K OMPONG CHAM - The pregnant women and new mothers clustered around the town "doctor" were buying traditional herbal medicines "good for all kinds of illnesses", they believed.
The "doctor", who called herself E Kon Mab [the lady with fat child], was selling her traditional potions in the provincial hospital.
Mab confessed after serving her clients, and before she left for the day, that she only dared come into the hospital on holidays when the doctors and nurses were away.
Though modern medicine is available, many Cambodian people still supplement those medicines with medicinal herbs. Some people eschew modern drugs altogether.
"I can't guarantee [the herbs] would cure a cold," Mab stressed, saying it was a very tricky disease that existed naturally and would eventually cure itself.
Mab said her medicines comprised seven herbs which had been prepared with supernatural magic by an old man she only identified as "Big Kru."
She charged her clients 500 riel a package but when she was asked to lower the price, she said: "Don't bargain or it won't be effective, because this medicine was directed by the ghost."
"I'm happy to give it for free," she said, "but I don't want people to bargain."
She admitted her medicines were a bit more expensive than before, particularly since the government applied the ban on tree cutting in the country. She said this made procurement of medicinal herbs more difficult.
Her herbs would be more effective if they were preserved and taken with white wine, unlike the army general in Banteay Mean Chey who recently advertised that his herbal treatment for diabetes would be more potent if taken with a can of ABC beer.
One of Mab's customers was not very sympathetic. Nas Ell, the grandmother of a recently-born Cham baby, said she found it hard to believe that just a pack of herbs could heal so many kinds of illnesses.
"Please don't be offended but I don't think I have much hope in your medicines," Nas Ell complained. She said she was afraid the herbs would react against modern medicines.
In the rural areas old people often tell a funny rhyming prescription for the treatment of a fever.
The tune in Khmer goes as follows: "Beu Kruon Leb Kruos Prampee Kroib, See Arch Kream Prampee Kruob, Laut Teuk Prampee Kroim, Dek Krom Kre Prampee Kria" - and your fever will be completely gone.
The prescription literally means: "If you get a fever take seven pebbles, eat seven pieces of dried s**t, jump into the water seven times, and sleep under the bed for seven nights" and your fever will be completely gone.