Well today we finally got to sleep in! If you consider 8:30 sleeping in that is. However, it was greatly appreciated after several long days in a row. After a pretty laid back morning, Peip took us to the Royal Palace. The palace was closing at 11am and we got there at about 10:25, so we quickly saw as much as we could. They were telling us the history and random facts about everything as we passed by, which was helpful cause there were very few signs and if there was one it was probably in Khami. When we were gathered around one tree listening to Ronnie talk about the uses of the flowers, we just so happened to look up to see them closing the gates and were about to lock them. So we all went running across the courtyard out the gate before they could lock us in the palace.
After our fun at the palace, we went to the villa where all the ex-patriots from the hospital live for lunch. It was nice to spend time with people that you can always understand what they are saying. We had some good American-ish food. We all laugh and joked about our adventures in Cambodia. Then Grace and Katrina asked if we wanted to go to the Russian Market so we were, like sure, why not. We can always shop of course so we took the market by storm again.
WEDDING DAY!!! Two people from the church we have been going to in Phnom Penh got married today! We were so lucky to have the opportunity to experience a Cambodian wedding! We all got our hair and makeup done (something that would cost over $100 in the U.S) for $5! It was the ultimate girl time. The wedding was so much different than what we are used to in the U.S.- it is a full day affair (we only went to the ceremony at 9am and the reception at 6pm) and much more elaborate. The bride and groom changed outfits five times, that we saw, so probably over ten times throughout the day. Everything was so colorful, ornate, and BIG! From the dresses to the hairstyles to the food, everything was bright! The bride and groom were both really shy, so their kiss was very quick and they stood about five feet away from each other. The pastor made them kiss again because it wasn’t good enough! So cute and sweet 🙂
We had a blast at the reception! First we ate, then we danced the night away! Everyone was teaching us Khmer dances and we had so much fun. There were about 370 people there, which apparently is a small wedding in Cambodia. Our jaws dropped… There were so many wonderful people from the church that were at the wedding, so we loved spending time getting to know them better. It was also incredible to see a Christian wedding in a predominately Buddhist country. The two lead pastors of our church, Caesar and Sovann, married them and said such beautiful and encouraging things to the husband and wife to be. I could tell it was so heartfelt and genuine. They said that the first miracle ever performed by Jesus was at a wedding- I had no idea! It was so refreshing to be reminded of the scripture about what marriage means and how love prevails over all things.
We were all just a big bundle of love today! 😉
We all got up early this morning to catch the bus for a six hour bus ride to Siem Reap Province in northern Cambodia. The ride up was uneventful except for the one quick stop where Chelsea, Emily, and I tried fried crickets. We have pictures to prove it! Once we were settled in our hotel, we had a relaxing lunch at the Blue Pumpkin restaurant. After lunch we made our way to the temples to watch the sunset. We have never seen anything like these temples before. They truly are the Eighth Man Made Wonder of the world. We climbed the mountain in true Asian style– on the back of an elephant!
After the sun set we went to the Temple Club for dinner and to watch Khemi dancers. The group favorite was the coconut dance. All of the costumes were elaborate and beautiful. The dancers twisted and bent their hands and fingers in ways none of us have ever seen before. The dancing was so elegant and graceful.
The next morning was an early wake up at 4:30 so we could see in the sun rise over Angkor Wat (the main Buddhist temple). Angkor Wat is even featured on Cambodia’s flag. Seeing the sun rise in such an enchanted and sacred place gave me chills. I imagined who else in this temple’s 900 year existence has seen that exact same sun rise. Angkor Wat was full of history and stories carved in detail on the walls. The next temple was called the Temples of Bayon (Bion). This one featured smiling Buddha faces and ancient carvings of men. I believe this temple was everyone’s favorite because it just looked happy. I described it as an adults Jungle Gym complete with steep staircases and fallen rock. Ta Prohm was breathtaking with trees growing out of the temples. This was the location for Tomb Raider with Angelina Jolie.
Many people told me that coming on this trip would change my life, but what they did not specifically mention is that these people would forever be imprinted on my heart. Today, after spending a week working in the hospitals and attending church twice, I walked into Wednesday night church being greeted and welcomed as if I had been a member there for years. Worshiping with other Christians across the world has not only reminded me that God is alive and moving in Cambodia, but it has also encouraged me to refocus my life perspective while on this trip and throughout the rest of my life. The Cambodian Christians I have fellowshiped with display so much love, compassion and hospitality, and I am honored to have met them.
