Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Exploring Hong Kong in a Wheelchair

On our way back to the States, we had a great opportunity to stop in Hong Kong for a few days so we took it.  With our friend Krystian, AJ and I explored this wonderful metropolitan city.  It was amazing to think we were on such a developed little island in Asia, of tall buildings and sky scrapers, surrounded by water.  This was a really cool experience for us. Mind you, this small yet overly populated city means buildings are a lot smaller in width, but extra tall in height and not wheelchair accessible with lots of steps and mainly no lifts.  The lifts also aren't made for wheelchairs, they are very tightly spaced.

One of the coolest things for us to see in Hong Kong was the Giant Buddha that is up on a very, very steep hill.  I can't even explain how huge he is, but it was definitely a cool site.  Sadly, I didn't get to see it up close because I didn't want to make the boys have to carry me up the stairs on their backs all the way up there.  But it was still worth seeing.

Another highlight was being able to see the "whole" city from a hill.  I couldn't believe that it was really that big!!  There was a mixture of eco and modern land. It was all so clean/well-kempt.  There are lots of expensive places, cars, people.  There are also lots of pretty beaches and greenery.

The people were so kind and for the most part helpful.  I was glad to be in a place where directions were in both the native language as well as English.  It would have been very difficult to get around without English and the guidebook.  Our first day there, we had to go up a few steps to get to our hotel, and these guys just came over and helped AJ lift me up.  That was such a kind gesture. 


I loved being able to see the Hong Kong LDS temple as well.  It's so different from any other one I've seen. But maybe I should have figured that one, because it's in a foreign country, and it just happens to be a in a the New York City of Asia.  This is the temple that most Cambodians come to by the ways because it is the closest one to them.  We donated some money to a family, whose father, Pu Sinhat was our tuk tuk driver in Cambodia.  We really wanted to have them reach their goal of being sealed in the temple.

I'm so glad I got to see different parts of Hong Kong.  It is a city that has definitely attracted me to come back again!!

FYIW: There are some limitations for someone in a wheelchair. Hong Kong is really small and they have to build up, so many places were compact with lots of stairs. There are many hotels crammed into one building.  That means small rooms and even smaller restroom. And it's kind of pricy compared to southeast Asia. But it's manageable.  If you are in a good financial position, you may want to look for an American hotel with greater chances of accesibility.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Manila, Philippines in a Wheelchair

As we stepped outside, the humidity hit our skin and sweating automatically began. We were met up by AJ's Aunt Edith and Uncle Bong in a big van which fit my wheelchair and what little belongings we brought, and were off to Cavite, a town on the same island as Manila. Along the way, I noticed the millions of city lights and tall buildings. I amazed by how modern it was here compared to Cambodia and Vietnam. There was so much traffic that it seemed to take forever for us to reach the town. Once we reach Cavite, I noticed how many people were up so early in the morning. There were lots of dirt roads and small local shops as well as all sorts of styles of homes. I also noticed that there were tons of dongs. We happened to hit one along the way, tragically. I was too tired to lament at the moment, but it makes me sad to think of it now. 

It was a fun experience to get to meet AJ's relatives for the first time. They were so and all smiles. We could feel their warmth and excitement for us to be there. And they spoke English, which I was so grateful for because it made it so much easier to communicate! We got to ask them all sorts of questions about life there and what they do for fun. AJ's cousins like to play guitars together, which is pretty cool. They also have a good sense of humor and tease each other a whole. There are also a lot of traditions here in terms of respect of the elders and males. That is so Asian!  They have a tradition of young children placing the hand of their elders to their forehead to greet them and as a sign of respect. I'm glad I didn't have to do that because it would've felt weird, although I would do it if I had to. It was kind of cool that they called me Ate (older sister) Martina. It made me feel like part of the culture. Although i didn't feel like I really did anything to deserve that respect. 

In a family car, we were able to get around and do some fun things on the island like:
Hang out at a black sand beach outside of Cavite, although it wasn't very wheelchair accessible so I had to be carried onto the beach and hang out in one spot. Nonetheless, it was nice to hang out with everyone and enjoy the warmth of the sun and water.

