Clare Tan is an aspiring writer and stay-at-home mother living in Cambodia, where she previously worked on a voluntary basis for AFESIP Cambodia (Acting for Women in Distressing Situations), targeting criminals exploiting sex workers in human trafficking, working on HIV and AIDS outreach, training victims of rape, domestic abuse and human trafficking in vocational skills, and aiding them in reintegrating into society. She graduated from University of Leeds in Chinese Studies and gained an MBA from National Taiwan University.
Clare Tan was a volunteer for AFESIP, the Cambodian organization which protects vulnerable women founded by Somaly. In this article, orginally published on her blog, she talks about feeling torn between the inspiration which this woman once was for her, and the revelations which have emerged over several years about who her hero really may have been.
There are many articles flying around, I have lost track of what I have read in recent days because they are all basically saying the same thing about Somaly Mam in different ways. They have attracted huge international media attention, since as most things, when something well known and American gives it attention, in this case Newsweek, the rest of the world then gives it attention. A quick Google News search shows articles from the last week or two about Somaly's 'lies' and resignation in Spanish, Vietnamese, Chinese, German, Russian to name but a few. However, articles casting doubts on the credibility of Somaly Mam have been appearing in Cambodian local papers for the last couple of years or so, discussing false kidnapping claims and inaccuracies at a UN speech, girls trained to lie on camera and her reputation amongst the NGO world, and in general here in Cambodia, has not been of someone so saintly here for a while now.
I became a huge supporter of Somaly Mam a few years ago. If you'd have asked, I'd have said she was my hero. I was a huge supporter. I didn't know anything about, or to be honest, care too much about Cambodia before her book, yet now I live here and have made my family here. Somaly Mam opened my eyes to the world of sex trafficking, which led me to read more books, talk to more people and discover the whole world of modern day slavery I was completely oblivious too. I then did what I could in my limited power to try to make a tiny difference. Her book,the book that contains stories that are allegedly fabricated, started that. I learnt as much as I could about human trafficking worldwide, worked as an advocate against it, raising awareness in Singapore with Emancipasia, and I cycled 500kms across Cambodia to raise money for a certain foundation, of course, The Somaly Mam Foundation (SMF). Had her book not caught my attention, which it may not have if it had read, 'I was well-known and popular in the small village, a happy, pretty girl with pigtails' as Newsweek's article claims she was, I may not have followed the path I did that brought me to my life now.
The bike ride across Cambodia changed my life, it was hellish, both physically and emotionally. I approached friends and family, filled my Facebook page with videos and stories and quotes, and I managed to raise over $5000 for the foundation, and the cause... or was it just for the foundation? Forgive me for feeling a little bit duped now, when I think back to the most emotional lunch of my life, where we met many of the girls from Voices for Change, the girls who have come to work as advocates for Somaly's work, themselves trafficked, and having come to AFESIP, the Cambodian, on the ground organization that Somaly founded initially, supported, (I later learned) in part only, by SMF. The girls stood in front of us, supporting each other, tearfully telling us their stories. All of us were in tears listening. Even though some of us doubted whether telling their stories was good for them, they all claimed it was part of their healing process. Many of their stories were true. But now, such a huge shadow of doubt has been cast over one of the girl's, Somana's stories, that of course, it makes you wonder? At the time and since then, I have wanted to know what happened to all the money that was raised, because the girls in the shelters, as lovely as they are, in my opinion, even if in keeping with local culture and standard of living, could be living in much nicer conditions.
After spending some time in Cambodia, I learnt that 'sister' and 'brother' is the way Cambodians refer to their elders, whether they know the person or not. The word 'bong', the same for male or female, is used to address not just your actual sister, but waiters and waitresses, tuk tuk drivers, anyone you speak to who appears to be older than you or in a position of seniority. Us, ignorant westerners, at the time, mistook this as the girls thinking of us 'as sisters.' We got all touched and gooey thinking we are so important to these girls that they think we are their sisters. In fact, they referred to us as such because it was out of respect, also, they didn't know our names. I also wondered why these girls from VFC, now 'free', did not have their own phones, were not allowed Facebook pages, and whilst they all hugged so hard and said they missed us and called us sisters, trying to spend time with them out of their working hours was virtually impossible. In the last few months they've slowly been appearing on Facebook. They refer to Somaly as 'mum'. If we as supporters feel disappointed in her, imagine how those who did not know about any of this, will be feeling right now.
