When you spend time among friends in the villages of Cambodia a moment will come when a seemingly abstract mortality rate statistic endemic to insanitary living conditions becomes a reality. It’s as if the grip of probability tightens over time and an indiscriminate yet profound loss results.
Vanthy’s family took her from her home in the floating village of Kompong Phhluk to a hospital for emergency treatment in the town of Siem Reap in February of 2013. During a routine blood transfusion she passed away at the age of 9.
Vanthy’s Grandma Ry explained that on the day they took Vanthy to the hospital she complained her body ached as blood trickled from her mouth and nose, the symptoms of a sickness the Khmer refer to as kruen cheam (black sickness), an extreme form of the mosquito-borne dengue fever virus known as Dengue Hemorrhagic Fever (DHC). The word among the villagers was that the doctor gave her the wrong blood type and it killed her. The death certificate is missing and the hospital is unable to locate her record so the exact cause of death remains unknown. The fact that there is nothing uncommon about this story is what is the most disquieting of all.
I visited Vanthy’s family to offer my condolences and give them my photos of her as a remembrance. They are poor and have no cameras or photographs so the prints I have given them are the only images they have of Vanthy. I have made a point of printing and framing them in a style that the Khmer keep in their living rooms to honor their family ancestry.
Vanthy’s mother Chanthy holding a framed print of the above photo, Khompong Phhluk floating village, Tonle Sap Lake, Siem Reap, Cambodia
The mother Chanthy and grandmother Ry discuss the photo with village children and neighbors, Kompong Phhluk, Siem Reap, Cambodia
The mother Chanthy and the grandmother Ry further discuss the photo with village children and neighbors, Kompong Phhluk, Siem Reap, Cambodia