First Day Out in Bali

Had my first day out in Bali! I’m incredibly tired and ready for bed at 8 pm, lol. I arrived at the volunteer house around 3 am and woke up early because who doesn’t want to get their bearings in a new and foreign place? Lol. Went out with some of the other volunteers into the city. The volunteer house is about 10-15 minutes outside/on the outskirts of the main city. Everyone here is complaining of heat but I don’t really feel it, which may be a result of the Cambodian experience, lol. Bali is basically tourist central…all you see are foreigners, lol.

We saw a temple and a museum and had lunch at this hipster place. There are a lot of monkeys that pop up out of no where and you have to be careful because apparently they attack and steal things from tourists. I’m nervous for the walking tour on Monkey street tomorrow…haha. Anyways, pictures speak louder than words so here are a few!

 

 

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Round 2

I’m going to be spending the next month in Bali as a Health Education volunteer! My journey here was brutal. Spent 14.5 hours on a plane from Toronto to Shanghai. The plane had crying babies on it, which wasn’t very fun. Once I landed in Shanghai, I had a 23 hour layover. I had already decided that I would get the 24-hour visa and stay at a hotel for the night. So once I landed, I got someone to call the hotel’s number so that they could send a shuttle for me.

I got into the shuttle and took Shanghai in. It was nighttime and the streets reminded me of Toronto; it was pretty developed. Some way through the journey to the hotel, I remembered the stigma that Asians are bad drivers…remember this for later in the story, lol. Anyways, we get to the hotel and I get connected to the WiFi straight away so I can let family know that I made it okay. Problem: my phone keeps saying connected, but no internet. Later, I realize that China has strict internet censorship and several of the popular media you and I use is inaccessible there: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube…even Google.

I eventually figure out that Outlook works so I send emails that I made it okay and all is well. Shanghai was also actually pretty cold while I was there, which I was surprised by. In Cambodia, it was very common for everyone to take US dollars but in China, they only want to take CNY. I went to a little market and did conversions on my phone and paid him in US anyways, lol.

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I chose the 2 pm shuttle to the airport and there were 4 other people on the bus as well. There was some European guy that rode shot gun and me and the other 3 squeezed in the back. The driving in China is on the right. We get to Terminal 1 and the driver is literally not even inches, but centimetres away from hitting a taxi in front of him. The European guy in the front just keeps bobbing his head from left to right and it’s the funniest thing, lol.

The last leg of the journey was a 6-hour flight from Shanghai to Bali. Total flight time: 20.5 hours. But I’m here now!

Updates

Hello all! Took me a while to write this blog post because believe it or not, I’m not completely rid of the hookworms quite yet, lol. The moment I finished the 3-day treatment (which consisted of 6 pills; 2 pills/day), the itching in my feet subsided (thank god!). However, I could still track their movement. I actually had it on both my feet but the left foot was far less severe than the right foot. While I feel that they’re completely gone from my right foot, my left foot is what is giving me a hard time at the moment because my left pinky toe is itchy, lol.

In my last post, you could see blisters on my feet. Those blisters pop naturally just from your day-to-day movements. The big blister in between my big toe and second toe I actually popped myself. I was hesitant to do it but it was painless and brought me immediate relief, lol. I sterilized a needle, popped it, and allowed it to drain on it’s own. Then, I left the covering on to avoid infection.

The doctor told me that the medication I would need for cutaneous larva migrans is actually American but she can give me a Canadian version of it to help me achieve some relief. Perhaps with the American antiparasitic drug, I would have achieved faster results. I’m not sure what the deal is but they’re still alive and it has been over a month now. Still much better from what it was, but still not entirely gone. Here are some pics of its progression! Essentially where the blisters were, scabs later formed. These then fell off on their own and left fresh skin behind.

 

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Cutaneous Larva Migrans

It’s been 10 days since I’ve been back from Cambodia. It was bittersweet leaving. I spent the first few days back just being grateful for the simple joys in my life, like warm showers and filling foods, lol. My last night in Cambodia, I felt a throbbing pain and itch in the back of my second toe (on my right foot) that woke me from my sleep. I assumed it was just a mosquito bite and thought that was a really weird and annoying place. I gave it no further thought.