I don't care to say that Somaly has lied. There is no proof of it and for many of the papers to slanderously start claiming so is a little premature, bearing in mind there is a law firm doing a full investigation, that I hope will get to the bottom of this once and for all so that us loyal supporters can get some clarity one way or the other. However, I cannot take the stance that many of her supporters are taking that is: it doesn't matter whether she lied or not, she has made such a huge difference, it is the cause that is relevant. In my opinion, that's neither here nor there. Of course it is about the cause, the problem I see is, it always should have been. It is about the cause, not Somaly Mam, not The Somaly Mam Foundation, but sex trafficking, human trafficking, slavery.
Can these potential lies or truth stretching be justified because of the greater impact she has had? In my humble opinion, not at all. That does not justify anything. Anyone who thinks that is more or less saying it's not how you got there, it's what you achieve. I might be thinking this because I'm a teacher and a new mother, but who wants to teach that to their children? It's also a little insulting in my opinion to suggest that had Somaly not had a dramatic story published into a book she could not have achieved what she had done? There are many women, like Somaly, with similar backgrounds and without who are fighting and making huge waves in the battle against sex trafficking, Rachel Lloyd, Sunitha Krishnan, Anuradha Koirala, to name a few of the more well known advocates, but then there are I'm sure plenty of others working tirelessly day in day out fighting or preventing the cause in their communities who may not get a hashtag with their name attached and their own foundation, but who are affecting hundreds of thousands of lives as well. If it is really about the cause, let's support and raise awareness of these other women and other foundations.
Unfortunately, the introduction of a lie, however big or small, belittles anything that has been done and casts doubt on Everything that has been said. It leads people to think, well, if she lied about this, who is to say she didn't lie about that. And that is only talking about within the foundation. But what about 'the cause?' A big concern is that these allegations could make a laughing stock of the whole cause that is sex trafficking. Does this not put at risk those many girls who really have suffered and have horrific stories to tell. How can people ever start to trust they are real if someone so well known was possibly lying to us all this time.
If the allegations turn out to be true then I see them realistically and most like just as very naïve and misguided choices at the time, when Somaly was much younger, more easily influenced, and also unaware of the greater implications which might lie ahead. These then caught more momentum than expected as they were told and retold, and then when the lie was heard by too many people, it was impossible to turn back. I don't think that makes her a bad person, but it makes what she did extremely bad, especially because of the way the sex trafficking, human trafficking, or any other cause could now be affected.
I'd be lying if I said I wasn't disappointed by the lukewarm, if that, response from Nicholas Kristof in regards to the whole fiasco. He and I shared the same hero, and I guess I was hoping that he, as an accredited, well informed, well researched, well respected journalist would provide me with some educated view on the situation or something I hadn't already heard. Kristof sang Somaly Mam's praises, featured her in his documentary Half the Sky, even tweeted live as they raided a brothel; he brought attention to Somana's case, and in both cases probably brought a lot of attention to the cause and the Somaly Mam Foundation. Now that the truth is uncertain, it brings doubt to the credibility of his story, which as a renowned journalist, I'd say, is somewhat, well, embarrassing, to say the least, and detrimental to his credibility as a journalist and his career at the worst. I am glad to say the editor of the New York Times shares my opinion and I hope to see something read-worthy on the topic before long.
