Day 40 - 9th April 2019
On the river day. Dr Siden joins us, the newest member to TLC. I am also joined by a few others including Dr Sombun. The afternoon was slow today, with a few patients turning up. I paired up with Dr Sombun to help me translate. A lot of our afternoon consisted of us talking to each other. I ended up asking if he knew Dr Haing S. Ngor, the author of The Killing Fields and Oscar winning actor. Dr Sombun said he had briefly met Dr Haing in the 80s whilst working at the Thia-Cambodian border.
I asked about his own life. Dr Sombun shocked me by saying that he was 12 years old during the Cambodian genocide. I was astonished, Dr Sonbun was in his 50s but looked like he was 20 years younger. He stated that rule under the Khmer rouge was torture, he had to wake up at 4.30am and plough fields until 7pm and then sometimes had to stay up to listen to propaganda speeches. He stated that all they were given was wet rice and one day they had caught him stealing a potato and punished him for hours by hitting him with a red ant nest. He saw many people get killed and a lot of others die due to starvation. He luckily managed to survive, and cross the Thai border when the regime collapsed.
From there he recuperated and a few years later met a doctor who took him under his wing to become a doctor. As a doctor, he was paid with rice and vegetables but he was happy. He had been lucky and was doing what he wanted. He has now practiced medicine for over 30years and doesn’t look like slowing down. I felt like I was talking to a celebrity.
Day 45 - 14th April 2019
Currently on an AirAsia flight to Bangkok, a layover, to reach Chaing Mai. Little planes face greater amount of turbulence, but this fact doesn’t give me much comfort thousands of feet in the air.
TLC have this this week off due to Khmer New year and so I am taking that opportunity to travel a little around Asia. Yesterday Jon held a Khmer new year party at his house. He lives a 10min drive from the centre of Siem Reap, in a traditional Cambodia home surrounded by shrubbery and tall trees. He had invited the whole TLC team and their families and the multitude of friends that he has.
It was a lovely hot day with alcohol, food, music, water fights and people. It was full of smiles and screaming children. I felt like I was with family and in a way, I was.
Day 51 - 20th April 2019
Currently waiting to get my haircut. The heat outside is unbearable, and funny to think I thought I had gotten used to it. I arrived back to Siem Reap yesterday after visiting Thailand for five days. The holiday was wonderful and well needed. I travelled to Chiang Mai for Songkran festival then Bangkok for two nights.
All in all, the short break felt longer. I played and shot water at the locals on the streets of Chaing Mai. Ate street food including crickets. I saw pagodas and stunning temples in Chaing Mai. Bangkok was lively and I saw more temples and also a Muay Thai fight. I also met some cool folk throughout my journey and have been invited to Indonesia and Germany.
Landing in Siem Reap I could see the stark difference between Thailand and Cambodia. Thailand was a lot more built up, modern and populated. Siem Reap in contrast was quiet, the air fresher, roads dustier but poverty more visible. Siem Reap felt like home. I have only lived here for just over a month but I have good friends and experienced the non tourist side of this district.
I could see Cambodia being as modern and built up as Thailand one day. I also knew these nations have vastly different backgrounds and history. If corruption and bad politics don’t have it's way I know Cambodia would only continue to improve.
Day 54 - 23rd April 2019
Dr Rida and Koylyan invited me to join them in their community mental health counselling on the lake. Throughout the years TLC have identified those with mental health illnesses on the Tonle Sap. Members of the team visit the individuals at their homes and provide counselling and basic physical medication like multivitamins. Antidepressants, anti-anxiolytics and antipsychotics are not provided however.
Today was an exceptionally hot 37 degree Celsius day (I know I’ve said this may times before) and the heat constantly shone on us on this little roofless long boat. Water was so low in some areas that we had to get into the lake and push the boat. In our 5hour round-trip, we had managed to see three people, all suffering from depression. Both Dr Rida and Koylyan provided motivational counselling and I helped with any physical illnesses the patients had.
Mental health illnesses are somewhat hidden in Cambodian culture. Men are taught to be machismo. Women to be stoic. Life on the lake is tough that anything that doesn’t provide food for the family is seen as a waste of resources. Personal mental health is seen like this. By identifying and having a conversation with these individuals, TLC are not only providing care, but hope and and ear to listen.