Visit Tagaytay, which is a volcano resort. It was accessible to get from parking to the park entrance, but not very accessible with swinging bridges and up hills slopes. I had to be piggybacked up and down hill while someone carried my chair. But once, you get to a flat area, you can wheel around. Although the ground sunk in just a bit from being so moist. We just sat and enjoyed the view from a picnic area. It's really cool to see the volcano surrounded by mist and people rowing around in boats in the river. Unfortunately, I didn't get to go on the zipline, but I'll have to try that some time.  Afterwards, we found souvenir stands and purchased fun things for loved ones.
 Have church at this LDS chapel (So glad they speak English, btw. They were so kind in accommodating us). I loved that little kids were running up and down the aisles and in the pulpit area. Pretty different from church at home.
Shop at the Mall of Asia (seriously large mall with lots of stories), which was a couple of hours away from us. The whole mall is modern with lots of American restaurants like Mcdonald's, Panda Express, and Dunkin Donuts, which we haven't seen in a while since being in Southeast Asia. All of the shops were large and wheelchair. I was excited that there were lifts and escalators everywhere. It definitely made the shopping trip that much easier. There was even a Havaianas store. My favorite store was Cultura Filipina. It was a little pricey for local Filipinos, but comparable to American dollar prices.

Filipinos love their spam!
Eat some of the interestingly delicious cuisines like Filipino spaghetti with banana ketchup, rice and fish [even at KFC], Filipino fast food like Jolly Bee and Chow King (comparable to McDonald's and Panda Express but with an Asian twist), exotic Southeast Asian fruits like rambutan and lychee, and desserts like Puto bom bom and pan de coco! I've had desserts like those before in the states and loved them, especially the ones with lots of coconut and mango. I had some exposure to the fruits before in California, but was my taste buds were open to much, much more when I got to Southeast Asia. Each one has an interesting taste and texture. The outside of a rambutan is a bit hairy (I don't mean to make it sounds unappealing because it is good), but the inside is smooth and chewy. It's not really logical to expect fruits to all be like apples and oranges because even those two fruits alone are textured differently. However, these fruits totally threw me off. They look strange but are so worth the try!

The means for transportation here is either car, a big, colorful, loud bus called a Jeepney, or a cart attached to a motor cycle called a tricycle. I rode in a tricycle once with AJ's aunt. let me tell you, a tricycle is super small and certainly doesn't fit a whole wheelchair. So funnily, we broke down my wheelchair and split the parts between my tricycle and AJ's. It was a humorous sight for sure.

AJ gets his nails done in preparation for the party. It's pretty common to do that here in the Philippines. Although he said he felt weird doing it, I think he liked it :)
It's traditional for girls [whose families could afford it. We all know the reality of poverty in this area of the world] turning 18 years old to celebrate their coming of age. This is a big party where everyone gets dressed up and enjoys an extravagant dinner and dance. It reminded me of the quinceñeras I've been to for my Latino friends, so it must be an occasion derived from Spanish culture. This one was a little more elaborate than the ones I've been to in the past, with choreographed dances with her chosen group of girls and guys, ballroom dancing with selected male family (AJ included)  and friends. It was such a unique and special experience to be a part of another culture we're not used to celebrating even though AJ is half Filipino. This was new for both AJ and me and we enjoyed it very much. The cool thing was that the party was actually set for an earlier date, but at the news that we were coming over, the family called everyone up to let them know that they were switching the date to accommodate us. That was very kind of them. I couldn't believe it.

Drop Molly off at the airport to send her back to the states. Look at how much she over packs. lol. The lines to get to security is right near the exit so it easily hangs outside of the airport building. Be careful to read up what is allowed to be brought back because the fruits will be taken out.
Visit the local Aguinaldo Museum to honor a past beloved president of the Philippines. There were so many cool stuff there like hidden doors to hide from mobs and multiple toilets in a bathroom. Plus, he owned lots of cool vintage cars. It was pretty easy to get around, although I had to be carried upstairs and couldn't get to some rooms. 

Like most homes around the world (even in the U.S.), homes here are not retrofitted so it was kind of tricky to work with stairs and small restrooms. I was grateful for help from my companions, AJ and Molly as well as AJ's relatives.

Overall, this was a worthwhile trip. I'm definitely glad I came and to meet AJ's cousins. I fit in quite well as many people thought I was actually Filipina. I take that as a compliment because they truly beautiful people. I hope to come back again soon and visit more places.