On the plane ride home, it was progressively getting itchier. There were also blister-like bumps on the bottom of my left foot that were painful. Again, I didn’t give it too much thought…I thought it may just have been from overexertion and my feet needed a rest (what with all the hiking I was getting into, lol). In a few days time, the pain in my feet was immense and I could barely walk. Blisters had formed on my second toe and in the space between my big toe and second toe.

I thought maybe it was athlete’s foot and I was having an allergic reaction to the fungus. I tried so many different natural remedies: tea foot soak, vinegar foot soak, saltwater foot soak, tea tree oil, Vicks, etc. Nothing was working and it was just getting worse, progressively traveling to different parts of my feet. One night, the throbbing pain in my second toe was so bad I actually cried and debated going to the ER. It felt like I was going to lose the toe.

The night passed and I went to a walk-in clinic in the morning. The doctor came in and I removed my socks. She looked disgusted, which I thought was unprofessional. You expect a doctor to care and remain impartial about a situation. I got the sense that she didn’t want to take responsibility for my condition and was just trying to usher me out. She spent no more than 5-10 minutes with me. She said she could give me antibiotics but she doesn’t know what it is and the ER could quickly tell me something. She asked what I thought it was, and I explained my athlete’s foot theory. She believed I had picked up some sort of a bacterial infection from Cambodia, but she does not think it’s athlete’s foot. Real helpful, lol.

On to the ER. There, I became grateful for my own condition. In retrospect, it really wasn’t as bad as what some other people were there for. One little boy was wailing out in pain every few minutes. One lady was coughing up such a storm she was short of breath. A young man was in crutches and complained of severe foot pain. Some older gentleman was in such pain he kept shouting “oh f**k” every few minutes. A security guard told him he couldn’t shout that because there were children around. His wife explained that he had suffered from a stroke and he was in immense pain, and she could not tell him to stop shouting out in pain.

I waited there for 6 hours. The first doctor that saw me showed no reaction to my feet, which I appreciated. She thought it was from the Cambodian heat and walking too much. This was something my mom thought of as well. I knew in my gut that it couldn’t have been it. It just didn’t make sense. She left and brought in a more senior colleague for a second opinion, who gave worse suggestions than her, lol. She thought it was scabies. My doctor said she could bet $100 that it wasn’t, as I didn’t have it anywhere else on my body. The second doctor also liked my athlete’s foot pitch, which I was leaning against at this point.

The first doctor got me to explain the kinds of things I was doing while in Cambodia. Where I went, what I did, etc. She said she was going to refer me to a dermatologist and didn’t want to pop the blister, as it was filled with clear fluid and so wasn’t infected. She’s scared it could be a parasite. The moment she made that suggestion, I knew in my heart that was it. When we were heading back during the jungle trek in Koh Kong, the path we had taken was covered with water. The guide explained that it was high tide season, and we all just took our shoes off and walked through. I knew this had to be where I contracted it.

She kept saying she didn’t know, she was unsure, that was worst-case scenario, etc. None of that was helping me. I needed facts, I needed to pinpoint the problem, and I needed a solution. She wasn’t telling me anything definitive, and how scary does ‘parasite’ sound!? The dermatologist was going to be gone for the next week, so so much for that emergency referral. She says a specialist in parasite and infection would be able to see me, but it would take several hours. This option makes more sense to me than a dermatologist anyways, so I wait. In this time, I do a bunch of research and find out about cutaneous larval migrans (hookworms). I know this has to be it.

Hookworms are parasites in dogs and cats, which they excrete via fecal matter. This can then contaminate soil, water, etc. Humans are ‘dead-end’ hosts for hookworms. This is why the lines in my feet are the hookworm ‘traveling,’ trying to find a way in. When it can’t, it eventually dies itself. However, this can take up to 4-6 weeks. In that time, it can invade your intestines and even your lungs. Coughing is a result of it invading your lungs. When I finally see the specialist, I explain everything to her and that I think it’s hookworms. She agrees and prescribes a 3-day treatment of Mebendazole (an anthelmintic).

Currently, my feet are in less pain and it doesn’t feel like my toe is going to fall off anymore, lol. The itching is especially unbearable at night and disturbs my sleep, but isn’t so bad during the day. The top of my feet sometimes feel like they are burning.

