Eleven years ago and thousands of kilometers from Phnom Penh, I first became familiar with the mosquito.
I worked for a few months in the commercial fishing industry in the US state of Alaska, hoping to make enough money to put me through college the next year. It was a lot of hard work, but occasionally I would borrow a truck and head down the road with my fishing pole, looking to catch a few of Alaska’s enormous salmon.
Standing in a creek, watching the sunset at midnight, it never crossed my mind that I would come to Cambodia.
I also didn’t worry that the thick, black cloud of thousands of mosquitoes swarming around could make me seriously ill, since being bit by a mosquito in Alaska doesn’t carry that risk.
Malaria wasn’t something I had thought much about until I prepared to move here. I bought pills and wondered if the mosquitoes in Southeast Asia were just as resistant to repellent spray as they were in Alaska.
Then last week I went to Longkun village in Ratanakkiri province, where few of the ethnic Tampuans realize that a mosquito can give them malaria—can kill them—through its bite.
The village is remote and surrounded by forests and farmland. It is a three-day drive from Phnom Penh, where our two-truck convoy from the National Malaria Center had originated.
Health officials had visited the village the day before and found at least 17 cases of p. falciparum, a type of malaria parasite that can prove fatal.
We arrived in the afternoon with trucks filled with bed nets. As part of The Cambodia Daily’s mosquito net campaign, I stood in the center of the village and handed out more than 400 nets.
To a person, they were shy.
The village chief would call out a name, and others would repeat it loudly and fondly. Whether it was an old man, a child or a young mother with an infant, they would move forward tentatively from the gathered circle. Stopping a few steps before me, they would accept the net looking downward.
A few times, I tried to say some words in Khmer, until I realized they couldn’t understand the language. If I could have said something, I think I would have repeated what the village chief had told them before the handout began.
Keep your children and your family under this at night. The mosquitoes here carry a risk.