**Notes: We caught a quick flight from Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam to Manila, Philippines. We needed to get our visas done ahead of time for Vietnam and they require a new one each time, but you can buy a multiple entries visa for a little more and it lasts about 3 months. Because the Philippines were a U.S. territory, we got a visitor's stamp in our passport at the airport for free instead of having to get visas. Though, if you staying longer than 30 days, you'll require a Visa. It was easy to navigate the airport in the wheelchair. *Also, on the flight, make sure you have change for drinks on the flight because attendants will not have change. 

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Pic {Foods of Cambodia}

Cambodia offers many wonderful flavors we've never had before. It was like a party in my mouth everyday. The cuisines and exotic fruits there were an explorative experience itself. Below are some of the foods we had that were delicious.
From left to right and row by row:

  1. pickled fruit, not sure what the English name is
  2. rice, grilled pork, pickled veggies on the side
  3. jack fruit
  4. rice, fried pork, pickled veggies on the side, 
  5. grilled frog, actually really good
  6. spring roll
  7. dragon fruit, kind of tasteless surprisingly
  8. lok lak, stir-fried beef, fresh veggies, on a bed of fries and rice
  9. rambutan. yum!

Monday, June 28, 2010

Building Houses in Cambodia

We had a wonderful opportunity to work with a local NGO called, Tabitha, to build houses in the Battambang province.  What happens is the local people are educated on microsavings and then they work with the organization to set a goal and implementation plans to reach a certain amount to invest in livestock (to raise and sell), homes, etc.  When they reach $50, they are able to pay for the materials for their homes (if they choose this route).  Then, volunteers build the houses for them.

FYIW: I was carried up a wooden ladder to each of the houses and then got to do the real work. It was a lot of nails and hammering in the hot sun, but it was so much fun.  I was hot and sweaty the whole time, but it was worth every minute of it to see the smiles and grateful expressions on their faces.  Our team built 10 homes in a day.  It was very efficient and awesome.  

This was such refreshing work.  It gave me an opportunity to reflect on how life experience differs from person to person.  I'm amazed by the fight people have in them to get through hard trials.  I've never experienced extreme poverty, but have had some glimpses of them when I was younger. However, my experiences can never compare to that of these people.  They go through hardship everyday.  I admire them so much for the smiles they have on their faces when they come home at the end. They know there are many good things life has to offer and they live and appreciate those moments.  I'm so glad to be a part of this work and couldn't have been more proud of these people I don't even know for their hard work.  Now, it's paying off...

Check out the Tabitha website if you're interested in volunteering in Cambodia for a week or two. 

And then, I got sick and had to go to the hospital.  FYI: Cambodia will not treat you unless they can confirm you have means of paying for their services.  I had to wait several hours before they cleared it with my insurance and finally helped me.  It was an infection, thank goodness it wasn't anything more serious like Dengue.  Just be as clean as you possibly can be and drink lots of fluids!!

Sunday, June 27, 2010

English Teaching with in Cambodia

I heard about another organization, Pro Labor Dei (a Christian NGO out of Nigeria) that teaches English to children living in the slums.  I was swept away with the idea that I could use a skill that I know like the back of my hand--basic English grammar and rules--to help other people, so I enlisted.  I figured it was possible to put in a few hours a day to share my knowledge. No prob.

When I got to the school, I was expecting a lesson book with tons of activities all planned out and all I would have to do was teach it. Well, it turns out that things work a little different in this English schools and I would have to develop lesson plans as I go. That presented a bit of a road block, but it was manageable when my sister and I put our heads together and planned out how we would attack this. I really want to stay away from the regurgitation technique used in schools here, which would hopefully generate more questions and help them put what they are learning into practice.  That is why I planned for the older class to converse with me and their peers during class each day (yes...just like high school clase de Español) as well as formulate sentences with new vocab words each day.  I think it's been effective so far as we're beginning to see progression in their conversation.  Also, helping them with their pronunciation has increased their confidence in their speaking abilities, so they're conversing more in English now.  We laugh a lot and all have a great time. They all want to learn and are so respectful. I'm so grateful for that because it just keeps me going to know that I am providing meaningful service to them. 
The children classes are coming along. We are working on simple things like ABC's, numbers, days of the week, vocabulary, basic sentences, etc. We have to keep on experimenting and seeing what works with them. It's a bit hectic in the little classes because there are so many of them and they demand a lot of attention. Some of them are pretty wild and we had to be the mean ones and put them on time out. They were so stunned because they had never had this kind of discipline before. My sister and I had to try really hard not to laugh. Here are my cute little ones.

