Lunch is an important part of any day, and it forms an important aspect of the culture at the Children’s Surgical Centre. Lunchtime at the CSC canteen at the back of the grounds gives everyone time to rest and recuperate after a busy morning helping patients, as well as a chance for staff to catch up with one another. The canteen is formed by four long tables surrounding a small kitchen with a window through which staff can take their food.
The selection each week involves a variety of different Cambodian staples. Each meal costs 2000 Riel (~50 US cents) and comes with a hearty soup and a main course. Everyone can also serve themselves a big portion of white rice from a large industrial metal cannister on one of the tables. My personal highlights have been the meaty yellow chicken curry, the chewy stir-fried water spinach, the rich banana tapioca pudding (pictured) and the fragrant beef broth.
Over lunch, I’ve had a chance to speak to a range of staff from local nurses and medical students to travelling surgeons from far off lands. Everyone has a story about how they’ve come to be here. Some have been here since the very start of CSC, whilst others, like me, have just arrived. Hearing about how things have changed over the years and the struggles which lie ahead make me very grateful to be here, if even for just a short time. I have been touched by several of the interactions I’ve had over lunchtime; moments which will stay with me for a long time. On one of my first days at CSC, as I went up to pay one of the two ladies who kindly prepared my meal, she smiled and shook her head. She then points to the young local trainee surgeon who I was having lunch with. I then realised that he had gotten up from his seat early before I had finished my lunch and paid on my behalf. On another day, one of the operations took longer than expected so some of the trainees and I exhaustedly stumbled to lunch late. Everyone had already finished their lunch and there was only a couple of plates of water spinach remaining. As I was having my rice and spinach, one of the ladies brings over two perfectly fried eggs. She had seen that there wasn’t much food or soup left for us and had brought over the eggs to make sure that we had enough food for lunch. The kindness of these gestures made me feel so welcome in a new unfamiliar place and showed me the grace of the Khmer people. In each of these moments, I wish that I could express to them all how touched I felt but all I could do was bow my head slightly and say ‘orkun’. Thank you in Khmer.
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