In general this year, we haven’t experienced much of a cooler season, except on two occasions, each of a few days’ duration, when the morning temperatures have been around 15! This unusual happening caused us to dig deep to find the only thin blanket we own. Most of the time we don’t even need a sheet on top of us when we sleep!
Such “cold weather” was enough to make the locals all reach for hats, scarves, gloves and jackets! At the hospital, patients were bundled up under blankets and many of them kept their head covered in an attempt to feel warmer. Many of the knitted hats made by the ladies of the St Christopher’s knitting group came into their own and were very warmly received – excuse the pun! Caregivers congregated outside in the sun when ousted from the wards due to doctors’ rounds. This was such a contrast to most of the time here, when we all try hard to avoid the sun as it is just too hot!
Battambang has just had traffic lights installed at several locations around the city. The lights are the fancy variety which tell you how long it is until the light changes for the direction you want to go. This is pretty amazing, since Battambang is Cambodia’s second largest city and it has taken this long to get them here! Mind you, their existence doesn’t necessarily mean a lot to the locals who are just as likely to ignore them in the same way they disregard traffic rules! One popular trick at intersections is to avoid the lights and duck off through gas station forecourts or bypass them by going onto the footpath! One complicated intersection near the hospital, with roads in five directions is now much more manageable. As an interesting aside, the Khmer phrase for traffic light is “plerng stop” which is literally “light or electricity stop!”
Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt were in town!
Yes, Battambang was the scene for a movie currently being made, directed by Hollywood’s Angelina Jolie who, with her husband Brad Pitt and adopted Khmer son, Maddox, was seen around town – not by me, I might add! The movie is “First They Killed My Father” and is set in the 1960s. It is based on a non-fiction book published in 2000, written by Loung Ung, a Cambodian author and survivor of the Pol Pot regime. It is a personal account of her experiences during the Khmer Rouge years.
Buildings in the central town area were retrospectively refurbished to look as they did then. Many of them now have French signs on their frontages. Huge car transporters rolled into town carrying cars of the day, joined by big trucks carrying other scenery and effects to recreate the times accurately.
All this excitement in town caused huge disruption and rush hour traffic – yes, we do have a small rush hour here! – ground to a halt due to the closure of bridges and streets where filming is took place. Venturing out anywhere needed careful thought and it was advisable to have a couple of alternative routes, albeit round about, planned in advance.
A word from Angelina about the movie: “I was deeply affected by Loung’s book [‘First They Killed My Father: A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers’]. It deepened forever my understanding of how children experience war and are affected by the emotional memory of it. And it helped me draw closer still to the people of Cambodia, my son’s homeland.” Angelina Jolie Pitt.
Meanwhile at the hospital
My programme continues with its usual mix of tragedy and delight. I frequently ponder about the range of emotions I see and sometimes experience during the course of a working day. One minute I am moved to tears seeing a small girl with severe head trauma as a result of coming off a motorbike not having worn a helmet. She has just been sent home as the hospital can’t do anything for her. A nurse said to me today, “Only God can help her”. Please join me in praying that He will, indeed, do a miracle and restore this little girl to her family.
The next minute, I witness delight on the face of a young man finally able to go home after a very long stay in hospital due to the severity of his leg injury – also sustained in a motorbike accident. “I can walk!” he says as he goes past me on his way to the gate and back into the real world.
Monks and jigsaw puzzles
Would seem to be an unlikely mix – but mix they did the other day in the women’s ward! I went into the ward with a group of Youth with a Mission volunteers who came to spend time with the patients. We took in a puzzle for a long-term patient to tackle, then went to deliver a game to another patient. When I went back to check on progress with the jigsaw, I was somewhat surprised to see that a visiting monk was joining in the task of trying to complete the puzzle! Khmer people don’t usually do jigsaw puzzles and the logic and methodology needed to complete the task aren’t usually part of their skill set. I usually have to explain how to go about doing it. Not this time! The monk was doing a great job. You would have thought he does puzzles like that all the time!
What a variety of situations we encounter in our lives here! Hopefully this glimpse of life in Battambang will provide a peek into our world and help you picture more accurately where we are and what we are doing.
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