I was disappointed by how long the entire process took, and the lack of care, urgency, and insight. Still, I am thankful I was back home for treatment as I do not know what would have happened if I was still in Cambodia. Tourists should be very careful of where they walk barefoot, as they can even contract hookworms from walking barefoot on the sand at a beach. If I let my condition continue to worsen and didn’t seek answers, it could have been a lot worse for me. I’m on day 2 of treatment and have one day to go. Stay safe!

Cambodia, It’s a Wrap!

I’m waiting at gate 10 in Phnom Penh International Airport to go to Taipei. Boarding is in a couple minutes, so I will likely continue writing this post in the air. I did online check-in for the first time and I’m not sure why I haven’t done it before…I skipped all the lines and got to arrive at the airport later, lol.

My 6 weeks here have officially come to an end. I had an incredible time and met a lot of incredible people. I’m going to miss all this. Through this experience, I have acquired the ‘travel bug’ and am already looking towards what I want to do next, lol.

Here are a few pictures I took in the city my last day:

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A mother following her kids around to feed them. Reminded me of my own mom, lol.
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A cute little girl who was very camera shy.
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Lots of strays all around Cambodia. This one was especially cute.
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Poor girl getting nits removed from her hair.
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The SCC (Salvation Centre of Cambodia) area.
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You see plenty of random cows around Cambodia. One time, there was a herd of them just walking down the street, lol.
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Chopping up wood.
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Still getting nits removed.
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The SCC.
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Went to the Night Market after working out at the gym. This is a picture from my walk back.
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My roomie Manon! 
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The day guard. When she wasn’t ‘guarding,’ she would watch that dramatic Indian soap opera with awful Khmer voice over with the cooks, or she would nap, lol.
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My place on Russey Keo.
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Bye bye Phnom Penh…it’s been real! 👋

Currently in Taipei, waiting for my flight to Toronto. Can’t wait to be back!

Last Office Day

Today was my last Projects Abroad office day. I finished up my report…the only suggestion was adding recommendations to the end of it, which looking back I can’t believe I forgot to include in the first place. I printed the report out and put the sheets in sheet protectors and then into a binder. I’m really proud of the finished product and wanted to keep it for myself, lol. I put my results in a manila folder and printed out a bunch more blank surveys. I’m trying to recruit some of the new volunteers to continue the project when I’m gone, and the project manager tells me it will be offered to new volunteers as something they can get involved in.

Here are some random pictures I took today, as I’m trying to relish these last few days, lol. I don’t think I’ll ever come back to Cambodia, but then again I never thought I would come here to begin with. So, never say never I guess.

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My office buddies
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The tuk tuk ride home

Tomorrow will be my last day “out in the field.”  Will write about it tomorrow!

Koh Kong Province

Had a wonderful last weekend in Cambodia! It’s insane that it’s the last one…I’m having mixed emotions about it! Every time I’m doing anything, I try to take more of it in as I’m an extremely sentimental person, lol. Anyways,  Koh Kong was absolutely beautiful! It’s less touristy and I would honestly describe it as a hidden gem.

We left on Friday night after work. I had said that we needed a vehicle for 5 people, but apparently they include the driver in that count? Anyways, four of us had to squish in the back of the car. After about half the ride, one of the girl’s decided to just lay in the trunk of the car, LOL (when in Cambodia I guess, right?). The drive was 5 hours and we stayed at Nathy Koh Kong Hotel, which was a nice hotel and had warm showers!! Lol.

Through the hotel, we booked a jungle trek for the next morning. A tuk tuk took us to the riverside, and we got in a boat that took us for a ride that was over an hour. During this ride, we were paranoid about how long it was taking because we weren’t sure exactly where we were heading. One girl was trying to look at the GPS on her phone, and we were freaking out about them taking us somewhere never to be found, LOL. I thought it was the perfect time to tell them about this movie called Turistas, where these backpackers are exploited for their organs, lol. 😉

Anyways, we finally get to some island and begin our trek. It is an uphill battle but the view is so worth it!

