A few weeks ago I was thinking about one of the questions everyone LOVES to ask, "What's your favorite place in the world?". While this question is generally proposed by other travelers and referring to a specific country or city, I began thinking about it on a much wider, yet simpler scale. As any traveler will know it's near impossible to pick one location as our favorite place so I realized I had to think of this question as something I could take with me, a place I could always be. Of course, I still wasn't able to narrow it down to just one but I did a good job of finding a few answers, four to be exact.
1. Seat 24A in an airplane, okay it doesn't have to be 24A but window over the wing, up in the clouds, disconnected from the world is a.l.r.i.g.h.t. with me.
After reuniting with Dara in Siem Reap it was decided that I must once again visit his hometown of Kampong Cham to see the rest of his family, but as a bonus, he'd be joining me this time. I'm not sure what the other passengers were thinking as I boarded the bus with Dara and his two-year-old daughter, but we sure did gain a few stares from the older women. A few hours later we were met on the side of the road by Dara's brothers, promptly transported to his house and welcomed with warm smiles. The first evening brought flashbacks of my visit the year before, lots of beers, smiles, and laughter, one bonus was that Dara was there to translate [some] of what was being said. One of the most important things I took away was that his parents now think of me as one of their own. Seriously melting my heart.
The following morning Dara wanted to take me to see a mountain not far out of town, other family members had considered joining but there was a problem with the car so it was just Dara, his daughter and I via motorbike. The first half of the drive took us close to downtown before we turned away and headed for the villages. I was thoroughly enjoying the ride, like I said 'back of a motorbike and rice fields' two of my top 4 favorite places in the world, combined into one. I was enjoying myself so much that I considered holding on and paying attention to be two things of little concern, big mistake on my part. My memory quite literally goes from cute village houses to a 45-degree view between the ground and sky, with Dara's hand reaching for me in the corner of it all. Next thing I know I'm lying in a stranger's house with Dara, his daughter and a load of other people hovering around and taking care of me. I could feel the large lump growing on the back of my head (yeah, helmets and Cambodia don't mix so well) so I didn't complain much when Dara said "We're going to the hospital". Surprisingly I had no qualms about getting back on the bike that just dumped me on the side of the road, but that may have been due to the fact that I was still half out of it.
In retrospect the ride to the hospital was a bit frightening as it's the few moments of the day I spent wondering what the hell was happening, where I was going and how I'd gotten there; my head was obviously a bit shaken up. When we arrived I was ushered into an 'operating room?' which Dara was ushered away which did little help as he knew more details and Khmer than I. As they removed the makeshift bandage from my leg I realized the reason I was at the hospital; actually having nothing to do with the lump on my head but rather to have the gaping hole in my calf stitched up.
There were doctors and nurses swarming around me (I don't think they get many white patients) one of who's hand I believe I had a small death grip on. I almost wanted to punch the one who started asking me, "Where are you from, how long have you been in Cambodia, what is your name?" until I realized he was trying to distract me from the needle going into my leg, so in retrospect Thank you. Once numb, distracted by the doctors and at peace with where I was I decided pictures would be a good idea, but unfortunately most of those disappeared with my phone (another long story).
Once my lower half was patched up I inquired about my head but was told there was little that could be done (hell they didn't even have ice, Dara had to fetch that from a store nearby), but if I was concerned to travel to Phnom Penh for a full exam. I wasn't eager to jump in an ambulance (or taxi or whatever they provided) so instead paid my bill ($10 whopping dollars) and jumped back on the bike for a short ride home. Dara's family couldn't believe what had happened and his father was quick to blame Dara for what had happened, assuming his driving was at fault and if not he should have at least instructed me to hold on as if I'd never before ridden on the back of a bike. I tried to explain that it was actually me who should've known better thus making it no one's fault but my own. The rest of the afternoon I allowed his mom and aunts to care for me, spreading herbal remedies on my wounds as I texted my (neurosurgeon) brother to get his vote on the severity of my injuries. Turns out he thought I was okay so I decided to play it by ear, rather than rush off to Phnom Penh I'd stay put and let this lovely family look after me.
