Traffic Accident

Edward Shuttleworth is our CEO and he and his wife Kate live and work predominantly in Cambodia. He has written the following blog post on their bus journey on Monday.

How can anyone know what goes on in a country like Cambodia if they are not based here? There is so much happening beneath the surface that even after ten years we are still learning about life here every single day.

So it’s Monday and Kate and I are heading from Siem Reap to Battambang for the week as the Literacy workshops are about to begin for the new teachers on the program. We are on the trolley bus that is both unnaturally high and unnaturally short and has just escaped from a Lego movie. It’s full of foreign backpackers marking the very beginning of the tourist season. There is a stretch of road we refer to as the “short cut” that is a relatively narrow and winding road joining the two main highways from Siem Reap and Battambang that meet closer to the Thai border. There is not much traffic this morning on the short cut. It’s a clear day that’s not unbearably hot.

I’m working on my computer as the bus comes to a sharp halt. We are sitting quite far back, so it is difficult to see out of the front windscreen but as I look forward I see someone lying in the middle of the road and a motorbike lying by their side. There is no sign of another vehicle and one or two people are arriving at the scene, going over to the person still lying ominously still. Ignoring our protocol that says ‘don’t go to the aid of an injured person in an accident and endanger anyone else’s life,’ I leave the bus load of craned necks and go over to what becomes clear is an elderly man who is now being unceremoniously bundled to the side of the road by the bus driver. His lower leg is bent at 45 degrees, wobbling as he is dragged. He also has a bad injury to his eye and is groaning, still mercifully out of it. The bus driver now with the help of a couple of the passers-by set him down out of immediate danger of being run over and they all get out their phones. I put my hand gently on the old man’s shoulder. He opens his eyes and reaches for my arm looking at me from his broken face in desperation, saying gently “Aggg” as he lets the air out of his lungs in what is almost a sigh of resignation to his fate.

For a moment I stare into his eyes, my heart breaking. He probably isn’t much older than me, but his frail shoulders and gaunt chin are testimony to a life full of hardships that I will never comprehend. I put his hand back on his chest and rush back to the bus to ask, “Does anyone have a bandage?” The soft faces of the travellers look back at me glued to their seats as they slowly shake their heads, eyes wide and mouths ajar. The bus driver comes back behind me and says we must go. “Hospital coming” he says waving his phone. Well that’s not likely in any form I would identify with, but otherwise this is all too regular an event and like mine, the driver’s job requires him to ensure everyone else’s life goes on and there is no time to try to splint the leg of another traffic accident victim. The tears come as I sit back in my seat and we pass the broken man and his smashed motorbike. Another inexplicable accident where there is nothing to be done but wait for the next century. I am left not able to offer the most meagre of help, how did we ever imagine we had something of value to offer?

Kate looks at me sternly and chastises me for leaving the bus to distract me from the vision of the man’s face. I think again of broken legs and how that depicts so accurately the state of this country where so much still remains shattered. If only Buzz Lightyear were as real as our bus.

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