Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Musing on Cambodia

Musing...I like that word. Webster defines it as 'calm, lengthy, intent consideration.'


I've been in Cambodia now the better part of two and a half years. Considerably longer than I would have been in Vietnam had I been able to stay in the army. But alas, that is another story altogether.


Jill came here with me in October last year, and has really settled into the rhythm of the work.


Cambodia is a difficult country to come to grips with. People here are dragging themselves into the 21st century. Most of the country doesn't have electricity, running water, garbage collection, or schools. So the people run their one flourescent light off a car battery, walk 5 km (in the dry season) to get water they have to boil, and build grass shack schools to teach themselves how to read and write Khmer.

Our demining NGO is paying for 2 teachers in villages we've cleared. We pay them $40 a month. I think one has a 12th grade education and the other a 10th grade. We're not trying to get the villagers into college. We just want them to have the basic 3Rs.


The kids stand in line to come to the school. In Chrung our youngerst student was maybe 6. Our oldest perhaps 60; and they sweep the school out every day with tree branches, so they have a clean area to learn.


Last year they couldn't play outside because the landmines hadn't been cleared. Now they have, and they have a yard to play football. and when the ball goes out of bounds, they don't die.

PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) is a problem here....a BIG problem. I was told by a health worker that perhaps 40% of the country suffers from it in some degree or another. It can be treated with drugs and therapy. It's best to treat it with both if you use drugs. The psychiatrist can evaluate moods, etc. and modify and manage the drug regimen.


Sounds reasonable enough except there are only about 12 Cambodian psychiatrists in the entire country. And talking to a foreign doctor is pointless. One - they don't speak the language. Two - they don't understand the culture. Three - they are only here for short periods of time.


It's scary to see children curled into a ball wimpering and delusional as they relive the horrors of the past....often times landmine accidents. I've seen it more than once. And I am sure to see it again.


I have friend, the operations manager at CSHD, our demining NGO, who graduates from university next month. She could go on for a graduate degree on a full scholarship. Instead, she's going to start an all-ladies demining team and clear landmines and UXOs in small villages.


We had promised Aki Ra we'd be here for 2 years. ..... I think it will be longer.


Babu in the Jungle