PROGRAM: UniBreak Groups
PROJECT: University of Western Sydney Nursing Placement
WRITTEN BY: Rachael Bobbin
We have arrived, and although we may be sleep deprived and hunched backed from 10 hours of flying (9 hours from Sydney plus 1 hour from Bangkok airport) we are in Chang Mai. We have survived the first part of our journey with only some minor customs mishaps along the way!
We are spread out all over the hotel that will be our escape back to hot showers and wifi on the weekends, with two to a room. The view from the rooms is very different to back home: a mix-mash of old and new buildings, with temples and shrines thrown in here and there, against a backdrop of mountains. You could look at it everyday and always find something you've never seen.
Walking around Chang Mai with our guides Nicky and Nate was exciting and interesting. Seeing the temples was like stepping back in time. The monks where chanting and blessing, left, right and centre. Although we could not understand what was said, it was a hypotonic experience. The Chang Mai Museum was small but educational on the origin and history of the Lan Na Kingdom (Chang Mai). We stopped for lunch at a cafe-type-restaurant-thing that wasn't in English, but the pictures were mighty helpful and the food was delicious. With time to kill until the night markets, we split up into smaller groups to explore, get massages, grab a drink or rest.
For those reading who have not been to the Sunday night markets, let me just say I now know exactly how it feels to be born again. The squeezing through tight spaces, bumping into things, the claustrophobic effect of all the people. It was definitely a new experience but one I wouldn't want to trade in for anything. The wares they where selling ranged from Thai silk scarves to fried insects, and included everything you could possibly want (and many things you didn't!). The people and the culture are welcoming and fun to be with. It was a whole new experience for many of us, but familiar at the same time, as laughing and smiling is something that is universal among all cultures.
Leaving Chang Mai and heading into the mountains there was a collective feeling of nervous excitement. What are we going to find? What will the people be like? Will we be good enough to help? The three hour drive to the hospital and our dorm rooms was winding, bumpy, and very, very long. We stopped just outside of the hospital at a little coffee shop decked out in Harley Davidson posters. We had fried rice and sweet sausage for lunch.
After lunch we went to a community health centre that caters to 2,200 people from a number of villages. The nurses were welcoming and eager to show us what they do and how they have combined western medicine with their traditional medicines, such as using seasonal fruits and herbs to make medicinal tea.
The hospital we have been placed at is an inspiring place. It is a 10-bed hospital that sometimes sees hundreds of outpatients a day. We were fortunate enough to meet and work with the nurses and doctors as they went about their normal routines. These wonderful people were so patient and understanding with our never-ending stream of questions and mispronunciation of Thai words. The nurses in reception thought it was particularly hilarious to teach us Thai phrases and laugh when we got them wrong.
Dr. Pranjin is the most patient man I have ever met. He freely gives up his time to those who need it and works tirelessly for better health for all via his many projects such as water sanitation and health clinics in remote areas.
This past week of working in the mobile health clinics alongside an amazing Thai medical team has been one of the best and most rewarding experiences of our lives so far. The hill tribes are curious and strong people, who live in the most remote areas and work mostly as farmers. The clinic consisted of a registration where the people first came, then an observation area where their vital signs where taken. Next they were assessed by the doctor and students, then it was off to pharmacy where they picked up their prescriptions and compared what they got to what everyone else had. Going on amongst all of this organised chaos were the children's health checks, health promotion and games. They were taught hand washing and teeth brushing and in turn we were taught a song about roasting a chicken over a fire.
The people here are just as willing to laugh at us as we are at them. The Thai phrases we learnt are helpful in figuring out what the villages are not saying as the Karen people do not speak Thai. Communication has therefore been limited to hand gestures, smiles and a lot of guess work, but we manage.
The week has passed quickly and now we are back in the land of McDonalds, margaritas and the miracles of hot showers.
Relaxation here we come!