People not previously familiar with wet and dry markets are maybe now more cognizant of wet markets because a wet market in Wuhan, China was the starting point of the COVID-19 pandemic. Click here to see pictures of a wet market in Cambodia.
Our DDP office is closed and our education and job training students have been sent home but we have three young men who have multiple disabilities and are with us always because they have no homes to go to. Part of managing COVID-19 is making sure they are taken care of. Today I was at DDP when two houseparents were giving a drink to one of the youth.
This is a picture of me this morning on a way to a meeting of the bishop’s COVID19 committee, set up to advise him on the diocese’s response to the pandemic which is becoming more serious in Cambodia. I have only worn a face mask maybe twice in twenty years in Cambodia, both times when I was on a really dusty road for a long haul on the back of a motorcycle.
One of our former Maryknoll Lay Missioners, Jim McLaughlin, is a retired microbiologist. Several years ago he set up the first diagnostic laboratories in government hospitals here with funding from the US Department of Defense who likes to know what kinds of bad little things are floating around in different countries—viruses and other such which could potentially be weapons. Jim is here regularly and he never wears a mask. He said if a person is sick, THAT sick person should wear a mask. Or if your family is infected, then wear a mask. But to wear them on the street or on planes is rather non productive. The CDC agrees.
COVID19 is now becoming a major problem in Cambodia and with government encouragement it has been identified as a foreigner disease. And in the beginning it was foreigners, tourists and workers, who were first infected. Now it is community spreading and Cambodians are infecting each other but there is still resentment and–now more often–fear of foreigners. Wearing a mask is a psychological thing. People wear them because they feel they don’t have much control over their lives and are mostly at the mercy of diseases like COVID19. And with a weak health system that is basically true. My wearing a mask is not going to help prevent the spread of the virus here but at least it will reassure anxious local people that I am sensitive to the problem and am doing my share to combat the infection and not pass it on to them.
This is a typical house in a Cambodian city, what is called a shophouse. It’s one room wide and this one has four floors. The lot it is on would be about 15 feet by 50 feet. In many countries the ideal house is on a good-sized piece of land away from the city center. Just the opposite in Phnom Penh. A house like this one will do just fine, thank you, the fulfillment of a dream.
The coronavirus pandemic has spread throughout the world and is certainly a presence now in Cambodia. Overnight our number of infected people doubled from 12 to 24. We had already been working on a DDP plan to help control the spread of the virus, and early in the morning our management team finalized a work-from-home policy. In the afternoon we gathered all the Phnom Penh staff on our porch (to minimize contact and provide more ventilation) and we explained the policy, who is to work where and how, and then sent them home for the next four to eight weeks. Who knows?
One of the nice things about Cambodia and its tropical climate is that there are always plants and trees that are blooming. There is such a variety of colors and blooms and smells!
In all of the excitement and turmoil that goes on in Phnom Penh and Cambodia and the world, the Carmelite Monastery in Phnom Penh is something of an island of quiet and serenity. The sisters go about their daily routine of prayer and work mostly oblivious to all that is happening outside their convent walls.
That serenity was disturbed recently as a young woman professed her first vows there in the process of becoming a Carmelite Sister.
This is part of an emergency e-mail we sent out to the 591 people who subscribe to our English community e-mail newsletter. World Vision surprised us this morning with a phone call saying we cannot use their auditorium, which we rent for mass every Saturday evening, until after the Khmer New Year which ends on April 16th. We did a lot of scrambling, a lot of texting and e-mailing to notify as many parishioners as we could that there would be no mass tonight. Now we have to figure out what to do for the weeks ahead.