Thursday, 31 January 2013

Combodia Medical Voluntour Pt1

I have been blessed to travel to a few countries around the world but never have I returned to one, until now. 

In 2009 I went to Cambodia to visit a friend who was working there.  I fell in love with the country and the people.  Despite their horrible history and extensive poverty they still have big smiles on their face and are very friendly and I felt moved to help them in any way I could.

At first I sponsered a little girl through ICC and then I found out about the Voluntours they ran.  On January 12 this year, my mother and I flew out to Cambodia to participate in a Medical Voluntour.  Having been there before I didn't think Cambodia could throw me any surprises. Let me say I was in for a shock.

January 12.
Let me just say that I will never fly Air Asia again.  We landed in Kuala Lumpar, went through immigration, got our luggage, went through customs and promptly went to the check in gate to book our luggage back in for our flight to Phnom Penh.  Yes they did not do transit for Cambodia.  The airport is also very confusing when you are there for the first time.  No one is helpful and when you finally find someone who is, they point you in the general direction that has 3 branching corridors!

Despite that we arrived safely in Phom Penh around 4, only to find that the guy who was sitting next to mum on the plane was also part of our group. We went via Tuk Tuk with all our luggage to the hotel.

The hotel was very comfortable.  The restaurant/pub that was attached to it was decorated in all sorts of doors and shutters.

The following photos were out on the balcony section where we would have our morning catch ups.

I took this photo so that I could do some creative things with it for my artwork.  I am thinking of using it as a background in some of my jewellery.  The third one is my favourite.

January 13.
Our first full day in Cambodia was spent doing the touristy thing: Killing Fields and Toul Sleng Prison (TS21) in the morning, and then Russian Markets in the afternoon.
I don't think mum was too keen about the first half of the day but in the end she was glad she went.  I noticed many changes to Phnom Penh on the way out to the Killing Fields.  I noticed that a small community that lived along a creek was no longer there.  I wonder how they had been "relocated."  I will be talking more about "relocation" in a post later.
Instead of a living breathing guide like I had in 2009, it is now recorded and you walk around with your own electronic device and head phones following the numbers on the signs.  I told Tanya that I wasn't going to do it as I had already heard it.  I just wanted to get some photos with my Infra Red lens.  She insisted and because it was already paid for I took.
I am glad that I did.  Though it was very similar to what my guide had told me, it was backed up with recordings of peoples testimonies.  It wasn't until the end though that something really hit me.  The tape was talking about how the Khmer Rouge had put a loud speaker in a tree and played music to drown out the killings.  Music played similar to what would have been heard as well as a loud sound of a generator to run the power.  The Narrator mentioned that this was the last sound many would have heard.  It was in that second as I walked with my head down, only my feet and the dirt path visible, that I was suddenly one of them.  It was a split second reaction and almost a panic but it felt so real it was a shock.
What I found more shocking was a Souvenir shop inside the grounds of the Killing Fields.  It just didn't seem right.
The grounds themselves were quite different.  Firstly because it was now the dry season and I had come at the end of the wet season.  A lot of it had been flooded then and I did not realise that there was a "pond" area that you could walk around. 

 Some Infra Red fun
On the other side of the "pond" is the boundary to the Killing fields.  Over the fence is rice fields and a family lives in a small hut near the fence.  The kids certainly get a lot of practice in begging with all the tourists going round.  NEVER give beggars money.  If you are going to give them something it is best to be food.  Kids especially will never see the money as it will go to someone else. 
 These two kids were about 100m away (love my zoom).  They knew they were getting their photos taken.  Cheeky things.  :)
Back in 2009 it was requested that if you found bone or teeth on the the track that you place it in a special box, this is now the job of the caretakers.  They have also roped off areas that contain numerous bones, teeth and clothing that is making its way to the surface so that you can see what it looks like.  I took photos of this last time so this is the only photo I took this time.
Another noticeable difference was the colour.  Many people had put what I call "friendship bands on the bamboo posts.  It made an empty sad area fill with hope.  Hope that one day humanity will learn from what had been done here.  Hope for future generations.

I also noticed that white flowers had been left in the top of one of the bamboo posts.  When I go home and looked at my old photos I realised that it was the exact same place that I took a photo of white flowers in the bamboo.  Could it be a relative of one buried here?

This photo was taken in 2009.  Now every post is covered like the ones in the next photo.

One of the most shocking areas is the Killing Tree.  Children did not have the benefit of an axe to the head so they were bashed against the tree.  The recording I listened to told of a man who stumbled on the area shortly after the end of the genocide.  He saw bones sticking out of the ground and the tree was covered in blood, skin and brain.  Eventually when some graves were dug up, the condition of the young children's skulls confirmed this. Why am I telling you this?  Because we need to know in order to prevent this from happening again.

The first two photos I took in 2009.  The last one is what the tree looks like now. Walking around you feel moved to do something but there is nothing that you can do.  I love how people have compensated this feeling with the bands.

From here we went to the Prison. the only thing that had changed here was a new entrance and all the barbed wire removed from around the building.  It is a shame the barbed wire is gone as it really added to the atmosphere of the place.  I suppose it was a safety issue.

Lunch was across the street at the Bodhi Tree restaurant.  It was a yummy lunch.  Here we were given names for our Russian Market Challenge.  We had to by a $10 gift for the person whose name we had drawn.  There were around 50 on the team so it was a great way to get to know someone.

The afternoon was spent in the Russian Markets.  It is so easy to lose yourself in there.  It is like a huge wool shed packed with as many shops as possible.  The isles are so narrow that in order to pass someone coming the other direction you may need to lean into a shop to let them pass.  It is stinking hot but the shopping is great.  There is sooooo much that you can get.  Mum bought up on bags while I went looking for things for friends back home.  I bought a nice silk Tibetan looking scarf for the name I had and Mum bought a pointed Cambodian hat and a T-Shirt that said "KEEP CALM and op op opopop GANGNAM STYLE" and a little cartoon of the guy singing it.  There were other T-shirts with "No Tuk Tuk Today," "Same Same" on the front and on the back "Only Different."  Normally at home I am the one asking for money, in Cambodia I was the money custodian and mum was the one spending.  It didn't feel right.  :)

That night we all had to wear what we were given.  I was given a gorgeous scarf/shawl and mum was given a lovely thick silk handbag with hand embroidered flowers on it.  If I remember I will take a photo and post it later.

We were supposed to go to a specific restaurant where we could eat Cambodian food and try deep fried spider.  Thankfully it was closed due to mourning for the death of the King recently.  Interesting that we could get a booking.  Tanya (group leader) then took us to another place.  It was a budget Cambodian restaurant that she normally took schoolies when they were running out of money.  We were put out the back and literally took up every table.

This isn't all of us.  There is another table that had about 8 people on it as well.
 Some of the guys from a large group that came together. Not sue if you can see the stairs at the back but the were so narrow and angle so sharply that we nearly died coming down them (they were trying to put us up stairs first).  In fact going up I was praying I wouldn't fall through them.  Throughout the night we see waiters running up and down with trays in their hand!!!
 This rope bridge can get you from one side of the loft section to the other ... no thanks.
This is the front room of the restaurant.  When we entered there was a table between the swings.  I think it is a great idea, though you wouldn't want to try and swing with a table there.  :)  By the way, this is Vicky.  She and I were at Uni together in 1991 and I haven't seen her since then.  She was on the Voluntour as well.  Small world hey.

Well this will do for now.  I still have to organise the rest of the photos for the other days.  Stay tuned though because unlike my last Cambodian trip, I will put more photos on here.