Days 3 & 4: Exploring Southern Cambodia
Without fail, 6am rolls around. In some neighboring building, a man chants to the beat of his own, fog horn? I can’t put my finger on it, but I find myself chanting along with the man in my own botched form of Khmer— the Cambodian official language.
After strolling down to watch the immaculate sunrise, it hits us — it’s the weekend and we have time to explore. But first, the standard checklist: Coffee? check. Baguette? check. There’s something about repetition in a foreign environment that’s surprisingly grounding.
We’re off to the waterfront town of Kep, about 30 minutes south of Kampot, for a hike up Phnom Kep. We lather sunscreen over our offensively pale skin, making sure to avoid spilling any on the purple accordion shades that line the inside of our Korean bus. I love Korean buses by the way, and this one is no exception.
Amongst a few valiant attempts to maintain complete cardiovascular composure while scaling the hills of Cambodia, we ran into this guy.
Buddhism accounts for around 98% of Cambodia’s religious sector, as we were reminded through our hike lined with buddhist statues and shrines such as the one above.
It’s the day before surgeries so we are able to head south again to do some more exploring. We’re going to Koh Thonsay, a Cambodian island located off the south western coast of Cambodia. “Koh Thonsay” means Rabbit Island, and it is located close to the mainland of city Kep, where we hiked yesterday. A visit to an island means we’re getting on a boat, obviously. But when we arrive at the dock and hop on our boat made of entirely wood and old bike tires, we are greeted by an unexpected captain.
I’m foolish to think his job is limited to loading the boat with bread and drinks to bring to the island's restaurants. His father shouts in Khmer what I imagine to be, “start the engine”. The little boy does with what seems to be a screwdriver key and a hot wiring system... I don’t know what’s more impressive, the little boy handling the boat like a seasoned deckhand, or the boat motor that looks it was made from an overgrown weed whacker — I think even Tony Stark would have had his hands full putting this rig together.
Clearly this is not a big deal for him.
Rabbit Island gave us a few hours to relax and reflect on our short time here so far. We also had a chance to speak with our group of Seva donors who have been traveling with us for the last few days. Like us, they share a similar passion for the work Seva does, but they come from all different backgrounds. Many of them have seen surgeries and bandage removals before, and they give us a valuable preview of what tomorrow and Tuesday will entail. Tyler, an ophthalmologist from Weston, Connecticut, explains many of the medical conditions and procedures that we will be seeing. He’s an incredible resource and reminds us that there is always more to learn about eye health and the eye care system that we often take for granted.