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 cafĂ©.  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 :)