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Hello again :-). I’m pretty tired today….it’s a lot muggier than usual and I’ve done a fair bit of commuting with my bicycle. It’s about 3km from the city to the centre and I generally do that trip two or three times a day. Its a tough ride because the track is dirt road and i tend to share it with anything and everything. The best part about the schedule here is that the centre closes between 12 and 2pm and so we get a two hour lunch break to do whatever.  The girls and I generally just go into the central markets and have lunch — I didn’t think I’d ever mentally recover after the last trip and my experience with gastro but I find myself being extremely hygienically adventurous and eating from places I never thought I would. So far so good. I did have some tummy cramps yesterday but they seemed to have settled today. I’m assuming I’ve built up some sort of resistance after last year’s health bungle in Asia but in saying that, I’m having psychosomatic responses to eating where I actually get slight tummy irritations before I eat! The power of the mind, hey? 

Yesterday being Sunday, Jana and I had a really chilled out day, hanging out in a cafe called Eden which is owned and run by an American expat. This haunt is the only place in Cambodia that has a proper espresso machine so you’d probably agree that it’s no surprise I’m there at least once a day.  Well the cafe got to enjoy mine and Jana’s company for a good 4 hours yesterday as we sucked back latte after latte and shared stories about our lives.  She’s so easy to talk to. Great talker but an even better listener. Jana comes from Melbourne and like me, just quit her job as an executive’s assistant because it was all getting a bit too much for her. She’s 40 and not in a relationship which she’s quite self conscious about. She’s got such a young and adventurous spirit so I’m sure she’s going to meet someone amazing very soon.  Talking to Jana about her wants, desires and expectations has reminded me about how important it is to be with someone who challenges you, pushes you, inspires you and shares a similar passion for certain things in life whether it be travel, a creative pursuit or whatever. All Jana has ever wanted was someone who has a passion for life and travel, fishing and exploring and I was reminded about how extremely lucky I am to have found someone like Ally who feeds my spirit and pushes me towards personal growth. Love you babe.

A great day was met with a great night yesterday and was spent having cocktails by the pool and swimming the evening away. Jana, Mel and I were joined by two of the Centre staff, both Cambodian and one very very very camp. He is just soooo adorable. The boys treated us to head, foot and back massages by the pool and we all left feeling lighter in body and mind.

Up until today, I thought I’d get away with not feeling any stress but for the first time I had a chance to re-evaluate the purpose of this trip. Apart from distracting me from the number of issues I left back home, I realized that I had got to a point where I felt like I had completely lost control of my life and that I was missing that sense of belonging. Not knowing where I would be living or working, I knew that my time would be better spent doing soul searching overseas than wallowing in my self misery in Australia. I suppose that when you have dealt with a particular issue for so long and then feel like you haven’t moved forward, it begins to destruct your sense of being. With that, comes the most debilitating feeling that has followed me everywhere….guilt.  For the first time in my life though, I feel like I’ve lifted a brick off that pyramid and am slowly on my way to completely dismantling it and it’s destructive capacities.

Today, Ally asked me if I had given some consideration to when I’d be returning home. At that moment I got a severe pang of anxiety because I wasn’t sure what I was returning to.  It scared the both of us when I said that if money permitted, I would never come back. I know that sounds dismal but the stronger force in the equation is that traveling makes me feel as light and weightless as a feather.

Ive moved out of the Khemara hotel and am staying at a local’s house with another one of the volunteers at the centre. It’s great because it means I’m closer to the centre and I’m saving lots of money because the stay is free :-). Downside is that I don’t have wifi access in the house so I can’t really update the blog as often.

I’ll try and keep it short as lots has happened in the last few days. It’s been a massive learning curve with regards to the work being done in the centre and at the same time I’ve had a great opportunity to build some friendships with the locals and other volunteers. I’ve mostly been hanging out with 2 other volunteers from Oz, Melissa and Jana. Both great girls and loads of fun. It’s so good to have people to share it all with and debrief at the end of the day over dinner, coffee and ice cold mango shakes. It’s so hot here and you basically have no choice but to suck it up and embrace the dust and filth!

So Mark, Tim and Peter (the Aussie that run the show) all left for Bangkok on Friday morning so we went out for dinner and one too many drinks on the Thursday night. We all had a blast. Peter used to be a stand up drag queen and is just the best company.

