Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Get out the violins...

Last time, over the 11 days in the village I managed to:

Fall down in the waterfall, getting completely soaked and perhaps bruising the bones in my hand (I still couldn’t lean on it 10 days later)

Slip into a rock and tear off part of my toenail (see lovely picture later!)

Fall into the corner of a shelf

Burn my hand with hot tea

Fall backwards off a ladder into a house

Get attacked by a fierce palm, with hooks in the leaves

Do a spectacular comic-book style slip on a papaya peel, resulting in my first grazed knee since I was about 10.

I’m sure I’m already known as the doctor who is always hurting herself. It’s nothing new; I think it’s my usual clumsiness mixed with a different environment. I’m rather proud that I managed to avoid going through a bamboo floor!

Sunday, April 17, 2005


Every civilised hot country should have a water festival.

It's now been Songkran for 5 days - usually only three, but conveniently attached to a weekend. Especially exciting for me as we missed Easter.

We've been invited to three separate Songkran "lunches" at 9:30 am, which means you don't have to eat again until 6. One of them was followed by a couple of hours of waterfights with the hostess's three kids, and then riding through the Mon area of town on the back of a ute equipped with two large barrels of water and about 10 water pistols between 4 of us (the only time weapons are acceptable in an MSF vehicle!). Groups of people stand at the side of the road ready to attack anyone who passes nearby and were especially excited to attack a group of "ingkloi" who fought back! I did get my hair involuntarily shampooed, but otherwise we managed to give as good as we got.

The rest of our break has been spent on a raft-house in the middle of the lake, swimming, zipping around the lake to various restaurants and the (usually submerged) Old Temple, and generally doing nothing. We've had a few issues after a big storm took out the power for 24 hours (lots of frantically packing vaccines into cool boxes and back again into the fridge) but otherwise it's been wonderfully relaxing. The new doctor, Sophie, has arrived, so once Violaine leaves next week it'll be the three of us (Sophie, Christian & me) from here to September.

Saturday, April 09, 2005

For all the worry-warts...

I know that I was out of contact for two weeks. I know that people are concerned about me and I know that this is because they care - I love this about my friends and family. But although I have access to internet in Sangkhla, it may well be a week between one access and the next. When I'm in the village, it might be two or three weeks where I am out of communication. This will happen perhaps every month once staff changes are stabilised. PLEASE do not see this as a sign that something has gone wrong - it's just a sign that most of the world lives without electricity, phones, and computers.

So, please don't fret. I will be in contact when I can. And thank-you muchly for caring about me.

Thursday, April 07, 2005

The nitty-gritty

All the essentials, since everyone is asking:

The House

…is big. We have a verandah with fairy lights and sound system, a lounge with satellite TV (so I can watch the Pope being carried into the basilica), kitchen with the basics and washing machine, western toilets. I have a room with double bed, mosquito net (I am yet to lay eyes on a mosquito, but the number of people with malaria mean that they must be around!), two cane shelves, fan, clothes rail. We have a maid so I don’t have to wash any clothes or dishes. In short, we are quite spoilt.

The Climate

… is hot. At least mid 30s during the day and not much cooler at night. In the village, cool enough overnight to occasionally put a long-sleeved top on. It’s rained a few times, but is apparently only getting started.

The Food

… is also hot. We get fed everywhere we go – rice and at least 3 or 4 other dishes, eg tiny fish and mango curry, vegetables such as okra, beans, gourd and ferns, eggs, spinach, “bush pork”. Generally great food and lots of it. In Sangkhla, the food is so cheap and close by that we basically don’t cook, but go out to a guesthouse. I brought my Vegemite, establishing me as a true Australian in the eyes of my colleagues, and we can generally get bread for breakfast.

The Village

…is remote. We take over the raised bamboo house of the laboratory techs when we stay. Pluses: lovely people, interesting medicine, beautiful area, medics wanting to learn and me actually knowing enough to teach! Minuses: long 4WD trip (including at least 50 river crossings: there’s talk of hiring elephants for the rainy season!), lots of people with no access to necessary treatment, not so good when you’re sick and just want a soft mattress and TV!

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

From Bangkok to the jungle and back again...

I’ve spent most of the last 2 weeks living in a village in the middle of nowhere. No electricity, no cold drinks, no easy transport. We spent 4 days doing a nutrition survey – going house to house to ask about the food supply, and weighing all the kids under 5 years old. I’ve established that I am terrifying (I was hoping to just be a curiosity) and that I’m terribly clumsy (more on this later). We found 3 kids with severe malnutrition (in about 200) so it’s not good but not so bad. We haven’t analysed the rates of chronic malnutrition yet, but I’m getting used to four-year-olds the size of the two-year-olds I’m used to!

The other days I spent variously seeing patients out in the villages, in the IPD (inpatients department) of the village where we were staying, and sleeping off diarrhoea (thankfully only one morning!). I’ve learnt to “shower” by throwing dishes of cold water over myself (and how to tie a sarong so as to do this in public and stay decent – somewhat difficult when I’m not even supposed to show my shoulders!). I’ve discovered that Uno is a very good game to play when you do not share a language. I’ve learnt how to ask for eggs in Mon and intrigued the medics when I proceeded to decorate them for Easter.

So, after eleven days in the village, we did the 7 hours four-wheel-drive trip back and the next day, another 7 hours to Bangkok! Was quite surreal to be sitting in a 5-star hotel conference room for the Thailand MSF Annual General Meeting. Went a bit crazy stocking up on the luxuries not available in Sangkhla (Earl Grey Tea and Gin & Tonic) and even found an Indian restaurant.
So now am back in Sangkhla. We’ve have a few staffing changes amongst the expats and next week the new doctor will arrive, to replace V, who has to return to France. It’s Songkran festival for 3 days next week so the plan is to hire a houseboat on the lake and do very little. For the Thais and Mon people, it’s a time to spend with family and (as far as I can tell) throw water all over each other to welcome the rainy season. Am looking forward to a bit of a rest!