Supporters of Somaly Mam claim she doesn't deserve all this media attention, why don't the papers pick on someone else? In response to that I say; Somaly's celebrity status and lifestyle has been visibly sky rocketing over the last few years. Her travelling and work schedule has been insane. When I was working at AFESIP for 3 months, I saw her all of maybe 3 times, she was busy flying around the world- and don't ask me who pays for it, but a little bird told me she doesn't fly economy because flying hurts her ears. Each time I saw her, she was thinner and thinner, visibly exhausted and stressed, but I remember noting the beautiful and expensive clothing she was wearing, and as an unpaid volunteer I was certainly envious to say the least. But every time she came back from a trip, be it Australia, Korea, New York, or all three in a month, she would take the time to talk to me and lament how exhausted she was, and how she missed her girls in the shelters, and her son and daughters. Before working at AFESIP she would Facebook message me directly and made time to meet me when she traveled to Singapore. Perhaps she thought I had money or was more influential than I turned out to be. I didn't suck up to her while I was there, or hang on every word she said as many people did do there, and maybe it's because of that, or because I'm not a celebrity or high end donor, I haven't heard two words from her since and she's ignored any messages I've sent.
Many a photo has appeared on her Facebook page in glamorous situations: red carpets and events, but also a lot of partying, having fun and jetting around. I'm not saying she can't have fun, but most people know if you have a public online image, you should manage it carefully or people will get the wrong (or maybe right) idea and not everyone will be happy about it. One particular post, which finally led me to block her posts from my newsfeed because, to be honest with you, they made me feel uncomfortable; was her on a private jet, donated by a generous donor, who must have felt better about himself after hosting this hero, with her status, 'I miss my girls in Cambodia', or something along those lines. I believe that this statement was true, I'm sure she did miss them, but why didn't she not politely refuse saying that's really not necessary, or did she have no choice but to accept the donated flight? I have to question how a flight on my private jet would help 'the cause' or benefit anyone other than the person riding on the jet itself. Her birthday party was always held somewhere celeb filled and glamourous in New York. Why not at the shelters with her girls, or at home with her family? The foundation justified that her worldwide travel was necessary for the cause, but in my opinion, one or two appearances a month less would not have hurt the cause (but perhaps the foundation), then she could have spent time with the girls which I do believe is really where she'd rather be, and spend time with her young son, who I knew barely got to see her and missed her a lot.
What I'd like to know is, if she really wanted that, why did she not put her foot down? Did she have someone making the decisions for her? Did she have no choice? Or did she really, actually prefer the glamorous jet set lifestyle but felt the need to defend it by saying she'd rather be with her girls? Talk of being free and empowering women; it seemed she herself was not really free, or was this a sacrifice of her own personal choices for the greater good of the cause? Okay, I'll ride on the jet, even though I'd rather be at the shelter, because I know it will lead to a huge donation to the foundation.
Allegedly, Somaly went from earning nothing in 2008, to earning in excess of $100,000 a year in 2011. For $100,000 a year (which, correct me if I'm wrong, comes from donor money??) I too could sacrifice a few personal preferences for the greater good. I believe any director of any non profit organization deserves a decent, competitive salary that can provide them a good quality of life to ensure they can do their job well, which in turn often leads to much more monetary support, but in a country where garment workers are fighting and some have lost their lives in a bid to earn a meager US$160 a month as opposed to the $80 they earn now, and most of the girls coming out of her shelters are at that level of the food chain, I cannot see how you could sleep at night taking home that amount of money.
The fact is, she has brought on the media attention herself, or at least by her foundation. She has not shied away from the camera when it has meant she has been able to hob knob with stars such as Susan Sarandon, Hilary Clinton and a trail of other celebrities who have probably read her book and genuinely see the hero in her, as we all did, but I'm sure they are also not unaware that being chummy-chummy with a sex slave survivor will certainly not hurt their celebrity status either. How could you not get caught up in the lifestyle and the attention? Somaly herself has become a celebrity, whether it was her doing or not, and celebs take the rough media attention with the smooth, good press and bad press. Had she wanted to shy away from the media or slowed down the glamorous lifestyle, she could have done so, way before now. Truth or lies, resigning from your own foundation days after such allegations are publicly made against you, is going to do you no PR favours. I have no regard for the Somaly Mam Foundation, but I do have a lot of regard for everyone who thought of Somaly as their hero, who is now confused and disappointed; for the girls in the shelters who she has helped and depend on her and for the Voices for Change girls, who although 'independent', will be lost without their 'mom'. Somaly owes us an explanation and an apology. It shouldn't be written by someone else, edited for grammar mistakes and vetted to make sure it is politically correct and can't do her any more damage, it should be, as her many speeches around the world have been, unscripted, from the heart, with her bad English and all. Somaly Mam, as a hero to thousands, you owe us this.
