3 a.m. – someone who has NOT gotten the memo I am in Cambodia and is calling my cell phone jolts me awake. Excellent.
5. a.m. My friend Lane sends me a message that I have accidentally pocket dialed his voice mail for 4 minutes from Cambodia. That is the last time I try to turn off my phone at 3 a.m.
6 a.m. Cher and I give up and get out of bed. Who needs the extra sleep anyway? How hard can it be to take care of 24 toddlers?
Lina, Cher and I arrive at the orphanage and are nearly run over by 50 Korean tourists who are tromping all over the facility like it is an ancient temple with little people on display. Poor Sum Namg is on the floor with a dozen people surrounding him and staring. He starts to cry and Cher swoops in to rescue him. I pick up one little guy who doesn’t look thrilled with all the attention being directed his way and several people try to pluck him right out of my arms but he burrows deep against me and refuses. I hear blood curling screaming from inside: one very tiny girl who is afraid of people has about 7 teenagers all around her in a corner. I explain her fears and they thankfully move away.
We had brought some play dough and other activities with us but it is not practical with the amount of chaos reigning so we opt instead to break out the juice boxes from Khmer Market. Suddenly, all the toddlers break free and gallop over to us. Dehydration is a serious issue – they do not take in enough water each day, evident in the fact that they hardly wet their diapers at all. Lina and I cannot break open the packages fast enough. They are clamoring for the juice and are drinking them down faster than we can hand them out. I am grateful I bought extra and still wish I had more. Within minutes, we are handing out 2nd juice boxes to the kids and they are sucking them down eagerly. One boy spills some juice on the floor and Hasan arrives in time to pluck another girl off the spot where she is licking the spilled juice up with her tongue.
Defying the dry diaper average, the toddler on Lina’s lap has a full messy blowout and she quickly holds him out in front of her in search of the bathroom. The tourists finally leave and get on their bus and all of us collapse on the ground. We’ve been here an hour.
Hasan and his daughter Lauren will be in Siem Reap for the next three months so we want him to learn Sum Namg’s physical, speech and nutritional therapies. Lina and I are in charge of distracting the other toddlers so Cher can train them without interruption. We lead our merry band out onto the playground, safely situated on a big slab of cement and made of solid metal, such a plus in the heat. The kids all pile onto the slide happily and careen down it. Helpfully, there are little cross bars on the side handles that the kids are constantly getting their little legs stuck in and twisted behind them. I have visions of broken legs and cracked skulls as they flip off the slide to land on the cement. The ringleader of the group, a young boy with a devilish attitude, gives me a look that needs no Khmer translation. It is the universal look of cheeky toddlers everywhere – “Guess what I have found and NO I am not going to give it to you.”
It is a rusted long piece of chain.
He proceeds to run about the yard whipping it over his head and then takes pleasure in using it as a chipping tool at a Monument To St. Christopher. I chase him all over the yard growling “Tee!” (No) in my ‘stern’ voice but he simply thinks this is the best game ever. I finally corner him and confiscate the chain. I turn to see how Lina is doing and she is running for the building hold out the same little guy with the messy diaper from before. Guess she has her hands full of little shits as well.
Hasan and Lauren appear with trays of fresh fruit that they have cut up for the kids and our little gang dives into the watermelon, happily sucking up the watery fruit with juice running down their faces. Sum Namg is tired from his day of therapies so I walk around the yard with him in my arms singing to him. He gives me a sleepy smile and nods off. I am really to nod off myself. Naptime – not just for toddlers anymore.
We round up everyone and put them into their cribs. Which also turns out to be a fun game: how many times can you get back out and hide from the Westerns? Not everyone still has energy to play. One little guy has fallen asleep right against the bars of his bed. It is beyond sweet. We kiss them goodnight and head wearily out the door. Back at the room Cher unceremoniously sniffs me and declares I smell like an uninviting mixture of baby bodily fluids. I strip off my clothes and take a VERY hot shower.
9 p.m. Already in bed, exhausted from the day. I’ve turned off my ringer and locked my cell phone. And ready to do it all again tomorrow.