It’s been 6 incomprehensible months since we were all wrested from our pre-service training homes and tossed into the countryside at our permanent sites. Our escapades over here during training were blogged, but before I dedicated the posts just to you! Perfectly understandable if they slipped right by you. To ensure you don’t miss out on a fun romp through the absolute madness of PST, I’ve boiled down a day of training life from my perspective as a female, Community Health Education trainee at training site A.
Wake up bathed in a sea of fish sauce aroma, cock-calls, and intrusive smoke from nearby rubbish fires. Linger for a moment in gratitude about the fact that you, alone, out of everyone in your host-family enjoys a private bedroom in which you do not have to share a mattress with 2+ other people.
Say a prayer to your chamber pot as you pee into this special bucket reassured by experience that there is no way you will make it the bathroom in time to pee.
Amble to the bathroom in front of half the village and laugh along with them about your exposed-self toting a bucket of your own waste. Maybe a few of your friends are downstairs eating at your mom’s breakfast spot. Wag your bucket in greeting.
Splash around and commence the perpetual dampness for the day; be sure to secure at least three to forty mosquito bites. Dress in your Khmer professional-wear, likely a fitted skirt not conducive to biking. Get ready to bike to school in that skirt.
Gaze lovingly at your host-mother and try simultaneously to evade the various breakfast foods she foists upon you. Bike away quickly as you try to communicate both your remorse for not eating enough rice and your undying gratitude for the woman. Return the waves and greetings shouted by the throngs of little kids along the way to school. Hustle to the market and let the waves of sensory overload deliver you wholly into that precise moment – that very fishy, shouting, colorful, full-tooth grinny, moment. Maybe avoid a few pairs of highly tenacious male eyeballs fixated on your very odd-looking personage. Maybe shoot a glance back at them to remind them of your sentience. Purchase some fruit and coffee (without sugar or condensed milk, please God) for less than a dollar. Maybe throw some roasted peanuts and coconut in there. Eat this most delicious combination faster than you thought possible before class begins.
Die a little bit inside at the prospect of sitting through four hours of language.
Flounder at learning Khmer. Marvel at the similarity of so many crucial words in Khmer as shown below. Recall that Khmer is one of the most challenging languages to learn for English speakers and has the longest alphabet of any language as recorded by Guinness.
Live for the classroom games and activities to distract from your inept language skills.
Take a horizontal life pause during language break. Be attacked by a swarm of fire ants and whimper on your way back to class in the hottest classrooms in the entire world.
Strain to hear your language instructor over the sound of guerilla construction taking place directly outside of your classroom.
Fall asleep for a minute. Wake up in a mini-panic attack with your instructor staring at you.
Maybe try a new Khmer fruit. Maybe it’s the worst thing in the world.
Take another life-pause in defeat.
Use the latrine. Succeed in getting urine on your face and neck.
Bike home for lunch. Maybe pass a group of men drinking midday and fix your eyes straight and silently hope they do not engage you. Eat in utter silence as you contemplate surviving the next five hours of activities. Attempt to resist your mother/sister’s insistence about eating more rice. Surrender and eat more rice. Express your physical inability to eat said rice. Smile as your sister/mother laughs about your silly constitution. Employ the latest in underwear drying technology.
Attempt to take a nap. Have tiny child fingers plunged up your nose. Abandon hope for napping. Mount your bike and head back to school.
Commence technical training. Learn advanced medical terms and other salient information for today’s practicum. Fail to grasp how you will ever, ever manage to pull this upcoming community activity off. Stare blankly at your group members and resolve to “F**k it and do it live.”
Head to your community outreach activity location. Persevere through the chaos of children shouting and rain bouncing off of the community center’s tin roof. Exchange desperate looks with your group members who are trying to communicate the importance of eating fruits and vegetables or the common danger signs during pregnancy in a language they do not know. Finally exhale when the event concludes and hope that the smiling community faces actually gained something from the experience and aren’t merely humoring you/staring at your foreignishness. Know deep down that they likely retained nothing. Pledge to try harder next time.
Escape the practicum storm and dive into a different chaos – the home of everyone’s favorite tailor. Shout-ask desperately about the shirt you ordered days ago because you are quite frankly out of clean clothing. She smiles. The shirt’s not ready. Almost lose it.
Persuade other trainees to join you on a bike ride. Reach the rice fields and forget every negative stressor of the entire day. Marvel in the stark beauty of the Cambodian landscape. Contemplate the juxtaposition of the serenity before you and the inhuman conditions faced by the families who worked these very fields during the Pol Pot years. Allow yourself to be lost in the lovely greenness for just a moment. Ponder the beautiful humans beside you and the bravery they all exemplify. Develop an immediate awareness of your desire to eat buckets of your mother’s rice. Race home.
Be greeted by a fleet of tiny, hilarious humans desperate to play games with you. Admire their propensity for producing endless entertainment from inconceivably cheap materials, i.e. rubberbands and marbles.
Work up a sweat jumping over said rubber bands. Feel indelibly triumphant. Forget about the dry pee on your neck.
Make your mother beam by eating everything on the table.
Half-play with the kids circling the dinner table, half-speak with your host-family in broken Khmer about the things you did that day. Laugh deep from your belly about the ridiculous children playing with their ridiculous cow and dog friends.
Hobble to the bathroom full of rice. “Shower” by continuously dumping cold buckets of glorious rain water and mosquito larvae over your heated head and back. Relish in this forgotten sensation of cold! before heading back to your room to dress.
Grab your notebooks with the genuine intent to study Khmer. Discard them immediately when the kids want to play. Feel about six years old. Love every minute of it. Wonder how on earth you are ever, ever going to leave this training family. Maybe tear up a little bit.
Be sent to bed by your older sister/mom. Enjoy the pitch darkness of your slumbering village as you crawl under your mosquito net. Drift to sleep as the karaoke music next door blares on. Grin to yourself. Pat yourself on the sweaty back. Do it all again tomorrow…
… beginning with laundry.
As you can see, Grampa, it’s only 50% fun and games. But. It’s enough. And if you can make it, you certainly feel like a champ.
Hope you’re cool and dry,
2 thoughts on “PST: A Day in the Life”
Thank you for sharing your story! I’m invited to serve for Cambodia ’17-’19 as a Health extension volunteer as well! I’ve been thinking about my packing list. I read that females can wear pants at the health clinics, and I’m wondering if scrubs would be acceptable to wear? (Currently, I’m a nurse and have a never-ending supply of them)
Hi, Sandi! Thank you so Mach for reading. I should disclaim that everyone’s experience will be different and his post was mainly intended for laughs. However, you’re question is a good one! At most health centers, its best to dress as the other staff members do. I wore skirts and nice shirts for the first few weeks, but the staff eventually talked me into wearing more comfy clothes and they gave me a few huge scrubs shirts of my own. The problem is that I have no idea what your HC will be like! Honestly, I’m a huge proponent of packing light as you can get almost everything you need here. If I were to give you a hard answer, I’d recommend bringing no more than two pairs of scrubs with you, especially if they are comfy. Does this help? I hope so! Don’t hesitate with more questions if you have them 🙂