This is an extract from Clare Tan's novel in progress Il mange, Il dort. For more of Clare's work visit her blog here, where this post was originally published.
I felt the door swing shut as the doctor who had just stitched me up, and I was sure all the other nurses and various people who had been present, had left the room. I glanced around, which wasn't easy as I was lying on a surgery bed with a cloth still hanging a few inches from my face preventing me from looking down at my stomach and my arms were outstretched and pinned down, but yes, looking around, there was no-one else in the room. Really?! Again!? You are kidding me. This had happened a few times over the past two days in hospital, but this time it made me so mad that bitter tears started pouring down my face, I couldn't help it. I was so utterly helpless (not a position I like to be in), pinned in place, unable to move my stomach, staring up at the huge surgery light directed at my middle still, but switched off as the surgery was now over. I stared at it, thinking back to one of my temporary summer jobs as a teenager, cleaning the operating rooms and cleaning lights like those in Milton Keynes general hospital (yep, I took what I could get). I was 16 then- that was half my lifetime ago. They were exactly the same in this operating room on the other side of the world in Phnom Penh Cambodia: big long robotic arms, with 3 big beady alien eyes looking down. This is the first time, I guess I can be grateful to say, I have been on the operating table staring up at them though. Who'd have thought it would be here of all places in the world.
The operating room was not significantly big, but it had high ceilings and the tall green walls stared down at me boxing me in. All the doctors and nurses were wearing green or blue, I'm not sure what the difference signified, and even though I'd seen one or two of them in the delivery room before, they were all scrubbed up and wearing masks now that I could barely tell who anyone was. There were sliding windows on two sides like the kind you might get between a kitchen and a dining room. Not really sure why, maybe to pass sterilized equipment through? To get the doctor a coffee during long stints?? One of those, I observed, had a pile of dirty linen lying in it seemingly waiting to be washed. I got the impression the whole room could do with a bit of a tidy up. I didn't care though. I was staring at the wall clock ahead of me, fuming mad that yet again, no-one had bothered to quietly say in my ear as they left, 'we'll be back for you in a couple of minutes, just sit tight,' every tick of the clock seeming like eternity. Was it a language barrier thing? Or do patients in this country just take an inferior place amongst doctors and are not worthy of the communication. I do get the impression the less educated masses here just say yes sir, no sir, three bags full sir to those in authority and those in authority expect little less. Perhaps they thought they knew they would be back so there was no need to tell me anything, but just a few hours earlier I had been told to go into the delivery room to prepare for my epidural only to be abandoned again, waiting for almost half an hour before we asked what was going on, so who knew how long I might be here this time, and I couldn't very well get myself up and ask.
When I think about it now, I must have been in shock. The old cliche 'it all happened so quickly' rings true, even though at the time it really wasn't quick at all; it was painstakingly slow, but somehow it was already over, and I had given birth. Can I even say I 'gave birth' when I didn't do anything? Really, the English teacher in me wants to say birth 'was given' to my son as it was the doctor who cut me open and pulled him out. I felt no sense of achievement, received no, 'well done you did it!' because effectively I didn't do anything, and the staff couldn't really care less. The birth was the exact opposite of anything I could have wanted and was my absolute nightmare scenario for having my baby. The futility of the whole situation made everything worse: there was nothing I could do about it, there was no other option as my baby's heart rate had started becoming erratic, and the only thing worse than the nightmare birth, would have been if there were anything wrong with my child. So when the doctor had told us two hours earlier after the epidural that baby's heart rate had started to drop and, 'Did we agree?' to a Caesarean section, we asked, 'Do we have much choice?' There was no second thought. Do it. Annoyingly I didn't even want the damn epidural in the first place either, and what makes things even worse is that epidurals can cause a drop in heart rate! (I later found out).
