Blog News

1. Comments are still disabled though I am thinking of enabling them again.

2. There are now several extra pages - Poetry Index, Travel, Education, Childish Things - accessible at the top of the page. They index entires before October 2013.

3. I will, in the next few weeks, be adding new pages with other indexes.

Monday, 21 October 2013

Thailand And Laos 1998: Day Six

I slept better than the night before – albeit in twenty minute bursts that came suddenly and painfully to an end each time I turned my head onto the side with the bandage. Nevertheless in the morning I was feeling less of a prat and more optimistic about the remainder of the trip. The only thing that I was not looking forward to was the removal of the stitches. This, I had been instructed, must be in exactly seven days. In seven days time I would be in Luang Prabang in Laos. I always find the Lonely Planet Guides to be invaluable reference works when travelling and yesterday evening while waiting for dinner I had checked out what it had to say about Laos' medical facilities.
"...the availability of decent medical services is practically nil."
"...the state run hospitals are among the worst in South East Asia in terms of hygiene, staff training, facilities and medicine"
It wasn't an experience I was looking forward to but for the moment I tried to put it out of my mind.
The clinic seemed to have made a neat job of the stitches although the wound was still oozing quite a lot of blood. My foot was considerably more painful than it had been and the bruising more extensive. It was clear that today I would need to be in the truck again.
The trucks are of an unusual design. They have no cabin and virtually no suspension although they are unbelievably robust and more like a tractor in their construction. The most unusual and unnerving feature for someone riding in the front is that part of the engine consists of a large metal flywheel which protrudes up through the floor of the foot-well and spins rapidly and dangerously mere centimetres from your leg.
We drove past the others on our way out of the village, waving to them as if we were royalty, and soon were bouncing along the dirt tracks to the next village. Yesterday I hadn't really been in a position to look about me but today was different and although the motion of the truck was too extreme to allow photography I could at least sit and appreciate the scenery. It was pretty rather than beautiful and pleasant rather than spectacular but naturally when Mr. Tah asked me what I thought of his country I was a little less reserved in my praise.
It was less than an hour's drive to the Akha village which was tonight's stop. We drove into it through a gate surmounted by a wooden cross. I wondered if perhaps the villagers were Christians. The guide book gave no indication of this and when I asked I was told that they have a predominantly animist religion. Mr. Tah couldn’t explain the cross.
I was sitting reading when everyone else arrived, saying that the walk had been hard and hot, but a late lunch and a few relatively cold drinks soon perked them up. One of the village women laid out a number of handmade items - hats, bags, purses and so on - for sale. She was clearly making them for the tourists but the designs were identical to the ones the villagers used and the materials authentic. For example the small white beads that looked for all the world like plastic were actually, investigation revealed, the dried hard seed pods of one of the local plants. She also didn't really try to sell anything, simply laying them out on the table and leaving people to express an interest. It was a strategy that worked. Soon she had sold most of her stock and was busy on custom orders for those who had missed out.
A group had decided to go down to the river and I thought that this would be as good a time as any to check out how well my foot was getting on. So with half a dozen others I started down the trail. It was quite a long way but apart from the occasional sharp pain when I stepped awkwardly I could walk reasonably well if not very quickly. By the time I arrived, Paula and James had already waded across the water and were sitting in the shade on the far side. Ian, Don and Ellen had changed into swimming costumes and moved downstream into the deeper water where a group of about half a dozen naked Thai children were watching them with curiosity. I paddled around in the shallows letting the cold water ease my foot and bring out the bruising. The whole area around my little toe was almost black but not especially painful. We stayed for about an hour before heading back. On the way down I had seen the village schoolhouse and now going back I decided to take a closer look. It was a single room building which was presently unoccupied. Inside there were all of the usual signs of infant scholastic activity. The walls were covered in drawings and paintings that could have come from any English school with matchstick Mommy and matchstick Daddy towering over tiny trees beneath improbably coloured skies. There was a blackboard and desks but not very many books. One book, which was hanging on the wall on a string I examined more closely. It was a picture book without any words and looking through I realised that it did not need any. It was a morality tale that was only appropriate to the Eastern world. The pictures showed in sequence a village man selling his daughter to a stranger in a suit and the gradual degradation of the daughter in the city until she was arrested for drug possession and prostitution. The final pictures showed her grieving parents as she died, presumably of Aids. It was a sobering thought to realise that the situation in the villages was such that this kind of cautionary tale was needed.
There was to be an 'entertainment' for us this evening. When I had heard this I had my usual churlish thoughts about cultural shows but in the event the 'entertainers' turned out to be half a dozen village girls aged about seven or eight who sang and danced some traditional Akha songs while their proud parents and teacher looked on. One parent who was not as proud of her offspring was the mother of the four year old boy who could not be kept off the 'dance floor'. He showed an amazing ability to slip from her grasp and join the dancers who became increasingly irate at being upstaged. Try as she might his mother simply could not restrain him and could only retrieve him with difficulty. Her embarrassment grew more or less in proportion to the dancers irritation until she finally took him away to put to bed.