A few days ago the COVID-19 team came to fumigate our campus after discharging all of the quarantined factory workers. I believe there were 28 of them at the highest point. They all tested negative and were allowed to return to their workplaces.
I didn’t really see a need for it since no one in the group was positive but better safe than sorry I guess. I was glad to get back to the security and privacy of the volunteer dorm again and relieved that the crisis appeared to be over.
It is just after five in the morning… just got a call to open the gate because the ambulance was waiting outside with the fifth victim of COVID-19. I dressed as fast as I could and found them waiting impatiently. There were only two attendants and the driver… I wondered where the rest of the team was? I loaded the furnace with charcoal before suiting up and as I turned around I realized that they had already removed the body and placed it by my feet. I quickly put on my protective garments. We loaded the body into the furnace and I placed the wood around it.
By six o’clock, the fire was burning, and I could finally get to my coffee and breakfast. Thanks to the kids our crematorium is always ready to go now and I don’t have to worry about getting caught unprepared.
Just before our evening meal some of the boys helped to gather the bones and after we chanted, they helped to prepare the furnace for the next time, which I hope will never come… but realistically could be tonight.
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Our third COVID-19 cremation caught us off-guard, coming just a day after the second one and needing to be done late in the evening because no one wanted to keep the body overnight. A middle-aged woman died en route to Phnom Penh and the ambulance crew was unable to unload the body anywhere. Fortunately, we had cleaned the furnace and therefore not much preparation was needed, however, there were no lights at the crematorium and it made it difficult to see what we were doing. For that reason, I put the kids to work this Sunday getting things ready, should we get called on to do another.
The first thing we did was restock our woodpile by chopping down some of the dead trees around the property. Charcoal is used beneath the body but wood is essential to cover the body… lots of wood.
Next, we had Mr. Pheab install a solar panel and light, donated by the COVID Team, into the ceiling.
Although we hope that we will never need to use it for another cremation, we are now prepared to do it at any time of day or night.
Things appear to be getting a little better here… some of the restrictions are being lifted and we can now travel to Phnom Penh again, however, school has not yet started and our volunteer dorm is still packed with those being quarantined.
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It is 4:30 in the morning and I am sitting here alone at the crematorium again, waiting for the COVID-19 team to come with another victim of the pandemic… a middle-aged woman who died within hours of being hospitalized. The man who did the last cremation lost his construction job when his employer found out about it and so he said he would not do it anymore. Not sure who they will find to do it at this hour of the morning.
People are either afraid of getting the virus or afraid of being ostracized by friends and family because they get involved. Only a fool who has nothing to lose would volunteer for this job.
Not the greatest fit but they did eventually find a way of protecting the vulnerable areas of my body, and we were finally ready to go.
Every precaution was made to disinfect the whole area prior to bringing the body in through the gate.
And again after the body was placed in the furnace the area was fumigated and I was doused in alcohol as I removed my protective gear.
Not sure if this is going to be my permanent job… but I doubt they will find anyone else willing to do it now that they know I can be talked into it. I hope that there will not be many more deaths in our area… but if there are, I hope they can find protection gear in XXL for me.
Because the families of the victims of COVID-19 are under strict quarantine and can not attend the cremation service, we, who know a lot about death and cremations, perform a simple Buddist service in their absence. This video was made for those families in the hope that it will bring some comfort to them… knowing that their loved one was not just disposed of, but was treated with respect and dignity. The remains are saved until the family can claim them and have a proper ceremony.
A death today of a middle-aged man, in a RedZone not far from us, resulted in a request to use our crematorium, since it was not sure if the victim was positive or not but they didn’t want to take any chances.
It took the kids and staff a good hour to get things ready and although I am not allowed to participate in the actual ceremony anymore, I still want to make sure it is done in a respectful manner.
The ambulance arrived a short time later and everyone was told to stay far away. No family members or guests were allowed to witness the event and those that helped were disinfected several times as they placed the body into the furnace.
The furnace door was closed and the fire lit but this time there were no mournful tears as is usually the case. Only the sound of the ambulance leaving our back gate.
Infections are on the rise in Cambodia and as a result, several thousand people are under strict quarantine. The death count is still just a bit over 100, however, and we hope that it will not go that much higher.
Some people have expressed concern that we may be endangering the children and I can assure you that we have taken that into consideration… but these people being quarantined and dying are our neighbors just outside of our gates. We are providing a safe area to quarantine them so that if they do become positive they can be taken in for treatment immediately. We also have the only working crematorium, for many miles around, that is not in a residential area… making it ideal for a safe and secure final disposition.
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