Roads Kill in Cambodia

One could argue that what keeps the world moving are the stories of people. When I travel overseas my ears are always attuned to hear stories. I know that most of the times these stories will touch the depths of my heart. They make me cry and laugh, but mostly, they make me walk away at awe of people who have to endure so much for so long with so little in return.

Traveling through the roads in Cambodia, especially between two big cities, one cannot miss a most unusual sign – women riding on the back of motorbikes, holding an IV tied to a makeshift pole, their one arm is outstretched in a most uncomfortable position, the other arm holds an infant, usually wrapped in a soft blanket (the picture above does not do justice to the shock of the scene, since you cannot see the baby nor the expression of concern on the face of the woman, but I had to quickly snap it from inside the car as we passed by the moped).

These women, by any standards, are the heroines of this world. Having no other option but to recourse to the motorcycle ambulance, or the favor of a friend or relative, they brave the dangerous roads of Cambodia with only one goal in mind — to do all they can to get their child well.

But children are not the only ones who suffer the consequences of willfully inadequate medical services. I was here only two days and feel like I was here one month, judging by the number of tragic stories I heard.

A friend in Siem Reap, whom I have known since 2000, just suffered a terrible loss in her family. Only yesterday the ceremonies for the funeral of her uncle ended. He was 51 and had just bought a field for farming. While preparing his field for planting, he accidentally stepped into a B-40 unexploded device, left over from the time of the Vietnam war. The devastation from the explosion was horrific — he lost his arms, legs and his head was hit hard. He lived four days but could not resist the injuries.

The irony is inescapable. Just a few days after Vietnam opened a couple of new fields for Americans to try to find the remains of their brave soldiers who died during that war, an innocent man who was barely out of his teens when the war ended paid the ultimate price for decisions others made and were never held accountable to it. As my friend said, “You hear about people dying from land mine related accidents, but you never dream that it could happen to your family.” There are some wars that never end.

Then another friend and co-worker shared about his brother-in-law’s death due to a motorcycle accident. Only in his twenties, already married with three small children, this man was struck by a car while riding his motorcycle — a common occurrence in Cambodia. He sustained multiple injuries to the head but lived for a couple of weeks.

During that time, my friend and his wife sold their car, their land, used all their savings and borrowed money from the bank. They took their beloved relative to Vietnam, where health care is more advanced. But after a few days in the hospital, they had to return to Cambodia because they didn’t have enough money to continue the treatment. What is particularly sad about this story is that 10 years ago my friend also lost his younger brother, also in her early 20’s to a similar accident.

An American couple who has lived in Cambodia for about 9 years now told me that during that time, they know of at least 25 people — in their circle of friends and acquaintances — who were killed in motorcycle related accidents, mostly young men in their early 20’s. The roads kill in Cambodia with ferocity and no one seems to care. The poor continue to order their rudimentary coffins, if they can afford one, and life goes on.

And that is only one of the many reasons I believe followers of Jesus Christ everywhere must act on behalf of the poor and suffering of this world. If we don’t, God will judge us harshly one day. And as the Word of God says, “It is a hard thing to fall into the hands of Almighty God.”

Ivanildo C. Trindade