I read the words in the email and immediately got chills down my spine "would you be willing to eat a tarantula". The answer I knew in my heart of hearts was a plain and simple 'no'; I am terrified of spiders. The people around me could see that I was immediately disgusted by what I was reading and when I said it out loud - they laughed, they grimaced, they said "oh please no", and the ultimate "oh but you have to, it's such a good cause". I went home telling myself no I don't need to do this I'm already planning to donate blood, we've already done the laptop thing, surely that's enough. (My workplace had donated gently used laptops to Voice Cambodia.)
But my commute home isn't short. So by the time I got in my front door, I had convinced myself that yes, I would eat a spider. So I wrote a delightfully sassy note up, created the page, set myself a goal of $1000.00 and posted it to Facebook to convince my friends that they should sponsor me in this endeavor. Then got to packing my bags (in case I hadn't mentioned, I was due to fly to Cambodia 15 hours after receiving the email).
I arrived in Cambodia the next day to find my friends are sadistic. My offer of a video of me eating a spider to anyone who donated had already hit the $500.00 mark. I'd been considering loop holes where if I didn't reach the mark I wouldn't have to eat the spider; but I could tell there was no way I could get out of it now
I met up with Hillary, the Operations Manager, on my first day in Cambodia to drop off a laptop and arrange for us to meet on my return to Phnom Phenh, for now I was exploring.
I spent two weeks learning more about the history of Cambodia visiting Tuol Sleng Prison, the Choenung Ek Killing Fields, biking around rural villages, going to cooking classes, and visiting the ultimate tourist destination of Angkor Wat. I learned 2 key things.
1 - The people of Cambodia are strong, loving, and happy to be alive.
2 - I should have done my trip in reverse.
Learning and seeing the historical places in such graphic detail was a heart breaking experience that changed my entire perspective on the journey. I met people who have lived through the atrocities that took place and people who continue to be impacted by the events of the past, but who still find the ability to smile at everyone they see. They are strong. They are resilient. They have great love. But they do need help.
So we returned to Phnom Phenh, where rubbish piles high on one street and you turn a corner to a pristine palatial avenue. Phnom Penh, where the divide is so evident you wonder how it goes on so blatantly. Then you remember why Non Government Organisations like Voice exist in Cambodia. They are the voice for the disadvantaged, the people who would be tossed aside because they do not suit the needs of others.
I met back up with Hillary and we made a stop at a supermarket to buy some supplies. The people I had been travelling with had graciously put money towards a mini spending spree on some essentials for the community centre. We bought soap. Something so simple, and yet so needed but seen as somewhat of a luxury as every bottle of soap takes food out of someones mouth. We bought a lot of soap. We also bought some baby formula a few other bits and pieces and were on our way.
On arrival at the Community Centre I was greeted with some levels of apprehension by a few children I was not expecting to meet, not surprisingly given at the time I had fluorescent orange hair. I was given a tour of the centre with the constant reminder, they work with what they have and they are grass roots. This is not a lie. This community centre is in the slums, if it were anything more than what it already is - it would become a target as somewhere you could obtain luxury items (you know... like soap).
After spending some time at the centre, Hillary and I headed off to the National Blood Transfusion Center to donate blood. My biggest fear at this point was that my iron levels would be too low and my donation would be rejected - interestingly enough everyone else I know was more concerned that I was giving blood in a developing country. This is the point I had to constantly reassure people about (and will do again now for the sake of anyone reading this blog) The Facility was donated by USAID and upholds international standards- IT IS SAFE, and while they don't offer the delicious cookie that the Red Cross in Australia do, you do get a snack pack with 4 pastries, a can of drink AND a T-shirt (which as a bit of a chubby person, will never fit me).
The blood donation is as safe as you can get, there is nothing to worry about, I'm actually going to say the most disappointing thing for me was that they only took 1 bag, come on guys, I have plenty of blood!! Please think of the children they need it more than me!!
Side bar - So to anyone visiting Cambodia - please get in touch with Voice and organise a visit with them to NBTC to give blood. I ask you to take a chaperone simply because donations are so low in Cambodia that the 40 children that Voice currently support have a severe blood disorder called Thalassaemia and actually NEED monthly blood transfusions to survive. The children won't actually get them unless Voice can provide a donor card that shows someone donated blood specifically for them.
So the holiday was over, the blood was donated, I had nothing left to do. Oh aside from that pesky tarantula. So we went out to dinner - all 15 of us from my tour group (nothing like a crowd to cheer you on or make delightful remarks like "what do the lungs taste like") and I ate the tarantula.
It was awful. It was so big I had to eat it leg by leg. At this point I had the body (should I call it a thorax? that makes me want to gag, lets call it the body). It was big, it was definitely 2 bites, but I'd had enough. I popped the whole thing in my mouth. I chewed, and I chewed, and then I chewed some more, and realised - I'd made a terrible mistake. This spider was not going down without a fight. So I chewed some more, I tried to swallow, I gagged. I tried to wash it down with a pepper daquiri (of all the drinks, why pepper?!?). I gagged again. Then with tears in my eyes - I got the last of it down. Every one cheered, I coughed up a leg hair or two (and am certain I did so for the next week) but it was done.
As of the moment I ate the Spider my tally was at $1705.00 I had surpassed the goal. Once the news got out - a few more wanted in on the video action so since then it's now jumped to $1775 (if you too want in on the video action - feel free to donate and I'll send you the link).
We did a viewing at work - people told me they could feel the emotion through the video and it was like they ate the spider with me.
They did not.
I'm not sure I'd do it again, ha, but after I saw just a small snippet of the work that Voice does, I knew that it was all worth it.