One of my neighbors from when I lived in Nashville (Miss Peggy Mueller!) made bracelets for the Cambodian women I would meet on this trip so that they would have something from America. I brought these to church with me tonight and gave them to some of the women I have worked with throughout these couple of days. One was an older woman who spoke little English, but always had a hug and big greeting for me whenever I walked through the church doors (talk about such a great prayer warrior too!). Others were women I have worked with in the hospital and their daughters. All of these women have found the love of Christ and were SO excited to know that fellow believers in America were praying for them (I gave all you supporters a shout out!). They wanted to let you all know that they are praying for you too and that you are all welcome to visit Cambodia when you can 🙂 They really want to meet our families!
Well, I just can’t believe we leave in one week from today. This trip has flown by. I am so excited to get home to see all my loved ones that I have missed so much, but at the same time, I am so so sad to leave all the wonderful people I have fallen in love with here. Because sleep was very needed last night, I decided to blog this morning. So I will outline our yesterday for you!
In the morning, Victoria went out on the mobile clinic and the others of us took our posts in the hospital. Emily and I decided to go give blood for the same patient Mrs. Dryden and Victoria gave for yesterday. So we go through all the paper work, and finally make our way to the blood bank. After getting our fingers pricked and waiting for about 10 minutes, the woman who works there comes out and begins speaking in Khmai and shaking her head. We were very very confused, and finally after asking questions to our driver in a few different arraignments of broken English, we found out our hematocrits (pretty much the percent of red blood cells in a draw of blood) were low. So Emily and I are slightly freaking out because we have no clue if something is wrong with us, and no one can understand to tell us!!! Finally, we get out that it was just 2% off the percent they accept. After calling our teachers and realizing that we are a little dehydrated- our fears were gone, but then we were just frustrated! SO FRUSTRATED. We were sitting, pretty much pouting, and thinking- “”Our blood just isnt good enough!”” The doctors at the blood bank were very kind though, and they gave us the units of blood to take back to the patient that they had already in the bank. So we didn’t feel completely worthless!
Today I went to a nearby village with the Center of Hope Mobile Clinic. I was awestruck to find houses made of leaves and mud with a dozen or more people living in them. The ground had turned to mud from yesterday’s rainfall, so the piles of trash that had been pushed aside were now embedded in the floors of people’s homes. It is very similar to the slums in the city, but it’s distant location makes it harder to keep supplies stocked. I was immediately aware of the constant struggle to maintain basic needs.
We set up two tables- one for initial screenings and vital signs, where I was, and another for the physician to prescribe and distribute medications. Approximately thirty patients, ranging from ages 6 months to 79 years, were screened and given appropriate medications. I cannot begin to explain their gratitude! Countless hugs and smiles were dispersed 🙂 I was truly humbled that someone who has no money, children to feed, and an illness to bear in those conditions could find the strength to laugh and feel joy. I wanted so bad to do more for them, like bring them food, build them a better home, or simply buy them shoes. I felt so blessed today, though, to have the opportunity to help in the way I feel called and hopefully provide some comfort.
This morning when I walked into the surgical ward to see Victoria who was assigned there today, “Dr. Cornelia” was making rounds and checking on a patient. She turned and said to the group of nurses and doctors that the patient would need blood transfusions and that a donor (or two) was needed. The patient’s only family member was his young daughterand could not donate..I did not realize at first that she was asking someone in the group to volunteer…and it did seem that she was looking right at me! So of course I volunteered and so did Victoria.
There was no backing out as the patient’s blood type was AB (universal recipient). So the process of Cambodian blood donation ensued. First we made a trip to the hospital lab and got the okay to proceed. Then a hospital employee drove us to the Cambodian Blood Donation Center (the Cambodian version of the Red Cross, I suppose). The whole process took a bit longer than expected but the units of blood were successfully donated (Victoria’s first time to give blood!) and we received t-shirts proclaiming blood donation plus a package of red pills referred to as vitamins that were instructed to take…two a day for a week). We were then taken to the “snack room” which was quite different from the coke and peanut butter crackers from the Red Cross…It was a full meal…hard boiled egg, two small bananas, some type of pastry, coca-cola (in a can, always served with a straw), and a bottle of water! Needless to say, we did not eat it all…we did not want to offend our hostess and we were able to discreetly (that is, tucked inside the new t-shirt) take some of the food with us..our driver said he would give it to some of the patients waiting to be seen at the hospital.
