6.27.2014

Looking Back: Cambodia March 2014

Cambodia was a complete and utter whirlwind of a work trip. The details of it kind of just merge together and that makes me a little bit sad! I went to Phnom Penh to teach one day of Basic Life Support (CPR) and one two-day course of Paediatric Advanced Life Support so my trip in total was only three days plus 1 1/2 days on either end for travel. Like I said, a whirlwind. 

The day I arrived, I was super tired because I had traveled all night. I was up late in the Kolkatta airport and then did what sleeping I could in a chair in Bangkok. When I got to Phnom Penh I was in a sort of dream like state. It was warm and muggy, a whole new language surrounded me and having just brushed up on Cambodian history, my main thoughts were on the not so long ago genocide that took place in this beautiful country during the life span of the driver who picked me up at the airport. I wished I could have talked to him and many of the people I came across in fact. 

I met up with my colleagues, many of whom I had met in Vietnam a few months earlier. We immediately headed out to the Russian Market and for some dinner. We drove by the King's Palace and some other beautiful Buddhist temples but as it was already evening, we didn't have time to go peek around. 

 King's Palace at sunset

 Cambodian rickshaws are so cute and spacious!

The teaching was an extra big challenge. We were a team of instructors from the U.S. (India?), Vietnam and China. The students were all med students or doctors, very smart and enthusiastic but we had a challenge with translation because we didn't have any local instructors and none of us knew Khmer. Somehow we made it work and part way through the day, I was informed that in the afternoon we would do a second session with the Cambodian Anti-terrorism Squad.... wait... what?! I was SO intimidated! We packed up our gear and headed off through thick city traffic and eventually made our way to a heavily guarded military zone. As if I wasn't already sweating enough, cue overactive perspiration! We pulled up and were met with a room full of very serious looking young men. I got up and nervously introduced myself and had them go around the room to introduce themselves. I always like to make some jokes to ease the initial tension in a classroom so I did, and it went over pretty well! The second I got them smiling, I finally started breathing again. These guys were so disciplined and absorbed everything we could teach them with the limited time we had. They asked awesome questions and by the end, I forgot that they were highly trained and specialised members of the Royal Cambodian Army. Sometimes I get so intimidated in a new country that I find myself holding back, especially somewhere like Cambodia where I didn't have much time to learn about the culture and language beforehand. I fear being a traveler or guest who offends the citizens and I was on extra-high guard being around the military of my host-country. Once I relaxed and opened up with them, I really felt like they also became comfortable with me. It was such an honour to teach them some life saving skills, and I would love to go back for a second round with more time. I really can't describe it in any other way besides honoured, humbled, grateful. It was absolutely the highlight of my time there. After the class was done, we stood around on the grounds and they explained to me a bit about their training, where they live and their duty. They lined the hallways, waving as we drove off and I was hoping I would see them again someday! 



The next two days were spent teaching the advanced course. My self esteem was admittedly a little low upon the completion of the course. We had a large class, difficulty in translation, long power cuts and late days. As the course director, I tried my best to keep everything on track and ensure that the students met all of the course objectives. I was a text book Type A personality growing up but the last 3 years have forced me to, I don't know, not be so much of a Type A. My overly organised, perfectionist, way-planning ahead, not that flexible, intolerance of tardiness self has been watered down. It's probably best this way, I am guessing my risk of dying young from a heart attack has decreased! One trait that hasn't changed is that I am still highly self critical, so it is hard to walk away from a set of challenges and feel like I faced them well. Did the students get a lot out of the classes? Yes! Did I feel my best at the end of the day? Nope! After a lot of reflection, I learned quite a bit from the challenges during teaching in Cambodia and there is good in that. It has helped me anticipate needs in other countries and also taught me what questions to ask ahead of time to ensure that we are going in with the best plan possible. Everyone I worked with remained flexible and energetic despite the heat and long days, I am very thankful for that!


 Buddhism in Cambodia sure is different from Buddhism in India. It is intriguing to me to see the visual difference between the Theravada path and the Mahayana path. 

My awesome team. I couldn't have managed without their input and experience! 

Before I knew it, it was time to leave Phnom Penh. We had one last yummy Cambodian dinner and the next morning I was off to India. I arrived to Kolkatta with a massively high fever (40 Celsius at one point) AND found out that nearly all of my money had been fraudulently debited from my Indian bank account. I was a pile of feverish emotions by the time I reached Guwahati. Luckily, the fever went away after a few days and a few months later all of my money was credited back to my account. Yes, it took a few months.... but at least it I got it back. Someone in Mexico really had a hay day with my Rupees. They ate at fancy restaurants, stayed in good hotels, drank Starbucks and probably had no care that half way around the world they were teaching me a big lesson in patience, perseverance and acceptance that I could survive without the money they spent. A true lesson in showing that what we think is ours materially in this world, is not. It's all an illusion! 

Cambodia, I will come back for you one day!

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