Discarded World Tour: Update from Kristina Ozkan
January 9, 2012 by eazywanderer
Today we had our first trip out to Stung Meanchey, the garbage community. This location used to be the community dump for Phnom Pehn. The garbage trucks would arrive throughout the day and dump the garage from the city. The children would anticipate the trucks and jump on the backs preparing to salvage anything from food to fill their starving bellies or sadly anything that would help them survive. They have since moved the dump to another location (about a year and half ago) but because the families that live at Stung Meanchey are so poor, they can’t leave and continue to live on top of all the garbage.
I knew this day would be a challenge for me emotionally but had no idea what to expect when we arrived. We ate breakfast at Bojangles once again and packed up our leftovers for ‘take aways.’ This consisted of half of a baguette which I stuffed with potato pancakes and a few pieces of bacon, nothing much to us but an entire meal, maybe an only meal for that day for someone else. Upon arriving at Stung Meanchey, a small girl, probably 8, was pulling what appeared to be her sister in an oversized cart. We slowed so I could hand her by leftovers, she put her hands together in a prayer motion and bowed to me, a sign of great thanks. This act alone brought a flood of tears to my eyes and even as I write this and see her face my eyes swell. To see the thankfulness in this child’s eyes was something I will never forget. It broke my heart to see how thankful this little girl was so to receive my food.
We continued into the community. Overwhelmed by the smell of rotting trash and smoke filling the air, we pushed on. The recent floods left much of the community uninhabitable. Large stagnant pools of dirty mosquito larva filled water blocked the walkways. At first we thought there was no way we could get inside the community without having to purchase rubber boots and wade our way through the following day, but with the aid of Chan who made stepping stones out of broken bricks and pieces of wood, we were able to make our way in. What we saw inside is something that I will never forget. The ground littered with garbage, small children, most naked, covered in dirt, raw meat covered in flies hanging from sticks and everyone wanting to see if we had brought them any food.
We walked around and met many families, some invited us in to their “homes” (small shacks, most with leaves for roofs and dirt for floors). They may not have had a lot but what they did have they were proud of. We continued to walk around, shaking hands, picking up children and sharing our love and we rounded one corner and not knowing it my life would never be the same. We met another family and with the pushing of an eager mother stepped forward a small girl, covered in sweat and a severe infection on her neck. We all looked and gave our guesses as what it could be and we all knew we had to do something to help. She needed medical treatment and she needed it fast. We promised to be back to get her after we finished walking around.
We canceled our plans of going to the Killing Fields, knowing this girl’s life was top priority. I am not sure why I was so drawn to this little girl, even now writing this my eyes fill with tears. We bought what food we could and handed out puff chips to children. It was an experience you had to be there to understand. The children were all so hungry and wanted food. Josh ended up running around to try to get away from the mob of small hands grabbing. Not knowing this would start a game of tag and catch. The adults admired from the sides as the children laughed and ran after Josh. The smile of a child is never forced and at this time we saw their lights shining so bright.
We went back to find the little girl that touched my heart and told her family that we wanted to get her the medical care she so desperately needed. I took her hand and haven’t looked back since. Only stepping forward and conquering whatever stands in the way. If there is a will, there is a way. Knowing it would be difficult to find a good doctor, Eric and I decided it would best if him and I just went with the little girl and her mother to find treatment. It may have been a little overwhelming for all of us to walk into a doctor’s office and ask for treatment. We loaded our tuktuk and headed out. The little girl and her mother sat extremely close together, possibly unsure if they could trust us, where we were going or if we were true to our words. You must remember, we met this family about an hour before and they entrusted us with their lives. The first hospital we came to was a free clinic, government ran. There were probably 200 people sitting outside on the ground, the heat waiting for a number. We were told they would release another block of numbers at 1:30pm and could not tell us how long the wait was after that. It was around 11:30am when we arrived so the thought of waiting 2 hours just to receive another was unfathomable. We knew this wasn’t an option. We continued through the city, zigzagging throughout the traffic in the hopes of finding a private doctor, which we did. We walked in and were seen immediately. We all sat in the doctor’s room as he examined sweet SikLay, pronounced Cee-Lie. The doctor pressed and probed her wound which brought tears to her fearful eyes. The doctor, then without any hesitation said it was Tuberculosis (TB). Eric and I were baffled by this as we have never seen or heard of external TB. The doctor said he couldn’t help us further and we needed to go to the Children’s Hospital. Since she didn’t receive any medical treatment I did not need to pay anything.
Eric, myself, SikLay and her mother loaded our tuktuk and drove over to the Children’s Hospital. We entered through double sliding doors. About 100 empty seats were in front of us and 2 baskets hanging from the ceiling. Later to find out these baskets were a scale they measured the babies weight in. There were about 5 children in line to be seen. We stood in line and waited our turn.
The nurse asked what we were there for and all we had to point to was SikLay’s neck. I paid 8000 riel, equivalent to $2.00 to be seen by the triage doctor. He examined her and told us we needed her to be seen in the surgical unit. We gathered the paperwork and headed across the courtyard. When we arrived there the doctor was at lunch and wouldn’t return for an hour, so we waited. I had some fruit snacks in my bag that Laura had given me and SikLay and her mother enjoyed what very well could have been their first gummy treat! After about an hour or so wait, the doctor returned and we were called into his room to be seen. He looked and SikLay and with glove free hands touched and poked at her wounds. Again, with no hesitation he said it was TB and we would have to be seen at the TB ward. Unfortunately, the day we were there was a holiday and we would have to return the following day to be seen again. I paid the bill to see the last doctor, another 10000 riel ($2.50) and we left to return SikLay and her mother back to Stung Meanchey. We dropped them off and told them to meet us back there at 8am the following day. As we left, I wondered if they thought if we would return. If their hope for helping treat SikLay diminished as we rode away into the dust and smoke of the city. We knew we would be back, but did they?
We met up with the rest of our group, who spent the afternoon at the hotel and having lunch. Everyone joined us for lunch so we could fill them in on what our afternoon was like. I went back to the room and called it a night.
Adjusting to this climate has been extremely difficult for me. I have been having to drink 6 liters of water just to feel good enough to be able to participate in the days activities. Unfortunately this wasn’t the last day of feeling drained.
“In a land where most is lost, hope still survives.”