I had thought I would be able to handle it: I've had tattoos and my foot injury last year was agonizing, but this labour was worse than both. Contractions were worse than I could have ever imagined, and until the day I (if ever) have another child, I won't be able to compare to know if they really were worse than they were supposed to be, or if it is just that they went on for so long that they became no longer tolerable. Being told in the evening it would likely be in the morning, then suffering through them through the night to be told at 7am I was dilated only two centimetres, and to be then told seven hours later that I was still only dilated 2 centimetres, I could see no end in sight.
Of course, as with many situations that go wrong, I was starting to do the 'what ifs;' one of them being, should I have been in England for this? Would I have had support from a midwife during my day long labour that would have enabled me to cope physically and mentally with the pain so I would not have given in to an epidural? In Cambodia, or at least in the hospital I was in, I can't speak for everywhere, the only monitoring they did was wrapping a heart monitor around my waist and monitoring the baby's heart rate every few hours. This involved lying on my back for half an hour. By 2 pm, half an hour meant eight or ten agonizing contractions, for which I had to be on all fours, or at least be on my side in order to bare. The nurse didn't seem to care about this, and after the 2 pm heart check she deducted from the results after hooking me up, walking out the room and coming back 30 minutes later that the contractions were small. Having to deal with the pain one way or another I had maneuvered a little onto my side so she said the contractions didn't pick up properly on the machine and that I should do another half an hour. It was probably at this point that I decided to go for the epidural as I was incapable of lying on my back another half hour. I felt like screaming,
'Can you not just look at me?? Hang around a couple of minutes after the precious machine is on and look at the human in front of you? You can see these are not Small contractions!!'
I have felt on more than one occasion in this country, perhaps with it being a developing country, that when they do have new fangled machines, they rely on them solely and nothing else. Thinking back to what I'd be offered in the UK I wondered if gas and air would have been sufficient pain relief? Here I had nothing. There's also a small chance baby was in the wrong position, they told me after I'd complained the pain was so bad that it was more painful for me because although the head was down the body was on one side of me. I was aware it had been like that for weeks and it hadn't budged, but I wasn't aware that was an issue. Having said that, no nurse or doctor had so much has just felt around my belly to see where baby was. I can't help but wonder if the pain increasing in my back as the labour went on and me not dilating any further, meant baby was moving in the wrong direction. But how will I ever know?? Perhaps regardless of the epidural I may have required a C section anyway. Who knows.
So in place of Nico being at my side, holding my hand, encouraging me through the pain, and witnessing the birth of our child, he had been abruptly stopped at one of the swing doors on the way through and told he could not go any further. They didn't even give him a chance for us to say anything to each other, for either of us to reassure the other it would be alright. I was whisked off so fast there was again nothing we could do, we were absolutely helpless, our considerations of no importance whatsoever. Of course, dealing with the now distressed unborn baby was of utmost concern so we put aside our personal concerns and did what the doctors instructed. It broke my heart to leave Nico at the door, waiting in the hot and sticky corridor. The only thing worse than being in the operating room going through something horrible, is to be on the other side of the door with no information, wondering what the hell is going on the other side of that door.
Speaking of doors, where was everyone? Where the hell was my baby? And how long would I have to stay lying here crucified to this operating table. I was shaking. Throughout the whole procedure, I had been shaking, shivering uncontrollably. I felt the doctors holding me down to stop me shaking. On my head's side of the curtain some helpful staff wrapped sheets all around my head and arms to try to keep me warm. I discovered afterwards that shivering was also an effect of the epidural but I didn't know this at the time. On the other side of the curtain, I was degradingly stripped down and left lying there with everything showing, of course making me colder. I can understand this might have been necessary for the procedure but after being stripped I still heard all the nurses chatting and joking amongst themselves, playing their phone ringtones to each other, laughing away, and it felt like a good while before they actually started working on me. I said at the one doctor who gave me any solace through the whole procedure, the anesthetist who had given me the epidural, could he please ask them to have some respect and stop all the noise and turn their phones off. At least they did. For them it was just another, as my mum put it, 'slab of meat on the table,' just a day job, they didn't think twice about the torment and concern racing through my head at that point and that I might appreciate some peace and quiet!