This was also a great opportunity for me to hopefully eliminate the stigma Cambodians have towards those with disabilities.  I hope they see that my brain functions even though my legs don't.  I can see the respect they have for me as their teacher, and I hope this carries over to others with disabilities as well.  I hope they remember me. I also really hope they are getting a lot from what they are learning and will continue it throughout their lives. I know with a surety that these skills will keep them well if they keep it up. I hope I can convey my conviction of this fact through my teaching and I know hope that they know how much I care about them and what they're learning. I believe they are intelligent and will succeed if they continue to work hard.

If you would like to volunteer with this organization, please please let me know and I will get you in contact with the director, Yvonne.  She is a very kind lady and really believed in my abilities to pass on my knowledge to her students.  She was also so very accommodating to my disability.  This slum school is actually run in a two story house.  I stayed on the first floor to teach my classes.  There are many ways to make what you really want work for you. Always keeps trying.

Monday, June 7, 2010

My visit to the Angkor Wat

Growing up, I saw tons of photos and paintings of the Angkor Wat and heard stories of it from my parents, but I never realized how significant it was until I was studying about its role in Cambodian history. I read that it is the biggest religious complex on the face of the earth, right here in Siem Reap, Cambodia. It is a symbol of the once powerful Ancient Khmer civilization that ruled much of Southeast Asia long ago. This temple was built secretly by men of the Suryavarman II era in the 12th century (people were killed to keep it quiet. talk about risqueee).  This temple was built for the Hindu god, Vishnu, but was turned into a Buddhist temple as majority of the country converted to Buddhism over the years, and was used by the Khmer Rouge as storage space (can you believe that?) at one point during their reign. I was so excited to go see this crazy place in person.

I was so fascinating to explore the structure of this palace full of symbolic inscriptions and carvings. There were lots of the alphabet characters mixed in with ancient stuff that I wished I could understand more of. It felt so surreal to be there in person. I felt serenity as I lit up incense and prayed. I thought of the ancient of this place, all the people who have passed through over time, the routine, the chaos and its abandonment. It's been through a lot. I was so glad that I read up on the history about the temples before hand because I appreciated it that much more. 

There were so many steps and cracks.  Most of it has been and continues to be refurbished because of natural damage from being abandoned for many years after the great Angkor era as well as during the Khmer Rouge.

I loved seeing how the monks keep the place alive with their bright orange and red robes. I also kind of started to get used to the sound of cicadas. It reminds me of the chants I heard from monks in my childhood (odd, I know). With each new findings of different stories, sculptures, inscriptions, and intricate craftsmanship, I felt a sense of pride that something like this was built for the posterity of the people, which and I'm one of those posterity. It doesn't get better than knowing your ancestors thought of you and created something this magnificent for you.
AJ... my knight in shining armor.  He is the one because of many reasons.  But one of the many reasons he is so is because he is so willing to carry me everywhere just so that I wouldn't miss out on anything.  He always thinks about me, and how he could help me. I'm so thankful to have him!

This complex was definitely not made for wheelchairs. The broken rocks made it difficult to get around in the wheelchair. Eventually, AJ and my friends took turns carrying me on their backs through the hot, hot sun, and carrying my chair.  We risked falling by going up and down the steep, unstable rock steps.  The whole place is made of blocked rocks, which means lots of cracks for your wheelchair to get stuck in.  For the most part, wheelchairs are safe from those cracks but I suggest off-road tires, which I wish I had. Part way through, I had my friends from the group push my chair and finally just park it somewhere we could locate later. It was really tricky navigating the place in my wheelchair, but it was so worth it to see one of the ancient wonders of the world!

We got to see the sun set and my, it was a beautiful sunset.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Ancient Ruins in Cambodia

One of the most tiring trips we have gone on so far is Phnom Tha Kmouv, where an ancient temple even older than the famous Angkor Wat lies. To get there, approximately 400 uneven, rustic steps (made for tiny feet) lie in our path to ascend to the ancient temple ruins. Through thousands of beads of sweat and tears, AJ and Ash took turns giving me piggy backs and we made it up (I seriously have the most dedicated friends ever). To make matters worse, it rained along the way, meaning slippery steps up tiny uneven steps. Talk about a dangerous mission. With carefulness and tons of faith, we made it to the top. It was amazing how these friends of mine were willing to sacrifice for me, just so I wouldn't miss out on anything other people got to see. I literally couldn't have done it without them. My arms were sore by the end, but that's nothing compared what they had just been through for me. That alone was a worthwhile adventure. 

