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.