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After swimming in the waterfall, we are served lunch that they prepared for us up on the mountain! It was delicious! We also heard and saw some monkeys up in the trees. The way down was intense, as the way up was extremely uphill, lol. The day lasted from 8:30 am – 5:30 pm, so we were all exhausted by the end of it.

This morning, we wanted to find a beach to go to, but it wasn’t working out. So, we just killed some time playing pool at a bar and had lunch before heading back to Phnom Penh. During the drive both there and back, we were all paranoid of the driver’s driving. They just talk on their cellphones and take a wild guess when driving into oncoming traffic to pass the cars in front of them, lol. On the drive back, the driver kept making stops for random errands, which was similar to the ride back from Kampot, lol.

I really enjoyed my last weekend here…Koh Kong was the right choice! Lol. I only have 2 more full days here, so I’m going to try and get pictures of the city before I leave. That’s it for now!

Last Weekend in Cambodia

It’s my last weekend in Cambodia! We’re going to go to Koh Kong this weekend, which I’m excited for. We are going to have a guided hike on Saturday, and there are supposed to be lots of waterfalls in the province! I can’t believe how the time has flown by.

My report is nearly complete and I’m now creating some posters on what people can do to cope with their mental illnesses in the meantime. Mental health is a touchy subject anywhere, but there’s especially several barriers to overcome here. I’m trying to come up with practical ideas, as I hope this project will continue even when I’m gone.

Don’t think I’ll be able to blog over the weekend, so this is it until Sunday night! Sorry I don’t have more to say…lol.

Meak Bochea Day

Today was a national holiday in Cambodia, so we had no work! I was actually quite bummed out about this, lol. I only have a few work days left (I would’ve had 5 but now I only have 4). I need to wrap things up with this mental health report. I’ve collected some data on the mental health situation in Cambodia. Essentially, when on health checkups, I try to read the patient’s demeanour or pick up on cues such as stress and problems sleeping. Then, I get the doctors to translate the Hopkins Symptom Checklist-25, which is a checklist that asks 10 questions pertaining to anxiety and 15 questions pertaining to depression. If they score 1.75 or above, then they suffer from anxiety or depression.

Out of all the data I have collected, there is only one individual who scored less than 1.75. It’s a shame because mental health is clearly highly prevalent here, but it is very “hush hush” and not openly talked about. When asked the questions, several of them get very emotional, and one woman actually couldn’t complete the survey. I really want to make a difference here. With this report, Projects Abroad can get the funding required to have their doctors properly trained in mental health. I just hope they continue this once I’m gone, because these people are in desperate need of help. Often times, they just seem appreciative that there is someone there listening to them. Sometimes that’s all any of us really need.

The life here is very different. Little boys often just wear shirts with no pants or underpants on. At the beach in Sihanoukville, the water was heavily polluted and there was actually garbage on the beach. But, by the water, there was a fully naked little boy playing…all alone, with no family in sight. For one of our health checkups, a man came hobbling over. He had an amputated leg that was starting to get swollen, which he wanted to get something for. I think we just gave him some cream and vitamins, but he was so grateful for that. The same day we saw a very old woman who had blood pressure so high we were wondering how she was still alive. In western culture, everything is more strict and dramatic. Here, they take what they can get.

I’m going to be leaving about half my things here when I go. While the life here is a hard one, it’s also a simple one. You really don’t need that much and we live in a world of over-consumption and ungratefulness. It truly is very sad. People here literally have nothing, and we have way more than we ever actually need. I think minimalism is key. We tend to give too much meaning to our things. Minimalism can help you find freedom from the consumer culture we’re drowning in. There truly is beauty in simplicity.

Can’t believe I only have a week left here, and I’ve been here for five. I’m glad I did it. Will try to blog regularly this last week. Until tomorrow!