At the top, lo and behold was the ancient temple with tons of ruins, remnants of life in the past. We found that there were still monks living in that area. I'm not sure exactly which building they lived in but I suppose it's a quaint place. We caught a glimpse of them marking on in a line along the side of the hill in their bright orange robes, meaning they're younger in rank. We found a pond filled with lily pads and water lilies. I've only seen them in picture and thought them to be extremely soft and beautiful. We found a mini shrine in that spot and then went on to the bigger shrine, like major big. We saw a huge, elongated, resting Buddha statue (You couldn't miss it). There were locals burning incense and going about their daily prayer rituals. It was amazing to see how people are still dedicated to Buddhism today, at all levels of devotion.  There were people who "read" our fortunes by the cards you chose, for a small fee of course. It was all open to interpretations like many things.
Mine was a story of a man who reaches his destination (But this was only the second try).  The first fortune was one of failure, so they interpreted it as me taking a few wrong turns before reaching my goal. 

After, we headed to a zoo located nearby the temple. Along the way, there were beggars of all ages waiting for vans like ours to drive by. People held their hands together in front of them to ask for money. I felt so much pity for them and gave out a few dollars, but I wasn't sure if that was the "right" thing to do. It's a debate I still have within in me of whether or not panhandling will help out those doing it. What do you think?

We saw some pretty cool animals.  We saw bears who love, love, love green coconuts.  So we purchased some to feed them, although there were signs prohibiting it.  The funny thing about this caution was that there were children following us to sell them.  Supply and demand? We also fed monkeys who were so comfortable with tourist that they would come grab rice out of our hands.

We heard these really loud monkeys screeching.  It really hurt our ears to listen to them! They were swinging from branch to branch all throughout their cages. I think someone in our group upset one of them because he was mooning and sticking his tongue out at us. Mischievous little bugger.
There were other cool animals too like lions, tigers, bears and elephants.  My favorite was the elephant, Lucky (seems like all of them are named Lucky, even the one in Phnom Penh).  He did the macarena and played kickball for us. It's obvious he's a very a talented young elephant. 

What a great day because everyone had a positive attitude. Awesome!

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

First Observations in Cambodia

This is Martina checking in from the distant Kingdom of Cambodia aka the Kingdom of Wonder. I've been here for two weeks now. Of course I expected many new experiences here, but I just didn't realize the immense differences there would be. It's all part of the fun. Here are just some of my own observations. First of all, we were fit by a wave of humidity and heat as we landed into Phnom Penh. It was a bit hard to breathe a first, but after few coughs and lung struggles, we were ready to begin our adventure in Cambodia! Second of all, traffic. It's crazy here in Phnom Penh, and here I was thinking I was going to a rural, rice field covered city. Nevermind.

