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patterns of ink

How fruitless to be ever thinking yet never embrace a thought... to have the power to believe and believe it's all for naught. I, too, have reckoned time and truth (content to wonder if not think) in metaphors and meaning and endless patterns of ink. Perhaps a few may find their way to the world where others live, sharing not just thoughts I've gathered but those I wish to give. Tom Kapanka

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Day One Report a Day Late

Monday, Jan 21, 2008. First of nine visits to hill-tribe villages in the northern-most parts of Thailand. We traveled by covered-truck 3.5 hours. (These are Toyota trucks with a covered back with two benches facing each other. They serve as “taxis” in Chang Rai, holding 8 adults in the back and are open in the back with ladders to climb up to the luggage rack above where up to four adults can sit if it gets hot inside the back of the truck. The roads used to be rough dirt roads, but a few years ago the Thai government paved much of the way. Only the last hour was on rough, dusty, dirt roads (some so steep we had to get out so the truck could make the climb.)

Most of the hill-tribe villages we will be serving in the days ahead are Acah, but this first village was Lahu, the Samakat Lahu Village, populated by 170 families and about 1,000 Lahu people. These people are called “hill-tribes” not only because they live in the mountain region of Thailand (north of Chang Rai) but also because their villages are on hillsides, terraced for farming with stilted huts joined by winding paths between tight-knit points of connection. This is the dry season so the paths are hard as concrete but deeply rutted from the rainy season. Each team member is responsible to carry his/her share of “the pharmacy” to the designated site of the clinic, which is inside and around the church or "common building," and that it seems is always at the highest point of each village.

The "pharmacy" consists of eight suitcases weighing 50 lbs each full of nothing but medicine that the team packed and brought with us from the U.S. One of the cases also contains a portable dentist chair designed for just such use. Today's clinic began at noon and continued until the last tooth was pulled and the last prescription filled, which was about 4:00 PM. It was an average size clinic but non-stop, serving 128 patients from the village. There were 21 dental patients representing about 50 pulled teeth. (That is pretty much the only option with the teeth in the condition we find them in.) Patient #1 had 6 teeth pulled, but the average person had two pulled. Twenty-five were served by the doctor’s station. Tuesday's clinic is at a smaller village, but Wednesday's is three villages combined (Acah) and we are expecting 300. That will be long day.

Please pray that we do not get exhausted as that can prove to be very dangerous under these circumstances--especially for the doctors, who have lifetimes of experience in the ER, but this is grueling work far from home in adverse working conditions. (Photos to come.)

We had to pass a military check point because this particular village is within 3 miles of the Burma (Myanmar) border, which is a major part of the world’s opium supply. Opium is still, in fact, a lingering part of some tribal cultures, including this one we were in today. After about two hours of video shooting at the clinic, I went down some of the paths to capture local color and culture. I came upon about ten men and five women building a bamboo and thatch hut about the size of a two-car garage. They allowed me to film them—first from a distance and then very up close. As I was shooting some “how to build a hut” footage, I noticed in the far corner of the unfinished hut were an older man and woman smoking opium from a large handmade pipe of bamboo (about the size of two Pringles cans end-to-end). They were a bit sheepish when they saw this white man with a video camera but could soon see that I meant only to learn about building a hut and not to expose what they do in there huts (an activity which would be no surprise to the local authorities who pretty much leave them alone as long as they are not transporting their opium to the city. I do not mean to sound libertarian on this subject. I’m just explaining the attitude I chose to portray with a camera in hand as I nodded at those around me with hatchets and machetes in theirs… enough said. =)

One younger man who had arrived on a moped knew what a video camera was and asked if he could see the footage in the viewfinder. I showed him and soon all work stopped and everyone wanted to see the portion they were in. They were amazed and laughed and teased each other. The two who smoking opium did not come to the camera, but the others enjoyed it. Though electricity and small televisions have recently come to these some villages, it’s likely that they had never seen themselves on video—perhaps not even in a photograph. I was pleased with how my time with them turned out.

These are beautiful people as you will soon see when I learn how to download photos from on this rented service. There is a striking resemblance to between these nomadic people and the nomadic Native American Indians, and I think some sort of anthropological connection could be traced. I will update our days when possible.


Blogger Lone Grey Squirrel said...

Following your experiences with anticipation. You show "street-wiseness" in being discrete about their use of opium. Look forward to pictures and more reports.

22/1/08 12:50 PM  
Blogger Cris said...

Sounds like all is going well so far. I look forward to seeing some of the pictures and hearing more stories. :)

22/1/08 2:48 PM  
Blogger Jody said...

Sending prayers for the whole team, especially Dr. Evans. I heard about it early in the a.m. and hope that he gets the healing and rest he needs. Take care on the rest of your trip. I'll bet you'll have plenty of stories and pictures to share soon enough.

22/1/08 6:52 PM  
Blogger Nancy said...

I've never been on a mission trip abroad and I'm delighted to tag along with you- even if it is through the blogging world. That may be as close as I ever get, so I appreciate this opportunity.

My prayers for you and your team continue, especially for good health. I look forward to your updates. Blessings to you.

22/1/08 8:30 PM  
Blogger Dr.John said...

You are living one exciting adventure and you have learned how to build a hut. You are one lucky guy.

23/1/08 12:03 PM  
Blogger Lone Grey Squirrel said...

Hope you are well. I know this is bad timing but you got an award waiting you at my blog. Come by when you can.

24/1/08 12:01 PM  

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