Sunday, 6 December 2015

Rice, Rice, Baby: First week of the nutrition placement in Siem Reap

COUNTRY: Cambodia
PROJECT: Nutrition
WRITTEN BY: Kirsten Swan

Week 1

Well, what a whirlwind our first week has been! We met at Sydney International airport on Monday morning feeling slightly nervous but also super excited for the trip. This was calmed by a smooth flight and some friendly banter on the way. Once we arrived in Siem Reap, we were greeted on the tarmac by some humid winds and after a relatively smooth transition through customs and border control (the friendliness of Cambodian people was already evident), our minds were again put at ease by prompt/reliable wifi connection. After a short drive through the city we strolled into our hotel as expected, at 9.30pm. We checked in and went to bed straight away, we were already tired and with a big week of orientation ahead, deemed this as quite important.

We spent the first two days getting to know some Khmer language basics, and our fabulous interpreters, as well as walking around the town centre and familiarising ourselves with the location. Clearly we weren’t so great at learning the language, and the local Cambodians (who are happy to help us with corrections) are still laughing us at. It was definitely an eye opener walking around town in the traffic, with a mixture of tuk-tuks, rickshaws, cars, trucks and bikes all weaving past us on busy narrow streets. It was a great experience to do the ConCERT training in child protection, helping us to further understand Cambodian history, our roles and the importance of child protection in Cambodia, as well as contextualise the differences in culture of our two countries.

Thursday saw us being introduced to our project sites: the Cambodian Diabetes Association (CDA), Military Handicap and Development Centre (MHDC). We were officially welcomed by the Vice Chief and board of MHDC and given a tour of the facilities and schools which we will be based, this was quite rural and everyone is looking forward to all aspects of our role with this organisation. Professor Lim Keuky and his team greeted us at the Cambodian Diabetes Association. This excited many of us, as we had previously been told Professor Keuky would be away on business for our placement. He was keen for us to take a hands-on approach within the service as young health professionals as well as looking forward to our development of some appropriate sustainable resources. We were also eager to participate in World Diabetes Day 2015 (Saturday 14th November 2015) as part of the CDA group, which we were invited to join.

On Friday we conducted a local market tour in order to help us understand the Cambodian food system better and ultimately gain clarification on some uncertainties we had, including; Cambodian staple foods, price, portion sizes as well as traditional cooking methods. This proved a very satisfying venture, as we learnt that most of the Cambodian meals are predominantly rice, noodles, rice-based cakes, vegetables and some protein. We got to try many of these foods, and we particularly enjoyed the rice and coconut waffle. This visit to the market also reinforced to us of the resourcefulness of the Cambodian’s way of producing food products: there is minimal wastage of meat/protein components of the meal (all parts of the animal are eaten – head, tongue, gut, hock, etc) and also much of traditional Cambodian carbohydrate sources are made from rice rather than wheat, like we are used to. We also found a few vegetables/herbs we have never eaten or even seen before which was great!

After a long day of eating and planning our education session/resources, we decided to seek some relaxation in taking a local yoga class which was a lovely way to finish the week, followed by a Western dinner at a local cafĂ© (we were all craving some fresh salad). Can’t wait to see what week two brings!

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