Saturday came another hot day. Same, same hot hot.
I packed my bags last night thank goodness beacuse I couldn’t get out of bed today. I leaned over the printer yesterday to check a connection and my back went. I don’t know how or where it went. I didn’t see it go. It just went. Don’t tell me not to lean over printers. Somebody already told me that but my back had already gone and didn’t return. So I rolled over in bed with great care and onto the floor. I climbed up using the mosquito net pole at the bed corner and straightened out. I cold showered and dried by the fan to keep my towel clean and dry for today’s journey to Siam Reap. It’s almost time to say goodbye to Phnom Penh. I down Paracetamol and Ibuprofen from my good little first aid kit from Paddleworks – thank you! I washed my last sweaty clothes in the machine so all ready to go by lunchtime. They will be dry long before then.
At Value Life Clinic I arrived in time for 8 am prayers and my analgesia has kicked in by now. The usual queue outside on plastic seats of patients waiting for their turn. Loak Srei BP is undelivered – she has a very high blood pressure from the start of her pregnancy and should be overdue by now but her baby is small, the head not engaged and the cervix unfavourable. Plenty movements but not much liquor and we can check by sonar that the head and abdomen size are not suggesting growth retardation even though the head size is much the same as last week. She was sent home from hospital recently with no action. Her tablets make little impact on the blood pressure. She must hang in there another week unless she labours. Another girl comes in 8 weeks pregnant with pain in her right side. A vaginal scan probe is produced and we can rule out ectopic, seeing a clear beating fetal heart and the pregnancy sac in the right place. No sign of a cyst either so we reassure her. The word gets around that you can get a scan and the patients start to ask for one. All good to practice using the new machine since the midwives had little training. They are pleased I can show them and I am pleased to be of some use.
Hak my tuk tuk driver arrives at 11 to take me back to VSO for my lunch and to catch the bus for Siam Reap. This is an air-conditioned minibus for which I paid $10 the seat including a 30kg holdall (the weight is increasing steadily), crash helmet, water filter, a huge water container and two shoulder bags. All for a 5 hour express journey which would take 7 hours on the uncomfortable regular bus. The AC is wonderful and I can relax to the extent that my treated back allows listening to The Lord of The Rings while the world goes by. This is a flat flat land. We pass many fields with lone trees and houses on stilts. The white cows are rather thin and forage for dried brown grass which is almost non-existent. Small boats on dry land tell the tale of the annual floods in this area. The road is on a high embankment all the way. We pass two small hills in all the five hours, both a couple of hundred feet high and both being extensively quarried. Perhaps it’s material for building roads and construction. They are filling land with sand around Phnom Penh destroying small lakes and the fishing communities around them for the sake of shopping malls and office blocks. Displaced people get little compensation for their loss and are soon moved on when they seek to protest.
Smiley’s Guest House in Siam Reap is pretty basic though pleasant enough. The six dollar room which fits my VSO allowance has no AC, no mosquito net or poles so I can’t hang my net from anything, no toilet paper, no soap and the cold shower is over the toilet. I finally work out how the locals use the toilet – the cold spray next to the bowl is used to wash after using the toilet using the left hand so paper is not required. I encountered the same idea in Nicaragua and Costa Rica but at that time I never understood why they said don’t put paper down the toilet. It isn’t needed and sometimes it blocks the drains. I also catch up with emails – Smiley’s does at least have free internet access – and discover from my brother in PNG that there has been a huge earthquake in Japan. I heard no international news at all since arriving here 10 days ago. In Wewak they had a ‘King tide’ which swamped the hospital but no loss of life -Andrew and Ruth were on higher ground. Plenty of ShelterBox activity I see from my email inbox. The land here is red soil, much sediment from the river flooding and very little rock in the low lying area of the rivers Mekong and Tonle Sap it seems. Not an area prone to earthquake as there are no tectonic plate junctions nearby. A large tsunami could affect the coastal areas although the Gulf of Thailand is facing away from the area affected by Friday’s large quake.
Smiley’s also has running cold water but all our training so far tells us not to drink it unboiled and unfiltered. I have 1,500 ml on arrival and by morning it will be gone. What do I do aside from go buy more bottled water some place? Then I recall Andy gave me Chinese or Mongolian water purifying tablets one time in Manchester and I dig them out of my holdall. I can just make out the English on the label – one small tablet to one litre and wait 10 minutes. Carefully dissecting one tablet with my penknife I manage to create two 500ml bottles of drinkable water and feel I have a survival kit for Siam Reap and beyond.
Last night I had my last dinner in Phnom Penh with the friends I have made on the orientation programme. They go to language training in Kampong Cham while I head for Banteay Meanchey and work on Monday. It could be my last chance for a while to have an ice cream so I choose three different flavours. My family knows how much I love ice cream and this heat is unbearable at times. Now my friends know how much I love ice cream too. The waiter behaves as if no one ever asked for three scoops before and he is amazed when I eat the lot in record time. It’s so cold how can you eat three scoops like that? I tell you, it’s so hot I could swim in ice cream and eat it all day long. So he is smiling, as the people here do all the time, and saying to himself over and over – three scoops, three scoops! As we pay and stand to leave he says he will always remember me – Mister Three Scoops!