The jungle has been awake long before we rise, with raucous bird calls and cicadas greeting the day. A slight chill is in the air, as we creep out from under our mosquito net.
The medics rise early. Soon we hear chopping of firewood with a machete, for the morning meal. An aromatic resinous wood is used to start the fire, and the smell is like burning incense offered up to this new day.
Here is our breakfast one morning, cooked with love by K’Nyaw Say, one of our medics. Jasmine rice, spicy pumpkin curry, potato patties, stir-fried greens and carrots, and warm (ready to peel) red sweet potatoes, dug up from the jungle.
Most of our patients come from across the border. Healthcare is non-existent in most of these border villages in Karen State.
“Pa Peh Ko,” a thin, quiet, 11 year-old boy, walked with his mother for over two hours over a mountain from his Talako Karen village in Burma. His mother told us he had lost 2 kilos of weight in the past month. A blood test showed that he is anemic, and probably has worms, as he had a distended abdomen, and complained of an “itchy stomach.” Anemia and malnutrition are common in these conservative Talako Karen villages with rules dictating their diet. They eat no eggs, no domesticated meat (only jungle animals that they hunt), and very few vegetables. They can eat fish from the river, but they are scarce. Pa Peh Ko has never attended school, as there is no school in his village. The medics treated him with worm pills and multi-vitamins, and will follow up with him in a month.
Soon a worn-looking mother of five daughters walks down the hill, holding her youngest, who is suffering from persistent diarrhea and dehydration. The baby is lethargic. The medics assessed her and started a slow IV drip into a vein in her foot. Her rehydration took all day. We entertained her sisters with bubbles!
Diarrhea became the afternoon teaching topic for the medics. This is hot season, water is scarce (hygiene issues), bacteria rampant, and many babies and children are suffering from persistent diarrhea. Paul taught how to identify severe dehydration; giving ORS (Oral Rehydration Salts) first; and correctly starting IV’s if they cannot swallow. Rehydration literally saves lives!
“Infective diarrhea is a leading cause of death in the tropics. 80% are children under 2 years old.”
We were explaining what the word “expert” means to the medics, and called them “Expert Diarrhea Medics” amidst roars of laughter! Our medics are a great bunch! (And Tawni, a Partners’ volunteer English teacher.)
Village life is very slow. Time stands still, especially in the heat of early afternoons, when a cloud of lethargy settles over the village, the clinic, and us. We are honing our patience, and the practice of living in the present moment. Out of our comfort zone, God has met us here.
A walk to the thundering, incredible waterfall and plunging into the cool pools, is just the best to refresh our bodies and minds on a hot, humid afternoon!