Major Updates

Ah! I’ve really fallen off my blogging game! Sorry! Last post was about my weekend in Kampot. The weekend that just passed I spent on Koh Rong Island. Here’s a description I found online of it: “Located just off the coast of Sihanoukville, Cambodia, Koh Rong is famous for its serene beauty, often described as an ‘island paradise’ by visiting tourists. The island boasts beautiful pristine white beaches, clear turquoise ocean waters, and a tropical jungle wilderness containing several native species.” Sounds like a wonderful time, right? Well, not if you’re me, lol. Let’s backtrack…

Saturday morning we’re up at 6 am and there’s a car waiting outside to take us the 4.5 hours to Sihanoukville. There, you’re supposed to catch a 45 minute- 1 hour long ferry to the island. We didn’t pre-book the ferry because we weren’t sure if we were going to miss it or not. We make it to Sihanoukville on time for the 11 am ferry, but it’s all booked. No problem…we just book for the 2 pm ferry and kill time at a Turkish restaurant right by the ferry, overlooking the water. Here’s a gist of what the view was like:

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Mind you, before the weekend even started I was iffy about how good of a time I was going to have. I had just found out the hostel that was booked was a “party hostel,” and anyone who knows me knows I’m not a party person, lol. Also, the weather forecast said it was going to rain all weekend, which made things even less appealing. And on top of all that, everyone was going on about there being malaria on the island (it’s actually low risk and malaria is only a threat in uninhabited jungle regions of Cambodia). Still, I thought maybe it was like Kampot and I could busy myself with activities throughout the day. There was false advertising on the hostel’s website, which stated there were jungle treks and waterfall activities you could sign up for. The hostel was called Monkey Island.

Anyways, I’m feeling a little hopeful during lunch at Sihanoukville. The lunch was good and the view was nice and I was just journaling to pass the time. We take the ferry to the island and walk down the beach to the hostel. When we get into the room, I want to get out of there ASAP, lol. There were three beds…two were double beds and one was a single bed. The washroom was awful. Ugh I really wish I got a picture but I’ll explain later why I didn’t get the chance. Anyways, the washroom is literally all wet because the little hose by the toilets that they have here is leaking. There is no flush but a big bucket with a cup inside. Essentially you do your business and just keep filling the cup with water and dumping it inside the toilet to ‘flush’ it.

So I run out of the room mostly because I’ve already been bitten by mosquitoes and I don’t like it in the room anyways, lol. I go into the water and it’s beautiful. The sand is almost white and super soft. The water is nice and warm. It’s saltwater and feels really good on your skin. So it’s true, the beach was actually beautiful. After swimming for a bit, it’s time for dinner. I get vegetable fried rice because what else is here but rice, lol. Luckily for me, there’s another girl that is not into partying either, so we stick together. We excuse ourselves after dinner, get some nutella crepes, and then go exploring. We end up finding a nice place to sit that is secluded and by the water, so we just stay there a while and talk.

It’s getting late so we go back to the room. For some reason, we decide to look at reviews of the hostel and check the bed for bed bugs and tell ghost stories, lol. The hostel has a lock and key that you put on the outside so no one gets in during the day, but there’s nothing to lock it from the inside at night, lol. Anyways somehow the night passes. It was raining all night but cleared up in the morning. We did some kayaking but there were too many waves in the water and it just made you feel sea sick. It was after that that I decided I wanted off this island, lol. There wasn’t much left for me to see…I did the swimming, laying on the beach thing and there were no activities to do during the day.

So, I got a ferry out of there ASAP. There was literally an hour to go which is why I was in a rush and didn’t get a chance to take a picture of the hostel, lol. Here’s the one picture I got of the island:

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Anyways, there was some super obnoxious guy I met whilst waiting for the ferry. Any guesses where he’s from? Canada, lol. So once we get to the ferry, me and the two others that ‘escaped’ the island (lol) booked a bus back to Phnom Penh. Never thought I’d be excited to go back to the heavily polluted Phnom Penh, lol. The bus is a typical Asian bus that kept making random stops in which people were getting on and off, so it took us 7 hours to get back. Once we got back, there were all these tuk tuk drivers in my face…I’m really over them and bartering, lol. But we got home and I went back to work in the morning.

It was quite the experience, lol. I have one more weekend here and I want to go to Koh Kong. No, I didn’t misspell Koh Rong, lol. Koh Kong is a province with lots of waterfalls and mango groves. The guy that booked our ferry back recommended I go there before going back to Canada.

Will provide work updates likely tomorrow! It’s a national holiday here and I’m actually bummed that I won’t be in the office, lol. Anyways, hope you all enjoyed this post!