Here are some of the things I've observed in the first few weeks I've been here. Like with everything in life, some are good and some are frustrating. These are observations are my own.
1. There are tons of fresh fruits I've never had before: dragon fruit, mangosteen, rambutan, star fruit, French guava, and so much more. I seriously got to have these delicious desserts every single day and it was amazing. But be careful with where you get your fruits and shakes. If there are tons of bugs around, that's a good sign that it's probably on the verge of spoiling.
2. People are pretty open about their curiosity here and do not hesitate to ask questions, especially about my disability. To me, it seems like a lack of privacy, or personal space, which I'm so thankful for back home but it doesn't seem to bother other people here and they do it all the time. Everywhere I've gone, strangers stare at me (even while they're driving a motorcycle during traffic, barely miss hitting the other moto) and if they figure I can speak Khmer, they ask why I'm in a wheelchair.  Yes, I'm quite a novelty here.  Female foreigner in wheelchair, out and about. 
3. I've either been wheeled or ridden a tuk tuk (a three-wheeled cart that we sit in that is pulled by a motor driver) everywhere in blazing hot sun. It's been a bit of an adventure getting places and maneuvering broken side walks and watching out for crazy drivers. It makes me feel like I had it really easy in the States, driven around in my nice and comfy air conditioned car. 
4. There is a lack of resources and funds among all organizations, and it seems the "development" is always in need of more skilled help to search out more funds. It's very difficult to see great causes like those of RACHA's almost wither away because of this funding stuff. If I were a millionaire, I think I know what I would invest my money in.
5. Kids are addicted to playing games at the internet café.  Seriously, the one by our house is always packed, all hours of the day. I don't think I've seen kids play soccer or other sports yet, which reminds me a lot of America, except people own their own computers for the most part.
6. People self-medicate all the time. Since I've been here, I've had a lot of problems with not being able to go to the restroom, and people have suggested all sorts of remedies like ripe papaya and unripe mango, witch doctors, blah, blah, blah. I can see why though, because medical care is so expensive here and the effectiveness of medicine is so inconsistent. I've heard horror stories. Horror.
7. Many believe that witch doctors would help me walk again, so I'm supposed to go to these witch doctors in sketchy places, listen to some chants, and get some things rubbed on me. I think I'll try it just for the experience, but we will have to see. haha.
8. My host mother is Buddhist. She believes that because in my past reincarnated life, I had committed a sin like touching a sacred animal, I have to suffer from not being able to walk in this life. It makes me feel a bit judged like I deserve all of this difficulty. It's quite unfair that life is thought of as destiny determined by the past life and there is nothing you can do to change it. I'm not a fan of this belief, to say the least.
9. It is hot and humid all the time. This is the first time in my life that I've ever really had a heat rash. I sort of can't wait for rainy season, which begins soon.
10. We have to barter for clothes, tuk tuks, food, etc. all the time because people try to rip us off. My friend told me early on that I'm going to be ripped off no matter what, so I should just get ripped off for less. I'm almost an expert at bartering now :) However, it does get tiring because I would really, really love to be treated as an equal, a local sometime and just be part of the community instead of just a foreigner.
11. Cambodians have a different sense of humor, but are still funny. They love talking, but their goal isn't always to get you to laugh, well maybe get you to giggle inside.  They love slapstick humor.  They play on words or rather flip words around to where I barely understand them sometime. Luckily, like many cultures, if you smile and try to get to know to them, they will open up to accept you.
12. We got tickets to a Pit Bull concert for $1, and learned that Cambodians don't rock out the same Americans do. They sway and sing along (to the Cambodian opening acts), but they do not do the rowdy jumping up and down, bottom shaking, crowd surfing scene. At one point in between the 30 min transition from Khmer singers to Pit Bull, kids were playing hand games. Oh, and although in America, it's unusual to take kids to rapper shows, this was a full on family event where three generations came together as a family. So that answers my burning question of how Cambodians rock out at concerts. They don't.
14. As a foreigner, everything is so cheap here, but all of this stuff, food and experience I'm afforded is only granted because of where I was born. Locals here suffer so much in poverty and for them, these prices aren't cheap. They are totally kicking my trash in making do with what they have, and I have a lot to learn from them. Again, if only I were a millionaire, i would invest in them to make their lives better.
15. As foreigners, we must be prepared for all situations. My health is not so well right now, but it's great that I brought the meds I did. I'm going to a doctor though, but it is a total rip off. We will see what to do about that.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Interning in with RACHA in Phnom Penh, Cambodia

We are interning at the NGO called Reproductive and Child Health Alliance (RACHA).  This organization is based in Phnom Penh but works with pregnant women, mothers, and children both in the city and rural areas to improve their health through different health programs.  They do things such as installing water filters in boat communities, increasing iron in fish sauce, educating mothers about prenatal care and child care. They have been a very successful organization for years and are funded by outside sources like the USAID.

Our duties are pretty inconsistent.  For the first parts, we were trying to figure out where interns fall in this whole organization.  We have been reading up on their programs.  I get the feeling that we should have been more prepared with a topic and some research to make use of our time here so we could jump into work right away. But I'm glad for some preparation and am excited for the work we're about to do. I hope I can jump in and make a difference.

We were place with the nutrition department which I feel happy and thrilled about because it's definitely a topic of interest. The ladies in this area are so sweet and welcoming. They have really tried to learn more about me and once we got through the reason why I'm in a wheelchair, we've moved on to talking about other topics. I'm really glad they don't get stuck on that, and I'm also glad that there isn't' a language barrier as I grew up speaking their language. However, it has been a bit to get back into the groove of speaking. I think it's good they see I can speak it, always want to help out and my language gives them the opportunity to do so. They have invited me to go to the prenatal trainings to learn and hopefully train soon-to-be mothers as well. I can't wait!

