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October 09 , 2007

Cambodia Calling: A Memoir from the Frontlines of Humanitarian Aid


"What’s the matter? A mine? Some kid step on a mine? A blessure?"
"No. Not a mine."
We walk in and there’s a mother standing by her child. It’s a little girl. She’s a very beautiful girl with straight black hair, maybe six or eight, big eyes, a bit younger than Smiles and just as lovely. But she’s lying too still under a white sheet on the bamboo bed and her mother is talking in a monotone, staring off to the corner asking for help from Buddha. The little girl is staring at me, tracking every move I make. She’s so weak, all she can do is move her eyes.

Sok Samuth approaches the bed and takes down the sheets. It’s very sad what we see. The girl is inhumanly thin and her skin is peeling off. He pulls the sheet up over the girl’s body again and the mother keeps up her monotone plea for Buddha while the little girl follows me, eye to eye. She wants me to make her feel better.
I’m thinking, no, not this one. The whole thing was about this one. It was always about this one.
"What is it?" he asks me.
"I don’t know. Is there a fever?"
"No, pas de fièvre." She is cool to the tough and there isn’t any shivering, no chills. …All my ream could tell me was that she’d been sick for a few weeks and that her appetite was poor for a week and that she became worse …

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I checked the two pediatric textbooks we had at the Blue House. Nothing. It could be kwashiorhor—protein malnutrition—all by itself, but we weren’t hearing about that out in the countryside. It was still lush and the harvests had been so good. Why would she be starving now? So maybe it is cancer. I think, What would Professor Jim Anderson do? How would my great mentor go after the diagnosis?

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