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!