Notes From The Field: Is That Sound The Recycle Guy Or Just The Air Con Breaking?

Posted on February 17, 2013

644327_607408512618515_1470287191_nI am prowling the aisles of Angkor Market desperately trying to find a brand of coffee that will both work with my $4 French coffee press and not be of Cambodian or Vietnamese origin. Southeast Asian brands of coffee tend to have a natural sweetness and since I like my coffee black without any sugar, I’m in dire need of bean with more hints of bitter. Mind you, I don’t dislike the Cambodian version enough to not drink it in the morning. I’ve been told on more than one occasion I am a bad “waker upper” and could probably use all the sweetness I can get before inflicting my presence on other people. Pheakdey, our physical therapist, once happily prepared me a mug of the Cambodian brew she likes to drink, laced with extra sugar and condensed sweetened milk and I wasn’t sure if my heart was going to race right out of my chest or if I was going to fall into a diabetic coma. I spot a package of Melitta, pounce on it with more eagerness than is possibly appropriate in public and gently caress the words “ Dark French Roast.”

Back at the new office/house, even though it is a Saturday, I let Jess putter around labeling everything while I boil up some water. The bitter goodness makes me so happy, I don’t even mind the gritty aftertaste because the French press filter doesn’t actually fit properly. My new landlord Megan stops in to say hello and I’m puzzled by the insanely loud squeaking sound coming from outside. It reminds me of when my basset hound Sam finds a particularly annoying chew toy, usually when I am on an important business call, and is enthusiastically squeaking it for all she is worth. My air conditioner sometimes makes alarming noises which usually is the signal to me that it is time to grab a room fan. Megan informs me it is actually the sound of the recycling guys calling for people to bring out their cans. Even though it is not quite dead yet, I am visualizing tossing my can of sweet coffee right into their waiting wagon. I take another grateful sip of my gritty brew and chew on the after grounds.

482440_610178315674868_716617587_nIt has been a hectic, but productive week for our Safe Haven Medical Outreach team. In between scheduled appointments at Handicap International and Angkor Hospital For Children, Jess, Roza and I been doing a number of home health visits while Pheakdey and Marguerite have been seeing kids on their rotation for physical, speech and occupational therapy. There are also ten new kids in our program since I was here last and I’m meeting some of our families for the first time. There have been both highs and lows. At little Lea’s house, she enthralls her captive audience by rolling over. This is a huge milestone for her. She has come a long way from the malnourished infant our Safe Haven team first met. Her grandmother has patiently learned feeding techniques which, combined with the nutritional supplements Safe Haven provides to help boost her weight, have really started to pay off. We cheer and lavish praise and Lea does an encore by adding a few more rolls right to the edge of the platform. Jess points out the one step forward in development usually means a half dozen new things the family now needs to pay attention too. When she just lay motionless in a corner, they didn’t need to worry about her falling out of the hut. But now she is a toddler in motion! I decide to capture the moment for posterity and whip out my iPhone but little Lea has had enough rolling for one day and decides the fingers on her hand are way more interesting than Jess shaking her giant ring of keys enticingly just out of each. Lea also has benefited from additional play stimulation from the generous donation of a play mat with a toy mobile from a fellow Siem Reap based NGO called the Green Gecko.

At Sareum’s house, a regular home visit turns out to be a something more. Little Sareum is running a fever from an infection. He had fallen down earlier in the week and the wound had gotten infected. Despite the fact that she winds up having to juggle a tremendous array of bags on her motorbike, Jess never likes to be unprepared. You never know what you may come across when you are out in the field and that certainly pays off as she cleans and covers the wound and treats him for the infection and fever. She gently instructs his mother on ways to cool down his body by dipping a towel in cold water and wiping his heated skin with it. But her medical Mary Poppins bags are not just all for business. She pulls out a red balloon and blows it up. His discomfort from his fever and wound is momentarily forgotten as he clutches the balloon and giggles with delight each time he heaves it off the side of the hut’s platform and his mother, like all mothers, runs to get it every time.

164474_607409002618466_1989940972_nHis father comes walking back home with a load of sugar cane sap in buckets strapped across his shoulders. The family supports themselves by making sugar. Much like making maple syrup, it takes a lot of sap to boil down into sugar, which they do over a large open fire in a giant cauldron. Sareum’s mom pulls out a couple of mugs and fills one for Roza to drink. Jess tries to sneak away from the scene unobtrusively so she doesn’t have to refuse the offered beverage. Earlier in the visit, I had watched a stray dog climb into the cooling vat and drink the dredges of the syrupy sap from the bottom so I wasn’t too keen on sampling the product myself. Luckily, Roza took one for the team and after he drank his mug, we were able to say our goodbyes along with strict instructions they were to call if the fever had not improved within a day or two. Roza made a note to place a follow up call as well in case they forget and we were back on the road again.

The busy week left very little time to set up the new house I just rented to serve both as an office for Safe Haven and a residence for me when I am in Cambodia, which is how Jess and I found ourselves spending the weekend getting organized. Megan proved herself to be the best landlord ever with the offer of a cold beer after a particularly dusty and hot day out in the field and I tried to return the favor by stocking my tiny refrigerator with a couple of cans of Angkor. The fact that there is nothing in my refrigerator yet but two cans of Angkor and a bottle of water leaves me just one bottle of condiment away from stepping right back in time to my freshman year of college.

182678_607409155951784_228934719_nWe closed out the week with a fantastic evening at Rosy’s Guest House where Quiz Master Steve McMurray hosted a Music Quiz Night fund raiser for Safe Haven. The quiz nights are held every so often with a different NGO benefiting. Jess had posted on an Expat message board looking for insights into what people missed from back home and I had come armed with a variety of raffle prizes to suit those needs. I’ve never seen such excitement over an OXO can opener and a set of cotton sheets before. Depsite the fact it was self defeating to buy raffle tickets to my own fund raiser, I invested $5 hoping to win my own prize of sheets back. After shopping for sheets for my bed earlier in the day, I had a whole new appreciation for the ruckus they were causing. It was really amazing to see all these fantastic members of the community come out to support Safe Haven and we raised $400, which was double what we were hoping for, despite the fact our fund raiser was competing with the Siem Reap Giant Puppet Parade fund raiser that same night. Frankly, any other night I would have wanted to be at the Giant Puppet event myself. Who doesn’t love giant puppets?

So as we gear up for another week, I sit here in my new house with the air con blissfully working. But since the guys who installed the air con cut the wires from the power outlet and ceiling fan in order to use them for the install, I don’t have either in my living room. I need to get them back out to fix it.

Right after another cup of coffee.