So far, one of the managers of the financial and logistics department has asked me to edit the English translation for the USAID quarterly review of program stats and progression. Also, I'm working on some document translation from data acquired through health research in the provinces.  It's not the most fun to do, but it's definitely interesting to see the process of how things work here and see the public health methods I'm learning about in school in live action.

I hope to get a lot of work done here, although accessibility was a barrier in the beginning. The first department I was in was nutrition, which was three floors up.  AJ would piggy back me everyday and Ash or Jake would so graciously carry my wheelchair up. We had a whole system down, but it was still a pain because the restrooms (also inaccessible) were on the ground floor. Eventually, the director, Chan theary placed me in another department, doing the same work, but on the first floor. It's been interesting so far. I'm looking forward to getting to some work soon. Follow me on this adventure :)

Friday, April 30, 2010

Typhoid and Malaria pills. Bleh!

On Wednesday, I went down to the state health department to get pills to prevent Typhoid Fever while in Cambodia. These pills work by taking a total of four of them every other day in a period of a week. Pretty simple. However, side-effects are the worst part of the whole experience. For me, they include: tiredness, cough, sore throat (a huge pain), AJ's allergies acting up, grogginess, and nausea. I've skipped out on the worst part of nausea by taking the pills at night before going to sleep. It's quite a tedious process because we have to take it at the same time every other day.  If we miss a dose, we have to start all over again, so we're trying really hard to avoid that.

As for Malaria pills, we are supposed to begin taking pills 2-5 days before entering the endemic area. What I've heard so far is that these pills are only useful in protecting us in rural areas, which we won't be in so much. We'll be mainly in the capital, Phnom Penh, hence the dilemma of whether or not to take them. As a public health major, I understand the value of prevention over treatment, but if I'm not going to an endemic area... Side effects: yeast infection, sun sensitivity, nausea, stomach pain, and possible "vivid dreams and visual disturbances." I'll think about it.

The other set of vaccinations recommended on the U.S. Travel website list for Cambodia is Japanese Encephalitis.  Again, this is mainly encountered in rural areas.  Another draw back is the cost.  These shots are at least $450-1,100!!

I also got three months worth of nerve pain meds.  Yes...that was quite a lot out out of my budget for meds.  At least I have health covered.  Let's hope there will be minimal health complications in country.  I'm getting pretty nervous yet excited at the same time. Wish me luck!!!

Tuesday, April 27, 2010


One day, my little 6-year old sister, Holly, called me with sounds of sadness and tears in her voice. I wasn't sure what was going on because the last time she called me like this was when she realized she was leaving me in Utah and heading back to Cali. So I asked her what had happened. She said, "Martina, I lost the $15 you gave me for my school shirts. I left them in the room yesterday and now I can't find it anywhere." I told her to calm down because it's only money, it'll show up somewhere. No worries. But then she said, "Martina, I'm not responsible, when am I ever going to be responsible?" She was so upset that she kept losing things, and she went down the list of everything she lost already. I told her it's ok, because one day when she can remember things on her own and not lose things anymore, that's when she'll know she's responsible. But I was just proud of her realizing this was a problem and for wanting to improve herself.

But one thing I learned from this experience was the importance of instilling in young people the value of learning and practicing responsibility at a young age. This would help out families so much more if parents learned to be responsible with things such as budgeting and caring and listening their children with lots of love. It would also contribute to society if people took on the responsibility of being courteous and kind to others. And even our country if people obliged themselves to listening to current events, policy plans, society issues and how to implement change, and exercised their rights to vote properly. I think there are little things that we can do, that would make such a huge difference-Sponsability that each and everyone of us should bear.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Headed to Cambodia

This summer, I decided to take on a new kind of challenge. I'll be going on a public health internship to Cambodia to research and provide service. We will be working with two organizations, Reproductive and Child Health Alliance (RACHA) and Pillows for Peace. RACHA focuses on serving maternal and child health by providing and improving prenatal care, vaccinations, prevention and control against infectious diseases, nutrition, etc. Pillows for Peace is a program based out of Israel, that educates people on microfinance and gives people of this war-torn country the opportunity to finally build their own homes.

