Sihanoukville, Cambodia 2013.
We had been awake since sunrise and the sun had already heated up our small room a block back from the beach in Sihanoukville, Cambodia.
The beach would be the perfect place for breakfast so we headed out along the quiet road. Walking in front of me was my adventurous family, ready for the day. Our daughter 6 held our 3 year olds hands and our 9 year old chatted away while his Dad wheeled him in his manual wheelchair. Travelling together unites us, challenges us and exposes us to different cultures, foods and customs.
As we sit on the beach in comfy papasan chairs waiting for our breakfast two ladies approach us willing to paint our nails, braid our hair but we decline but they choose to stay and sit with us. They sit down in the sand placing their baskets next to them. They carry the baskets up and down the beach filled with nail polish and supplies. This is their job. This is how they provide for their family.
One of the ladies has a soft gentle smile and she cannot take her eyes off Cooper. She watches as he chats, and eats and moves. It’s almost like she is analysing every single movement, trying to figure out how he works. Cooper has Dystonic Quadriplegia Cerebral Palsy.
I watch her face and notice her eyes are filled with tears. Not enough to be rolling down her cheeks just yet but just sitting in her eyes.
Disability in Cambodia and throughout SE Asia is very hidden, there is limited support available outside your own home and medical care is very different to how we know it here in Australia. Equipment is outdated and society is just not set up to include people with disabilities.
Tears are now coming from her eyes as she starts to tell me about her young son who was born 9 months ago, he is at home with her Mother while she works. Her baby got stuck when he was being born and they could not afford a C-section as that would have cost $200. They knew the baby was not in the best position but there was nothing they could do. They continued with the birth but the child received a brain injury and now his head is floppy and he cannot sit up.
I smell antiseptic handwash and hear monitors beep as she speaks.
She still watches Cooper as she wipes her tears away.
I am now crying and nodding, sharing with her without words the heartache of having a child with a brain injury at birth. Because of birth. For her it was 9 months ago, for me it was 9 years ago and it’s as raw as the day it happened. Her first child. My first child. You can never get that “first” experience back. It is forever etched in my mind. The still and quiet amongst the panic. The code red. The moment they tell you that they may have to turn the machine off. The moment they say “your child may not make it through the night”.
She stands up and hugs me. I hug her back. Understanding.
She then walks away to continue her working day and I never saw her again.
I wish I could have said more, given more, made her feel secure in her sons future.
Maybe we did, just by being ourselves that morning on the beach.
Maybe watching our interactions as a family helped?
Maybe seeing how Cooper unites us helped her heart heal just a little?
I don’t really know what to say.
I tell her it will be alright. I feel stupid saying that, what would I know about living in Cambodia?
It is alright. I am alright. Cooper is alright. We are alright.
I hope she will be alright.
For more of our Cambodia adventures head here.