We started today by going to the Tuol Sleng museum. We took our Tuk Tuk for the first time without the teachers, and we made it there perfectly safe (for all the parents). We watched a short movie about a couple who were held there and then toured the place. It amazed me that people could be so cruel to their own countrymen. These people were beaten for not saying the right thing or worse killed for their past lives. We went Peip there and she showed us around and talked about the history of the place. She was born the day that war started so it was meaningful for her to show us around.
The museum is very solemn but extremely moving, so I am very happy we got to go. We all recovered from the sadness, by shopping like any American girl would do. First, we went to beautiful shoes, they had make shoes to fit you. I am very excited to see all our purchases in a week. Then we went back to the Russian market to get some more of our gifts bought and of course I ended up with some things I didn’t come for but I loved so I got anyway.
It rained for the first time today, while we were in the market. Thankfully that helped to cool off the day some, therefore, i was very grateful. We also went to church today, which was another moving experience. The church here is what I think every church should really be like. The community is amazing and they are so welcoming to us all. In fact, we have been invited to a church wedding this coming Saturday We all bought our party dresses yesterday and are getting very excited for the next weekend today. The adventures of Cambodia are amazing and I cant wait for more to come this week.
Waking up at 5am on our only day off was not exactly what I had in mind this Saturday morning, but what the Lord had in store for us later that day made a few less hours of sleep well worth it. Our team traveled with members of the church and hospital to a village (Oudong village – I probably spelled that wrong) in the mountains about 1 1/2 hours away. This village recently relocated (for reasons I cannot remember) next to an established village, but lives in severe poverty. Here these families make a house out of garbage, straw and anything else they can find, but unfortunately due to the rainy season fastly approaching, these “houses” flood and do not provide adequate shelter during the rain. These people are also without many food supplies and provisions, including birth control, which explains the rapid increase in pregnancies and births throughout the village (no doctors are nearby so a grandmother non-trained midwife delivers the babies in these horrible conditions).
We supplied each family (that’s 180 families) within the village with salt, sugar, sardines, milk, purified water, soy sauce and most importantly rice. This food (depending on the size of the family) will nourish them for 3-4 weeks if not more. How awesome it is to serve such a giving God as ours. He truly amazed me today.
When we entered the village with all of our supplies, children came from everywhere to see the “foreign” people. Unlike the city, these kids ran towards us (nearly tackling us) and jumped into our arms. As I thought about this later, I realized that although these children do not see white people very often, they equate white people with food and provisions thanks to the hospital and church. All of us were SO glad to play with the little one’s before we handed out supplies. They loved to have their picture taken with our digital cameras and then look at themselves in the camera’s screen. Their laughter spread such happiness to everyone.
Well, today was an incredibly emotionally draining day for me (and many of us), so I am going to use today’s blog to kind of unload and filter through my thoughts. While Kim went on the hospitals mobile clinic and Stephanie worked the emergency room and operating room, the other three of us (Emily, Victoria, and I) had our turn to go out to the slums to talk with the HIV patients. Because we had a lot of time, we got to sit in their houses with them and have conversations through our interpreter Chaveleth.
Walking through this area of garbage and insects and who knows what else, I couldn’t help but think to all of the many things I take for granted. It really was an emotionally challenging day to us and to Kim and Stephanie yesterday because you see these people who have nothing and live with a disease that is so challenging, and you wonder how they have a will to get up in the morning. But not only do they have that, they have smiles on their faces and joke about the little things just like we do. While sitting with them, they told us of how they looked before they got on the Anti-retro Virus drug that helps the patients with HIV. They would laugh about how they gain so much weight once getting on the drug and would joke of how different our skin looks from theirs. One woman, in order to make a living for herself and her two children, sweeps the streets at night. But instead of letting her situation bring her down, she picks up posters and pictures people throw away and hangs them on her walls in order to decorate her small tin hut. She was so pleased that we liked them and it brought a huge smile to her face just to show off her little treasures.