Kratie, the sleepy provincial capital where I have been staying for the past three weeks, has a surprising number of backpackers wandering around the town. My volunteer friend, Carole, and I always wonder what they are doing here, then we realize they probably are probably thinking the same of us.
Any tourist who comes to Kratie is probably coming to see the rare Irrawaddy dolphins in the Mekong River. This is touted as the reason to come here. Carole and I ventured out one morning, renting a tuk-tuk to make the journey north to Kampi (the dolphins aren’t even in Kratie) and here’s what we saw. We were left still wondering why people come here.
With the anticlimactic dolphin sightings out of the way, we passed on the four other tourist destinations (a mountain, a lake, a temple and a “floating” village) and took the kids to the pool again on Sunday. It is a tradition that the kids go with any willing volunteers to the pool at 1:00 on Sunday. One of the students was outside my window at 6:30 in the morning just to remind me. This was clearly a highlight of their week.
By noon, I started seeing kids I didn’t even recognize. When we left, Carole and I had 12 kids with us, all excited and holding our hands to walk the three blocks down the dirt road to the pool.
Unfortunately, I left the pool with an infection. (Carole was smart and didn’t go in the water, and I’m sure the kids are immune to whatever I caught.) By Monday morning, my eyes were red and puffy and I felt like I had the flu.
Soon, the international volunteers were all digging into their backpacks to offer me a remedy. It may not be the best thing to do, but I’ve tried a variety of pills and treatments from around the world. I eventually went to one clinic, but no one spoke English, and I left with drops for dry eyes. After googling some symptoms, I was able to get antibiotic eye drops at a pharmacy which helped a little.
This morning, I rode my bike to the provincial hospital in hopes of finding an English-speaking doctor. I was greeted by a doctor outside the reception building who helped me register (all the paperwork was in Khmer). I paid the $5 fee and was brought across the courtyard to another outdoor waiting area. It was a good sign that I saw an eye chart and lots of eyeglasses in the office. I passed the eye exam and was then seen by the doctor. He confirmed that I had conjunctivitis and prescribed a stronger antibiotic than what I’d been taking. A woman put the drops in my eyes, gave me some acetaminophen and said there was no charge when I offered to pay. Even the parking lot attendant didn’t accept any money when I went back to pick up my bike. Everyone seemed happy to have an American visitor to their hospital.
A few more scenes from the week:
I will teach my last two classes today, spend some time with the kids on Saturday (not in the pool) and head to Phnom Penh on Sunday. My next post will probably be written from the US as I begin the next part of this journey.