Day 2: Vision Screenings at Konsath Health Center
It’s an early start this morning, but fortunately, jet lag makes waking up at 6am feel like… well, 6am actually. Jet lag is a cruel thing and follows no rules. It’s worth it though, because we are going to visit a small health center outside of Kampot to see some vision screenings today. After a strong cup of coffee and a fluffy baguette, we’re on our way. As the bustling city streets turn into dusty, dirt roads, our view becomes a curiously repetitive scene of off-white Cambodian cattle munching on grass in the recently harvested rice paddies.
About an hour later, we arrive at our destination: the Konsath Health Center. It’s a small concrete building, yet the health center provides care for the village of Konsath and much of the neighboring area, including vision screenings and eye exams which we will observe today. Those who are determined to need surgery will be referred to the camp taking place in Kampot on Monday.
Many of the adults who come for their eye exams bring their children along as well – partly because finding a babysitter happens to be a problem no matter where you live, and partly because the health center courtyard doubles as communal playground today.
Though we do take time to learn about the screenings and watch the eye exam process, much of the day is spent playing soccer and chilling out with the kids. I think we all bonded over a shared feeling of restlessness as the day got hotter and grew seemingly longer. Besides, who can resist kicking a soccer ball around with some cute kids?
Cliché, I know, but kids get bored when they have to wait around for their parents to do stuff. That’s a fact. And though we are in a beautiful remote village in southern Cambodia, an eye exam is still looks like the eye exam you had to get at the doctor. Yep, same chart with all the disoriented E’s. Same pinpoint flashlights beaming into your soul while you struggle not to blink. Same nervous feeling that you’re going to mess up for the doctor. Same fear that if they find something wrong, what will happen to me? Will I need glasses? What if I need surgery? What if I can’t see?
That last similarity is the reason I think we can all bond over the importance of sight. We've all experienced that flash of fear. You feel it even when something as trivial as getting sand stuck in your eye happens. “Get it out, get it out!” your brain barks. And for a brief moment, nothing matters more than removing that annoying, itchy, painful particle. This feeling is one of many that connects us through our eyes – we cherish them and instinctively want to protect them.
Our day concludes with a brief visit to a Buddhist temple, or “wat”, down the street. The bright colors that line the temple walls bring life to the quiet space. Two saffron robes glide around the corner as the young monks who adorn them perform their daily chores.