It turned out I didn't have to really wait that long at all, and one nurse returned to the operating room a few minutes later so I hadn't had a chance to compose myself, nor did I even have a hand free to dry my eyes. Not the kind of mood I expected I'd be in just after giving birth. Even when the nurse was surprised to see me like that and was concerned and tried to console me, telling me how cute my baby was (me thinking, great, it'd be nice if I could see him and judge for myself), I couldn't stop crying, wondering where the hell was my baby, was Nico with him yet? I was also bitterly disappointed, not only that Nico did not get to witness the birth, he didn't cut the cord, and I didn't get immediate skin to skin contact, which every bit of baby advice you read tells you you need as soon as possible.
I had seen a UK's National Health Service video, where the baby was taken out after a C section but still put straight on the mother's chest as would be done following a natural delivery. If the NHS video did that, it meant that was how it was done in the UK. I wanted that, and I asked the doctor before she walked out the operating room could I have my baby back and was so unsympathetic and rude to me about it being 'standard procedure' that the baby be taken away, that I was lying there scheming her demise: I was going to find out her name, shame her and the hospital on all forums online, in newspapers, I was that angry. But then later I found out it was in fact standard procedure, which comes down to communication, could she not have mentioned that before when she told us we need a C section, or at least had the tiniest amount of compassion when she was telling me? Horror stories were running through my mind, babies being switched at birth, being stolen at worse; at best some nurse might happily bottle feeding it or sticking a dummy in its mouth affecting my future breast feeding. I had stipulated in my useless birth plan that at no point did I want to be separated from the baby. Useless.
I was watching the minutes tick by afraid that the longer and longer I was away from my baby the harder it would be for him to latch on and successfully breastfeed. I somehow had it stuck in my head from some place I had read, that skin to skin was necessary within the first hour, or it would affect breastfeeding. It turns out that is not necessarily the case, but as the minutes ticked by, this was what was playing on my mind the most. If, because of this, I could not breastfeed, I would be mad beyond belief: formula buying, sterilizing bottles, the cost, the fact that it is not the best choice for baby's health... everything was racing through my head at a hundred miles an hour.
At least this nurse back in the room with me had a sympathetic ear and consoled me. I think she must have been the one who'd squeezed my hand, I wasn't sure why. During the surgery I was aware of them cutting me. I was aware that as soon as they had cut in, the baby must have been affected and was squirming around so vigorously that one of the doctors was literally laying on my stomach to hold him still. I didn't mind that, what I minded was when a minute later the squirming stopped. Why had it stopped? Was everything alright? I became aware I was probably tense, and my uncontrollable shaking probably wasn't helping matters, so I decided to focus on my yoga breathing and try to stop shaking: in through the nose, out through the mouth, in through the nose, out through the mouth. Ironic that I was using the technique in a birth that had involved induction, epidural and finally C- section, rather than the pain reliever free, all kinds of odd yoga positions, natural birth I had been hoping for. Then a nurse squeezed my hand. I wasn't sure why until I heard baby cries. She could obviously see it was the moment baby was coming into the world. I couldn't see it though, I just heard the cries go off and move further from me towards the other end of the room.
'Boy!' The anesthetist told me. I was so happy to hear he was a boy, though I'm sure I'd have been equally happy the other way. I was just happy he was here finally that tears welled up in my eyes. I was happy, but definitely sad too. I couldn't really believe it, and not being able to see didn't exactly help. Probably five or so minutes later they wheeled him round next to me and I twisted my head around to see him. I swear he looked exactly like he did in his 32 week scan and he was on his own in the plastic hospital cot, kicking around, clearly as desperate for his skin to skin as his mummy was and I said,
'Baby, it's okay, it's gonna be okay,'
I'm sure, convincing myself as much as I was him,' and my clever baby reacted to my voice and looked in my direction.