Despite his family's insistence that I rest, "Take a nap" I stayed awake idling around the house, keeping a note of my physical and mental condition. Aside from losing consciousness and being a bit ''out of it" at first, I seemed to be doing fine, no headache, nausea, eye strain, blurred vision or speech, but that didn't mean people weren't worried. Not only did Dara's immediately family dote all over me; relatives and visitors from the village were all eager to inquire what had happened to the white girl and offer their two-cent of advice. Having little to do with my physical injuries I came closer to tears in the two days following my accident than I have in years, purely out of frustration. As much as I appreciated their concern it drove me crazy that I could not communicate and began to feel like an exotic animal put on display for everyone to see. Not only that but I've been taking care of myself for the last year traveling solo (not to mention the two before that in Korea) so it was actually hard for me to accept their help, probably not a surprise to those that know me well - stubborn and independent as I may be. Included in this care was the insistence from Dara (actual orders from his parents) that I stay an additional day, rather than leaving the following morning as planned so they could ensure I was okay.
I found it entertaining that they believed once my surface wounds healed I was 'fine'but decided to entertain them anyway and stick around for the extra day, secretly hoping inside that my brain wasn't slowing leaking into my skull. (This is only funny now because my brain was in fact fully intact). Friday morning our plans to visit Phnom Han Chey were back on but this time via car, I guess the problem was fixed and it seemed the whole family was coming along. I was feeling okay but the 'çlown car' situation was not entertaining me, too cramped and noisy making me feel more than a little claustrophobic. Without much detail I'll just say the day was bearable, kids were cute, views were nice and of course everyone was still friendly, but I was done with being dependent on others and ready for a little more freedom. Everyone was hoping for a repeat of our first night, dinner drinks and good stories, but I insisted that alcohol on top of antibiotics and a recently concussed head probably wasn't a good idea, despite Dara's "just a little?" plea.
Eventually Saturday morning rolled around which meant it was time for me to pack my bags, say goodbye and enjoy another Cambodian bus journey. Feeling claustrophobic and a bit smothered I was more than ready to make my departure, but I couldn't help feeling sad as we pulled away, not knowing when or if I would see this family again. My original plans for Phnom Penh included computer shopping and relaxing but both of those were trumped by the little voices in my head (and on my Kakao Talk screen) saying "go to the hospital". My brother's words were also on my mind "If you were here I'd say you don't need the CT but..." but that was not the case, I was in Cambodia and would be staying for the next two months. Knowing that I'd be leaving for a smaller town the next day, a place with [likely] limited medical services I decided to pay a visit to Calmette Hosptial in Phnom Penh for some fun and [hopefully] piece of mind.
Although it's not how I planned to spend my Saturday afternoon (or $166) the four hours I spent at the hospital were neither unpleasant nor unbearable. The staff spoke an adequate amount of English, waiting times were acceptable and the doctor was awesome. This isn't the first time I've had to visit medical facilities in a foreign country and it also wasn't the first time I was impressed. Despite their limited resources and sometimes limited English I've continually been pleased with the medical service I've received abroad, or maybe it's just that the US is lacking... Now not only do I have a "Good story to tell" to explain my beautiful scar and visit to Kampong Cham but I also have pictures to go with it:
Thankfully my brain was fully intact with no damage done to the inside OR outside, aside from the huge bump I carried around for a few days and some lingering dizziness. Upon lying completely flat or tilting my head back at a certain angle, waves of dizziness flooded my head. I asked both my brother and the doctor in Phnom Penh about it but they agreed it was normal and would go away with time. I remember my grandma dealing with vertigo a few years ago and now having to deal with it myself completely understand what an annoyance it can be. I adjusted quickly, but upon starting my job (teaching yoga) at Banteay Srey I was filled with frustration, poses I usually love were now ones I avoided, not wanting to fill myself with a world of spinning. I'm happy to say I'm currently symptom-free, but the dizziness did go away and then come back once before, so let's just hope it's gone for good this time (just kidding, wrote this a few days ago and now upon posting it's back again!). I think brain scans and a 'horror movie esque' scar are good enough souvenirs for this story, so dizziness and vertigo, be kind and F off.
Only recently has this country shown up on the SE Asia tourist route. With a dark, harrowing past it's amazing to see the smiles spread across the locals faces. I've met travelers with mixed impressions, but if you're lucky enough to connect with a few locals I'm confident you'll fall in love.