Accidents Happen

Friday was a bad day in Poipet for me. They happen; I just normally don't write about them. Maybe because I like having a "happy blog", or don't want people to have a negative viewpoint of Cambodia from my writing, or I just like to focus on the happier moments here.

On our way back home Friday afternoon, a friend and I passed a small group of people clustered around a large truck. I, fortunately, wasn't driving, and looked for the focus of the attention as we drove past. A man was lying on the ground, blood literally gushing from a large wound on his head, next to a motorcycle lying on its side. We were right around the corner from her house, so we parked her moto and went back, calling our friends who run the ambulance service here to make sure they were on their way.

I was horrified to see a man bleeding profusely on the ground, with dozens of people around, including police officers, and no one even touching the man. As I crossed the street, the ambulance pulled up and our friends jumped out and started to do some quick first-aid before getting him into the back of the Land Rover (our version of ambulances here. And these guys are awesome Cambodians with some first-aid training, but nothing like our American EMT/Paramedic responders - just so you have the right picture in your head. Their job is "scoop and run").

As I stood by the ambulance by the back door, trying to keep people out of the way, I was shocked to see total strangers crowding around, pushing up against the ambulance staff to gawk and pull out their phones to take photos - to take photos of a man who was dying at their feet. I saw several people taking multiple pictures of this man lying on the ground, covered in blood, his face smashed in by the back of the truck he had apparently run into. As I was standing there, I became aware of a woman wailing and screaming closer to the curb, and a couple dozen of people pushing around her. When I got a peek over their shoulders, I saw there was a woman holding a child, perhaps three years old, with a large head wound, and no signs of life. No helmets were anywhere; no protective gear; nothing.

The ambulance guys hastily loaded the injured man into the back of the vehicle, then answered my question: "Yes, the child has already had his last breath." And off they went, to deliver the man to the nearest "trauma" hospital, about 45 minutes away. However, with such a significant head injury and no neurosurgeons anywhere in Cambodia, at all, the outcome for him would not likely include survival.

This story, unfortunately, is one that is repeated daily here in Cambodia. Andrew and I have passed by or heard stories of vehicle accidents, dead bodies on the side of the road, motorcycles crushed by large trucks, too many times to count. A report by the World Health Organization and the Cambodian government stated that every day in Cambodia, 4 people die and 100 are injured in road accidents, out of a population of 14 million. In fact, it is the second largest "disaster" in Cambodia, following HIV/AIDs, causing loss of life and livelihoods. A minority of people wear helmets while riding motorcycles here in Cambodia. Only the drivers legally have to wear helmets; no passengers are required to. Add that to the fact that in Poipet we have a heavily-trafficked road, people driving at high speeds in taxis and motorcycles, and a mix of large trucks and small motorcycles, and you end up with frequent accidents on the road.

The above scenario I described at the scene of accident is also quite common. If there is an accident, Cambodians crowd around, gawking, but refuse to touch anyone injured. No one knows CPR or basic first-aid, and few people would help even if they could. A friend who has been here a long time said she has even seen people kicking the dead bodies to rid them of the "dead spirits." And always, people take photos of injured people or the dead, and then show them to friends and families, and even post them on Facebook. Andrew had to block a Cambodian friend after seeing photos of a dead body pop up on his wall.

The response in my heart was anger - at the driver for not wearing a helmet, at the people taking photos and not helping, at the whole irrationality of the loss of life and the sound of a mother mourning the irreplaceable loss of her child. I cry out to God, feeling only a fraction of the pain I know the dead's family must be experiencing now. At some point, God reminded me of the verse, speaking of his concern for even a sparrow that falls to the ground and dies. If he cares that much for a common bird, how much more does he care for his human creation, for whom he died? He loves the people of Cambodia more than I can ever fathom. And I pray and hope that his love will help me know how to react when accidents happen.