I thought from then on it would be okay, maybe they'd somehow be able to put him on my chest and I could get a little bit of what I had hoped for. But no, after a few minutes, they whisked him off out of the room! What? Where is he going? Well can his dad at least go too? When can I see him? There was so much going on that affected me and no-one was communicating with me, and that drives me up the wall on a normal day when I can stand up, chase after people and politely (or otherwise) voice my opinion. Being effectively pinned to the table just made the whole episode unbearable. With the nurse by my side and the anesthetist now back in the room, I had the chance to find out that I would now have to go into the recovery room for a couple of hours, this seemed like a huge waste of time, and more time away from my baby. I think I really was not aware, or had not yet comprehended, that I had just had major surgery and need some level of recovery.
I had read so much on natural births, breathing techniques, labour positions and so on, but I hadn't read anything at all about epidurals or C-sections. The doctor following me for the past month had told me many times with my healthy pregnancy, 'you can do natural.' I had no reason to assume otherwise I would need a C section so I had done no research and had no idea about the procedure. Maybe that was my fault. They do also say in all the books to be prepared for all eventualities and I, ignorantly and naively assumed everything would go my way.
Finally I was lifted off the operating bed and onto a wheeled bed and taken into the recovery room, which turns out is the room that Nico had been left at the door of. He wasn't supposed to be allowed in there but with me still crying and, I'm told, still shaking at that point, I must have looked quite the state, so the doctors let him in, briefly. I'm sure it didn't make it any better for Nico after waiting anxiously all this time to then see me like that. I tried to ask him about the baby, had he seen him? Yes he had but they wouldn't let him in the neo-natal either! So all this time poor papa had just been helplessly pacing the corridors. In the midst of trying to talk I had probably worked myself up so much, and it turns out it's also a post C-section side effect, I had to suddenly vomit. Try vomiting when your stomach has just been cut open. Luckily I was still under some effect of the pain relief, but I was retching and couldn't really move so I just tipped my head to the side (not unlike baby does now when he spits up), and although they cottoned on I was about to puke, they didn't get to me with the dish in time, so I promptly threw up beside my head on the bed and all over the cables of the blood pressure machine. Oops. I mouthed an, 'I'm okay,' to Nico who, although always calm on the outside, was probably mildly freaking out on the inside. They soon shooed him out of the room and I, under the influence of the pain relief or just exhausted from a day that had started at 3am with regular contractions, soon passed out.
They'd told me I'd only have to stay there half an hour but when I woke up I'm sure it was more like an hour and a half that had passed, though I had lost track of which hour we were up to. Regardless, they told me I could now go back to my room so I was happy with that. You remember you're in a developing country when in order to move me they have four people lift me off the bed on to a stretcher of cloth and two wooden sticks on the floor. Then two guys, who lucked out by getting the giant 80 kilo foreigner heave as they pick me and shuffle to the wheeled stretcher outside. Unfortunately for them there wasn't far to push me before they had to take me off again and carry me up the stairs (no lifts in this hospital). They then placed me on the floor in my room and needed Nico's help to lift me back up onto my bed!
Finally, after what seemed like a life time of labour, around 10pm on Tuesday May 6th, 2014, Nico carried in the tiny little bundle, and I got to finally meet my baby Diego Luca Guang-Zhe Pollet.
Clare Tan is currently working on a voluntary basis for AFESIP Cambodia (Acting for Women in Distressing Situations), targeting criminals exploiting sex workers in human trafficking, working on HIV and AIDS outreach, training victims of rape, domestic abuse and human trafficking in vocational skills, and aiding them in reintegrating into society. She graduated from University of Leeds in Chinese Studies and gained an MBA from National Taiwan University. She's currently supporting herself with a job teaching english in order to fund her commitment to her volutary work with the charity. What follows are a series of extracts from her blog, detailing her life in Cambodia, and her struggles in trying to find sustainable ways to help the street children she encounters in Phnom Phen To keep up with Clare's experiences in Cambodia you can check out her blog here.
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