As promised, today we visited Arun’s village. Arun is a man of unknown age, that our leaders, Bob and Purobi, befriended. The story of his unknown age is riveting, but you’ll have to be patient, I’ll get to it.
To reach Arun’s village we drove for about an hour out of Phnom Penh until we reached a ferry boat. This ramshackle ferry carried our three vans and a variety of local people in trucks, on scooters, bicycles and by foot across the Mekong River.
From there we drove on dirt roads, past rice paddies and wooden shacks on stilts until we reached the schoolhouse in Arun’s village.
We arrived early, and by 7:30 the classrooms had been converted into areas for: examination; patient education; fluoride and varnish, a treatment room and a recovery area.
Not long after we started Arun arrived. He is a middle aged man, just beginning to grey, thin – as most Cambodians are, and a little taller than most of his countrymen. He has a kind yet serious face, that is occasionally lit by a smile that is more paternal than happy. You see Arun is a survivor of the Khmer Rouge. The only survivor, in fact, of his whole family.
When the Khmer Rouge came to power he and his mother were the only two in his family to survive. Because of her beautiful voice Arun’s mother was not killed and rather, forced to sing recruitment songs for her captors. She hid her infant son away, until one day, he was discovered picking fruit outside her home. Though he was taken away, the reign of the Khmer Rouge was fortunately coming to an end. He survived the atrocities of the Khmer Rouge as an orphan.
So here we are in Arun’s village. No one knows the true name of the village, and no one much cares anyway. Arun is back on the land where his family lived for centuries and most importantly, he oversees the health and well being of hundreds of families that live in his community. He is the unofficial mayor. And we feel privileged to work here.
As has been the case all week, we saw more patients today and did more procedures than we did in the preceding day. Ironically, another community school cancelled their visit to our clinic in the afternoon preferring to host a group that is traveling the area handing out small gifts and CANDY in exchange for listening to their religious conversion pitch.
Our week is winding down and we feel good about what we’ve accomplished. Our greatest achievements may not be the number of extractions, but rather; our efforts to educate these communities about prevention.
As one who does exams, I have made a special effort to educate and cajole the parents and children into accepting the extraction of certain baby teeth that are for the moment asymptomatic. Cavities are painful when they first begin. But once the nerve dies the tooth may become temporarily asymptomatic only to return as a painful abscess. Our translators have done an outstanding job of helping our patients and parents understand this. And I believe a lot of needless pain will be averted. And for these reasons, it’s been a great day.