In terms of the work in the centre, the days have been sooooo busy. There’s so much to do here and so varied! Basically over the last few days I’ve been knee deep in sorting out medical files and creating snap shot profiles of the children’s history in order to make it easier for other medical volunteers to pick up the medical files and be able to get a clear picture of the child’s medical and social history. There’s 130 kids so you can imagine that it’s no mean feat. The aim is to try and get it all done before next Thursday because myself, Jana, Melissa and Danny are heading off to Vietnam nxt Thursday for a 10 day whirlwind tour of Vietnam, starting in Ho Chi Minh. Melissa then has to head back to Bangkok to fly out and as for me and the others, not sure where we might be headed next. Had a dream about going to Japan last night and I can’t shake off the feeling.

At the moment, I’m sitting in the office in the centre. We’ve just got back from a massive day out in the villages where we have been shooting parts of a documentary to promote particular programs that the centre is involved with. I’ve played the sound assistant to the camera man which has been a unique experience. Probably something I would never get a chance to do back home! The program is focussed on prevention of mother to child transmission of HIV for women and their newly born babies. In a nutshell, the centre provides baby formula and education to the mothers of the newborns to promote use of the baby formula as opposed to breastfeeding, thus reducing the risk if HIV transmission through consumption of the mother’s milk. One of the women we filmed today was the mother of the first baby who was born without HIV through participation in this program. Sadly, her older sister contracted HIV from her mother following child birth and it’s heartbreaking to see them side by side, one looking amazingly fit and healthy and the other not so lucky. This new baby is such a beacon of health and beauty that 5 other women have approached the mother to adopt the baby!

I’ve taken a fair few pics today but can’t really upload because i didn’t bring the transfer cable with me. I’ll put up some pics that the kids took with my phone.

Oh and one last thing….last night, Jana and I assisted Mel the student nurse to hand out worming medications to the kids in the centre. We had to come back at 8.30pm to do this because it has to be given according to a digestion schedule I.e 3 hours post last meal. So they have their dinner at 5 and are in bed by 7 so we ends up having to wake up 70 kids to give them their worming medication and I cannot tell you how cute they were as we woke them up. They had no idea what was going on and pretty much chomping down on these tablets in their sleep….

Gotta go….camera man calling!

On the mend

I’m pleased to say that the eye infection is slowly resolving. The eye drops and the antibiotics are thankfully doing the trick and I’m definitely feeling less anxious about it all. By lunchtime the eye had started to open again and so I was able to head over to the Centre to do some work.

It never fails to amaze me how the Cambodians are able to regulate their body temperature so well! One of the Cambodian teachers (very effeminate young man) walked in today wearing jeans, a jumper and a scarf (see very blurry photo below) and I broke out
in a sweat just looking at him. I mean, I understand that the
Cambodians are a modest people but a scarf???? It reaches 35
degrees here during the day!!!!

This afternoon I got the chance to meet a few more of the kids.
They are so beautiful. Despite their background and let me tell you, each one of their stories is heartbreaking, they are happy, content, full of spirit and essentially, children. I had lunch by the pool this afternoon and not far from me was a western family with two young kids and for the whole hour I was there, all they did was nag and cry and I couldn’t help but compare their behavior to the kids at the Centre who are only reduced to tears when they fall over or
somehow hurt themselves. These kids make you feel like being a kid again and there’s not one that passes me and doesn’t flash me then most heartwarming smile, say hello and ask my name.

We come to these countries with the hope of somehow leaving them with something to better their lives but as I started to learn last year and continue to learn now is that these humble children are richer in spirit and life than most people I have come across.

As it stands, there are 127 kids in the orphanage, ranging from newborn to early 20’s. Approximately 30 kids are HIV positive and some of those have tuberculosis. There are 4 kids with disabilities that are pretty severe and unfortunately, the orphanage isn’t equipped to deal with them.

One of the main objectives, apart from housing these kids and some of their mothers, is to implement a program which prevents mother to child transmission of HIV. This is done by the in-house nurse who at the moment happens to be a 23 year old nursing student from Adelaide named Melissa and can I say, this girl is brilliant. She’s been here for 2 months and has made some many changes to the protocols and identified a number of holes in the Centre which she’s working to patch up but unfortunately her time here ends next week. She heads back to Adelaide to finish her final year and sit for an exam to get into medicine.

I took a few hours to go through the files of the 4 kids with disabilities and determine what assessments and programs had been implemented by previous volunteers. Tomorrow I’ll get a chance to observe the programs being out into action by one of the staff members and then I’ll be able to advise about how things can be improved. One of then other goals I hope to achieve while I’m here is to create a protocol for Volunteer Health Professionals to ensure continuity in the service that is given by the different volunteers that come into the centre because as it stands, there is no way of gauging what past volunteers have done because record keeping is a shambles here!

Anyway, night night. Going to try and head to the gym in the morning to counteract all the noodles and rice.

