January 5th, 2017 – 3 ½ Months at Site
Reading: A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain by Rutler
Brought to you from/by The Village Void
Rathana visited the health center this morning for her latest pregnancy check-up! Her pot-belly looks inconceivably large and adorable on her tiny frame. She’s been taking my nutrition counseling to heart and eating “three times” what she normally does. The staff and I had been snacking on some sliced fruit and fish-sauce dip when we had an influx of patients and so set the fruit to the side. Rathana gravitated toward the snacks as she waited for the midwives and everyone was more than happy to encourage her to eat, eat!
I biked to and from Takeo that afternoon for some exercise and bongaim for lunch. On my way back, a barang intercepted me. A foreigner, that is. He was a tall white guy, looked to be somewhere in his fifties and had a gregarious face. He moto’d along beside my bike and I discerned from his scooter that his wheels were rented from Takeo Town, behind us. After the initial excitement of meeting one another – Look at this, we’re both white! Can ya believe it? – and riding a few kilometers side by side, we stopped on the roadside just within the bounds of my commune. Within the first few minutes of our conversation he knew virtually nothing about me as he seemed to have determined long before we met that I had nothing valuable to contribute to our dialogue, but I listened to him for some minutes. He was Peter the Canadian and he was volunteering his time at few nearby schools to help teach English. Magnanimous by nature, Peter went on to graciously explain the true issues faced by Cambodians and Americans alike, everything from politics to social constructs, etc. As he continued I felt myself inching nearer and nearer to the active traffic whooshing at my back.
When Rathana, moto’d up to us from nowhere and stopped to hug and catch up with me, Peter instantly chastised her for the abysmally worn out tires and brakes on her borrowed moto. Rathana smiled and nodded at him, understanding most of what he said and only shot me a glance toward the end of his condescension.
“And with a baby on the way, young lady, really. You ought to be more responsible,” he scolded.
“She’s fully aware that her tires and brakes need changing, that is not the issue. She can’t afford it right now and the moto gets her to and from work, so the tune-ups don’t seem like an immediate issue. You’re scolding her about something she can’t fix right now and speaking to her like a child while you’re at it,” I finally said.
Peter then began to address both of us as children, his benefactors, siting statistics about Cambodian traffic accidents from a popular billboard campaign I knew well. He would pay for her repairs, he said, if she would schedule the appointment. Rathana looked at me at a loss and we conferred in Khmer.
“What does he want in return,” she asked me, looking at the ground.
“You don’t have to do this if you don’t want to. I can come over this week and we can think of other ways,” I told her.
“Do you think it would be okay, though? My moto isn’t safe and I know it,” and she touched her belly.
She accepted his offer and the made arrangements, but I felt a wilting in Rathana that made me furious.
I know that Rathana prides herself on her independence, has two state jobs that she loves, and while she appreciates the German sponsor she had in her youth, she doesn’t like hand-outs. I also know that the copy and print shop is closed for now because the owner’s wife just delivered her first baby and a friend is trying to convince her to bottle feed. I know that the argument for more fruits and vegetables in one’s diet here will include a lengthy berating of Vietnam and the toxic pesticides with which they try to poison Cambodia’s produce. I know that distribution of birth control at our health center seems down in recent years because so many of our young women have moved to Thailand for chicken processing jobs. I know that I’m not allowed to walk alone on the road to O_ P__ Village because of the intense drug problem there. I know that my friend Baoh has been able to skirt getting a “real” job because he makes stacks of money doing hair and make-up for weddings.
I am intended to spend the entirety of this new calendar year, 2017, in the Kingdom of Wonder. January to December. I can’t know what will happen but after these months at site, I know that I know some. I can only hope that these things will prove useful, useful to both myself and this community. Eventually.