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Living in the dirt: the thoughts of a mother on tour

This kid is living on the street in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. It's truly one of the dirtiest places I've seen in my life. I travelled through a fair amount of countries and rarely have I seen such a pile of garbage of a city. At the same time, I must mention that it's a great place. Full of life, colour and a feeling of life being intact, unbroken from western influence- the tourist influence, I mean, because the French colonial influence is very evident, for example, and the American feeling with its daily use of dollars and many typical junk food places all over town. The piles of garbage are regularly searched through by adults and children who live off it. People are sleeping in their rickshaws or in hammocks tied every night to a tree. The children living on the street look malnourished, with swollen bellies and discoloured hair. Big campaigns for vaccinations and hand-sanitizers are everywhere and yet, how much of these campaigns really reach the poorest of the poor? They are definitely too busy trying to find the next meal, I would think, then thinking about cleanliness to prevent potential disease. And I don't even want to think about how many children die from stupid, preventable diseases. It breaks my heart. 
 This is a Western vaccinated baby. He looks plump and healthy as he poses in this picture outside our hotel, beautifully colonial in its details, with French tiles on the floors and southern French riviera-colours. Before I became a mother I was not so sure I was "for" vaccinations. I thought it a little bit crazy to inject a disease that does no longer exist into the bloodstream of fresh, new human life. I think very differently now. I'm very grateful for vaccinations and western medicines and doctors. To see your child sick, even just with a simple virus or flu, is one of the most heart-wrecking, soul-wrenching experiences there are. And to imagine that your child could potentially catch something that will kill him, because he wasn't vaccinated?? No way. This option doesn't exist for me anymore. But in Cambodia, parents are facing this all the time. Malaria, bird flu, dysentery... The horror I feel when thinking about it is unexplainable to those who are not yet parents, and still, those people can have very strong opinions on vaccinations and drugs. Once I had seen my child sick, once I realised the dangers of illness, and once I realised how far western medicine has taken us in eradicating these, I see it all with new eyes.
 I just read an article on the BBC today about how the "world is facing a tidal wave of cancer" as we, amongst other things, continue consuming the wrong type of diet, filled with sugar. The obesity levels are steeply rising and so with it the cancer-cases. It says in the article that the poor part of the world "will bear the brunt of the increased cases" and this is something not so surprising as you spend time in some of these poor countries.
Traditional diets seem to fade out as the colourfully packaged foods move in. I was shocked to discover the popularity of the 7eleven in Thailand and now in Cambodia, similar shops (called for example "Panda") selling products such as the ones displayed above. There is such a shop close to where I'm staying in Phnom Penh and I was shocked and saddened to realise that the only sugarfree products in the shop were the shampoos and cleaning products. I couldn't even get a natural yoghurt without sweetener. MSG, colourants, preservatives, salt, added stuff, and SUGAR. In every single product. No healthy alternative, no natural produce. (Of course, to find natural produce, one would go to the market. But in this city, that would mean your apples are being freshly sprayed with an exhaust pipe from a motorcycle going past as the flies who just moved on from the dead chicken sit down for a pause, and the bacteria from people's flipflops shoot up on them as they walk past on the dirty ground where rats and cockroaches live. Unappetizing, to say the least- but this is the only choice for many people. And then rinsing the apples in contaminated water?)
So it seems the poor part of the world, with not keeping up with education, soon is facing yet another risk to its health. Obesity and cancer, added to the already long list of tropical and childhood diseases.

I am on the other hand a converted woman. I used to not care for vaccinations or prevention. I used to think people in poor countries were happier than us and that we need to learn from them. I used to think that maybe ignorance is bliss. This is maybe still true... but if you don't have your health, you have nothing.  If you child dies, your life is ruined forever. If you are not educated, you cannot make the right choices. If you don't have the option to read the news, there are many things you won't know. If you cannot read, you cannot know that those colourfully wrapped packages contain sugar. If you don't know that sugar is addictive and that it ruins your health and potentially can lead the obesity and diseases that can kill your child, you may think you are doing your kid a great favour, coz it tastes good.
Now converted to thankfulness for being a westerner, more grateful than ever for having an education, so happy that I have a choice and mega thankful for western medicine. It all looks so different when you are as mother and responsible for someone else's life- when that someone else happens to be the love of your life.


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