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Week 5 - Field visit

CAMBODIA | Tuesday, 18 February 2014 | Views [753]

To the health center we go. This is my second outing so far. I’m off to observe the outreach work my organization does in the community. We’re going to three health centers today, and they are the ones farthest away from our office.

We exit the suburbs in our maroon ute plastered with our big diamond NGO logo on the side doors. It’s hot and dusty as usual and I look back to see big orange dust clouds rise up behind us. The scene is familiar; it’s easy to get lost because much of the town seems to repeat itself every few hundred meters.. Didn’t we just pass a store selling the exact same stuff? And that red painted Khmer house with the gold stair railing?

Soon the scene is of seemingly endless dry plains, golden with old rice stumps cut neatly at shin height.

We pass 40km. Our first river crossing. We stop and pick some large pink and white water lilies shooting out from the mud drying on the sides of the dirt road.

A sturdy old wooden barge ferries us and the ute across with a number of other passengers and motos.

My colleague spots some palm fruit in the shade of the captain's hold. The barge men keep it on board to snack on. I’ve never seen it before. He chops at the peel with a giant machete far too large for such small fruit. Its soft, translucent flesh is refreshing and mildly sweet. It’s good.

Across the river, the houses are of much lower quality. We’re now on an island in the Tonle Sap River. Materials such as timber and cement are expensive as they need to be ferried over, so many of the stilted houses still have walls of layered dried palm leaves. Once in a while we pass a wealthier house with cement foundations for their stilts and walls of brick. I wonder, what sets these families apart?

The land here is low and we pass fluorescent plains of green rice growing from the second planting season. Only a few places can plant this late depending on how high the water level is over the course of the year. It’s a beautiful sight after the desiccated landscape I’ve become used to.

My colleague tells me all this will flood. I ask, what they will do? He points out the wooden boats lying in the front yard of many houses. All homes have a boat. We pass them frequently, dusty and dry like desert bones, and from the car I can see bright sun falling through gaping splits in the wood. To me they look unused, or perhaps unusable. “But they’re so old!” I naively say. The reply comes with a shrug, “what can they do?”

A few mounds of earth, like small hills are scattered here and there to complement the boats. Another flood relief strategy. Apparently they are all that will stand between the chickens, cows, dogs and other village animals from rising waters come September.

We pass a second river crossing, this time leaving the ute behind. School girls are the main passengers this time and they pile their bicycles on one side while they make the trip home for lunch.

The health center is a nice one. There’s brown sparrows nesting in the steel of the roof. It has two levels with a bit more space and facilities than some of the others I’ve seen. Good thing too as it’s the only one for miles around and people from a number of villages across the river have to come here if they need medical attention. My colleague meets with the health center midwives, makes some chit chat, and we start the trek back. I tell him he has the best job in the world and he laughs.

Shallow pools spread far in the distance. I think I’m looking toward the center of the island but I can’t see the other side to tell. It’s hard to believe that a place this dry can have so much water lying around.

The pools shine brightly, mirrors reflecting the grey sky overhead. They disappear and reappear like a mirage on the horizon; the interface between the land and heavens interwoven and blurred so I can’t tell where one ends and the other begins.

I do love my job.


Tags: aid and development, cambodia, countryside, field trip, health, health center, kampong chhnang, rural, tonle sap

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