be better. I know I go on and on about how much I love this village and the people who surround me everyday, but I really can't believe how much I have grown into this place. My village is something right out of a fairy tale book and the people are equally as awesome. I love my family and appreciate everything they do for me. The kids I help teach at 5pm every night have really grown into awesome relationships I cherish. The students have stopped being intimidated by me and think of me as a friend instead of a superior. Walking into a Cambodian village with white skin and a nationality they respect so highly almost always makes me the most respected person in the village to most. They treat me with a generosity that goes above and beyond and it is a humbling experience to be treated so kindly by people who are almost always strangers. But at the school and many other places, the kids see me as an equal and friend and that's what I have been working towards for the past 8 months. I wanted to connect with them on a level I can back in the States and to pleasure we have all gotten to that level. That is also helped by my improvement in Khmer. I can talk to pretty much anybody I want to and that goes a long way. I seriously love each and every one of my family members, friends, co-workers, and students more than I thought possible when I first arrived. This place is what I now call home and I definitely don't like leaving site if I can help it.

So that brings me to where I will be going next week. Me and two volunteers are going to be heading to the adventurous island of Sumatra for a week and half. It is Khmer new year very soon in Cambodia and I don't look forward to seeing the amount of drunks that will be clogging the roadways and jungle paths. So we decided to head off to another country and bypass that cluster f@%# of a holiday. We are first heading to Kuala Lumpur for 2 days where we will climb the petronas towers, visit some caves and mosques, experience a river tour through the rain forest at night, and partake in some awesome food that I have been long awaiting. Then we will head to Sumatra where we will be hanging with the Orangutans in Bukit Lawang, climb a volcano at Berastagi, and take a 3 day kayaking tour of Lake Toba. Its going to be an amazing trip and I can't wait to see more of this beautiful corner of Earth. It sucks to be away from the family but I joined Peace Corps to not only help people, but to see parts of the world I never thought I would. There are other trips in the works that will likely blow this one out of the water but they will be saved for future posts. As for now, I can't wait to chill with some friends in another tropical paradise with hopefully a few monkeys around.

Ps. so I literally had to add this after I posted it. I was walking down my stairs after finishing this post and I was greeted by a monster spider at the foot of the stairs. I now have to jump around it and find a way of "disposing" of it. Wish me luck!