Here in Cambodia, the guesthouse owner, a recent acquaintance, will openly ask if you have diarrhea. Women receive routine injections in their buttocks with family members, friends, and neighbors looking on.
In America, the hospital is a space entirely dedicated to improving health, almost sacred in its sterilized simplicity.
In Cambodia, IVs are set up under stilted houses with cows in the background and babies are delivered on straw mats in the family home. Personal health is deeply integrated into daily life.
From what I have been able to observe, medicine here is a matter-of-fact business that appears, in my Western eyes, devoid of emotion.
More than anything, my research on health care in Cambodia just opened up more questions for me.
I set out with a list of questions I wanted answered. Some of them I found answers to; some of them I didn’t.
Originally, I wanted to find out the average number of births per Cambodian woman, the cost and availability of pre-natal care and the ratio of female to male healthcare workers in Cambodia.
What I found out was so much more valuable. I envisioned my research taking one path, but it took another and I am glad it did.
My entire experience with the American health care system has been documented, sanitized and monitored. We surround our personal health with such privacy, almost as if it were sacred.
In America, personal health carries a host of emotions: fear, dread, sadness, relief, joy. Not so in Cambodia.
It was not acceptable for a six-year-old girl to cry as her wound was cleaned no matter how much pain she may have been in. A new mother did not smile upon seeing her child for the first time.
My research led me to consider emotions in a new way, less as natural impulses and more as privileges. By allowing ourselves to feel emotions, we are indulging ourselves. It is a luxury not everyone can afford.
Americans can afford to be egocentric. We expect a certain level of comfort in our hospitals. People here, I imagine, do not. It’s a cultural necessity.
Are you a student interested in traveling to Cambodia? Check out the Where There Be Dragons summer program Cambodia: Studies in Development and Peace.