I’m sure you’re all as shocked as I am about Anthony Bourdain’s death. A celebrity chef, an extremely quotable author, and off-the-beaten-path traveller, he has changed the way people have travelled. Here is my personal favourite from him:
“Travel isn’t always pretty. It isn’t always comfortable. Sometimes it hurts, it even breaks your heart. But that’s okay. The journey changes you; it should change you. It leaves marks on your memory, on your consciousness, on your heart, and on your body. You take something with you. Hopefully, you leave something good behind.” – Anthony Bourdain
This quote made me think back to my first overseas volunteer trip, back in 2015. It left me with a lot of memories, both some of the best and some of the worst ones. The most heartbreaking was when I arrived at the orphanage one morning and found out that one of the children had fallen off his bed last night, head first. Every other adult had delivered the news nonchalantly, just letting it roll off their tongue as if it was the most normal thing in the world. The boy had a dent in his head, but I was still the only person who insisted on taking him to the hospital.
The hospital was another shocking experience from an outsider’s perspective. There were at least a hundred people just waiting to be served. The floors were dirty. Coughs were everywhere. When it was finally our turn, I realised the room was just adjacent to the waiting area. There was no such thing as privacy as the room was surrounded by floor to ceiling windows. There were three doctors simultaneously treating patients in there, so there was barely any room. For some reason, my orphanage manager didn’t want to go into the room with me. How was I supposed to communicate when I knew no Khmer?
Luckily the doctor spoke English. But he didn’t answer any of my questions…. He gave the boy some iodine and paracetamol, and assured me that he would be ok. That’s it. We then rushed straight back to the orphanage, as the manager was meeting a friend in the afternoon. He surely had his priorities right….
Till this day, I still don’t know if there was any damage done to that child. I doubt anyone else would have cared. This experience left a mark on my consciousness, my heart and my body. I guess that’s why I now study a health-related discipline, and still have my heart set on using my skills to work overseas. Thank you Anthony Bourdain, for inspiring that off-the-beaten-path travel style!
I’d also like to take this opportunity to remind you that voluntourism is not glorious. You are not, and should not, feel like a saviour. In short, don’t volunteer at orphanages!