Peace out xxx

The eye irritation that I alluded to in the last post has progressed into a very painful eye infection and it happened in a matter of hours. Eye is very swollen and won’t open. Pain last night was unbearable, like razoblades in my eyeball. Ended up calling a Cambodian doctor who prescribed some penicillin and eye drops. Popped a couple of valiums to help me sleep.

Skyped Dr Tadros in Sydney and he advised that i continue with meds as prescribed and not to wear contact lenses until a get back to Sydney. I’m pretty useless today so not going into the centre which is so disappointing because the plan was for me to observe the physio treatment that is provided to 4 of the kids with disabilities and advise of any changes or improvements that could be made. I also really wanted to get down and dirty in the fields and help with harvesting some rice crops.

Hope this eye starts to improve soon otherwise I’ll be stuck in this hotel room. Too risky to go outside because of the dust and pollution.

Paulie: it’s ok darling, I know you would have had a rough day/night. Email me when you are comfortable.

Meet and Greet!

After an extremely arduous travel experience (and can I suggest you NEVER opt for the overland travel into Cambodia), I made it into Battambang about 5 hours later than expected. Luck has it that the bank claimed no responsibility for the ATM that choked on my card and hence my St. George Visa has disappeared into a South East Asian Missing ATM Card Abyss. A little more than disappointed, I exchange what’s left of my U.S dollars and skimp through on what I have to pay to at least get me to Battambang.

The taxi I chose to share with others in favour of saving a few bux
ended up being a 3 hour ride shared with a basket, an old
Cambodian lady who then suddenly became a young Cambodian boy
and a young Cambodian mother and child. Oh and if you were
wondering what we did with all the spare room, factor in my massive
backpack and day pack.

Arrived at about 3.30pm to a lovely hotel and it’s time for a shit,
shower and shave before I spare my tummy from eating itself.
Meanwhile, I’ve discovered the wonders of Skype!

For those that aren’t fully aware of the purpose of this trip, I’ve
come here on a whim to do some volunteer work in an orphanage
that is manned by a friend of mine, the divine Mark Eldridge. Some
of you may have had the pleasure of staying at his home on the
South Coast.

So anyway, I finally meet the boys who are heavily involved in the
co-ordination, management, fundraising and day to day activities
at the centre. Dressed in their swimmers, by the pool, drinking the
night away and talking business like a bunch of gay boys who had
outgrown the years logistically but were still keen on keeping that
fire burning. They were absolutely gorgeous, DARLING!!

I’ve left them on their own to grab some dinner as the jet lag is
quickly catching up with me and I’m afraid I may have an eye
infection. Up at 7am tomorrow morning for breakfast with the crew
and then a day of observation out at the centre. I’m so excited!

So, Nina has done it again. Day one and Ive already got myself into trouble.

After a nice, comfortable and entertaining flight courtesy of Emirates (or as Ally prefers to call them, Arab Airlines), I spent the next 3.5 hours in the back of a cab that I chartered from Bangkok airport, bound for the Thai/Cambodian border. Fairly painless trip as I slept most of the way but 3 hours into the trip, my extremely non-english speaking Thai cab driver still wasnt sure where he was taking me.

I eventually got it through to him despite his genuine attempts at recruiting his ‘friend’ via his mobile with the intention of interpreting our conversation that was going nowhere. Mind you, the interpreter spoke even less English than my poor cabbie did.

Destination finally reached with an hour to spare before the opening of the Thai/Cambodian border at 7am and I’m already donning the extra strength mozzie repellent and trying to ward off dozens taxi drivers competing for the financial courtesy of navigating my next trip. At this hour, I have no patience.

7am does arrive and i set off to buy a Cambodian Visa and lo and behold, Nina has lost her ATM Card again. Most likely left it in the machine after I pulled some money out for a cheese and strawberry sandwhich from the 7-Eleven. Recalling the anguish it caused me when I did the same thing in Laos year, I couldnt do anything but cry.

Ive worked out that there is some rhyme and reason to making the same mistake twice. The ATMs here spit out your money before they do your card which correct me if I’m wrong, is the opposite of what happens back home. So i think that the automatic behaviour results in me walking away from the machine after I have taken my money, hence, leaving the card.

So this leaves me waiting until 10am for the local bank to open and attempt to retrieve my card. If this proves unsuccessful, I may become a permanent tourist attraction at the remote Thai Cambodian border.

Don’t worry babe, I’ve already made friends with a cat. Anyway, im off now, my fingers are getting sore from fighting with the ‘F’ and ‘G’ keys on this keyboard as they keep getting stuck.

Just like me.