I chose Cambodia because I've always wanted to see the country my parents come from and see the places I heard them talking about growing up. Whenever they told us stories, they would reminisce with such fondness of the good times they had with their families even through those really difficult times of poverty, hunger, fear, and stress. It was hard to grasp as a child the things they went through during that period of genocide of their people, but I'm hoping this internship will provide me with the opportunity to get a better glimpse of that.

I have been quite nervous and worried about this internship because of a few different reasons, each related to my wheelchair circumstance like getting up several flights of stairs everyday at RACHA, accommodations at my host family's, getting around town, traveling, etc. It's sort of scary to think about. After I read this quote,

"If we will be prayerful, seeking wisdom from God, who is the source of all true wisdom,
we shall be blessed as God has promised.
Our Father has made explicit covenants with His people.
He is in a position to keep those covenants.
We have nothing to fear if we stay on the Lord's side."
-President Gordon B. Hinckley

I realized He has been with me every step of the way and I've done my best to be faithful and do as I feel prompted to. I feel that things have fallen into place over time and that this internship was something that He brought into my path. Therefore, if I put my trust in the Lord and align my will with His, He will bless me and things will work out hopefully better than I expect it to. It'll be a challenge, but I'm confident things will turn out fine especially since my boyfriend and friends will be there. 

We just got our tickets to Cambodia and here we are with our passports in hand. Adventure awaits us in Southeast Asia and I'm looking forward to lots of them, both mundane and spectacular.  I'm excited for the things I'll get to learn and experience this summer. I can't wait to see the ancient Angkor Wat, visit my extended family, eat tropical fruits and delicious traditional cuisines, further my language skills, and meet new people. This is will be the adventure of a lifetime!

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Spring break with children

My little siblings, Anthony and Holly got to come up from Cali and spend their break with me. I loved it! I felt really like a mom: planning my schedule around them to make the most time with them, getting food to feed them, planning activities to do for them, etc. It was a lot of fun. They spent a lot of time with AJ's family and got really close to them. Mom and dad miss Holly's little feet running back and forth everywhere. We hope they can come play here this summer.

Some of the things we were able to do with them included:

  • Going out for a pizza buffet at Pizza Pie Cafe
  • Taking them to fun classes like floral design
  • Making easter eggs and having an easter egg hunt
  • Going out for some fresh air at the park
  • Making easter decorations out of paper 
  • Playing tons of board games (Monopoly, Candy Land, Pretty Pretty Prince, Connect Four)
(sorry no photos because I forgot)

One of my favorite activities with them was going and seeing a late night showing of Alice in Wonderland in 3D. It was one Holly was talking about way before she came here. I had my doubts prior but it turned out to be so awesome! Holly loved it! It was a very creative and fun movie. The storyline was also entertaining to follow. Exploring new worlds is a lot of fun, just make sure you choose the right one. And you just can't say no to pop corn and fulfilling a child's wish.

I had a great time while they were here. I will definitely miss late night family gaming and slumber parties. It was hectic, but I know it is definitely a blessing to have them in my life. I love being able to see them grow and learn new things. I guess that is the blessing of having children. I can't wait to have my own someday, although it may drive me crazy! and definitely can't wait til I see my siblings again in May!

Saturday, February 6, 2010

1 year Since the Accident

"Failure is an opportunity for Success"
Not to say that my accident was failure because I realize now that it was just an accident and there was nothing I could have done to prevent it. I was just living my life. But it was something that made me fall backwards for a time and have to reassess my decisions, my faith and my life. It was an experience that I am learning to accept and am learning from day by day. It has led me down a path of overcoming many failures and finding goodness from them.

I celebrated one year since my accident, Friday February 05, 2010. It has definitely been a difficult year filled with emotional breakdowns and sadness, but also filled with many successes, happiness, and especially wisdom. I am thankful for all those whom I've been able to meet and learn from along the way including my family, friends and boyfriend AJ. Words cannot describe the emotional roller coaster ride this has all been. But I'm thankful for it.

One of things I've learned is that I am still Martina. I can still be happy, bubbly, and spontaneous. I still adventure inside of me that strives to come out with every breath I take, whether it be rolling down crazy BYU hills or taking on the challenge of dirt roads and 5 story of stairs in Cambodia. I still have my dreams and I'm going to seek after them. The most current challenge: monoskiing.