Shedding the First Tears

To me Cambodia, is a country of contrasts.  There hasn’t been a day so far where I haven’t gone through a hundred different feelings.  There are those moments of happiness, moments of pure joy and there are moments where I feel helpless.  Moments where you feel like bursting in never ending tears.

We knew that today the children would have a dental check-up.  This is a yearly appointment which we learned they all dread.  The check-up is financed by an American dental organisation.  International dentists spend a few days around Cambodia yearly offering the service.  However, we were not aware of what was about to happen.

Our trip to an orphanage on the outskirts of Phnom Penh took us over an hour drive.  These children are not used to mini-bus rides and hence once car sickness hits one, just imagine.  The retching in the van was a bit too tough to handle – however we managed to handle the situation properly with the help of some of the children as well.  Just imagine – 35 children, 5 adults sitting all together in one mini-van which back home would not take more than 14 seatings.   No one complained, no one argued.

Once we arrived, the children were given some teeth education.  This is not a first.  We’ve been trying to persuade them of the importance of dental hygiene since I can remember.  Previous groups dedicated mini sessions over and over again – thankfully with some results as only few needed further evaluation.  They all went through a dental check-up, most needed some proper clean-ups and a few of the new ones had bad tooth decay.

Fillings were not an option and the only treatment available was tooth extraction.  Worst case was of a two year old who joined the residential centre just over two weeks ago.  Four central teeth needed to be extracted and I happened to be the one to accompany her throughout.  I did not see what was coming shortly.  I swear I would have gladly exchanged my place with her right there and then instead of being the one to have to hold her still for her gum anesthetic and teeth extraction.  Picturing my niece should she ever go through that ordeal would be horrific.  Seeing this girl going through it on top of having lost her parents just over two weeks ago extorted my heart.  She was scared, but all the time she clasped at me.  I was fighting back the tears.

After over an hour waiting for her blood to cloth she was exhausted and she would only find comfort in the arms of Silvan, Luana or myself.  The ride back to SFODA was quiet.  Everyone was asleep on top of each other while we nursed the little one.  A good shower, clean clothes and some fresh milk made wonders as we left her to rest.

By late afternoon, she was up and about asking for rice and finally talking again.  She stole our hearts since the first day but today she stole that of dentists, nurses and doctors present.  How could such a little girl go through that much?  Our little titan.  Strong as ever.  Always teaching us a lesson.

Sreyta is her name.