PROJECT: Nursing – Griffith University
WRITTEN BY: Nathan Bell
The third of January is here; the moment has finally arrived when we depart for Laos. It could only be described as a mixture of excitement and apprehension, somewhat masked by the hustle and bustle of the airport terminal. The first two days delivers high adventure and Bangkok smells in spades, although the tedium of air travel is not lost on anyone. Flying into Luang Prabang airport we pass a series of mountains with peaks like cloud-ringed fingers; it brings relief not only from the air travel, but the stuffiness of continually recycled air. The airport runs with a smooth third world efficiency, but at a guess most would say better than Bangkok.
Bombarded by strange new sights at every turn is it any wonder we didn't all just fall into bed when the tour around the city was done? However after we arrive and unpack our belongings, like hungry children we dig in for seconds and third helpings of adventure. Night markets! What else can I say? Those who have never been to a developing country and visited the food and goods markets were in for a treat. There was no shortage of vendors peddling wares for all to buy; from WW2 bomblets melted back down and converted into cutlery or figurines, to scarfs and all you could eat buffets for 10,000 Kip ($1.70 AUD), a small charge to test the strength of ones stomach.
On the third day we are ready and raring to go. After loading the vehicles we all clamber aboard for the two-hour bottom numbing ride to the first home stay village Na Pho. It seems like the whole village has come to meet us and give the gift of flowers, Saa Bai Dee (Hello) say the little children with the cutest little bow, Kup Jai (thank you) we would reply or something close depending on your First leg all done!
We landed in Bangkok individual grasp of the Lao language. We meet our home stay mothers today, mine is Gyow; she is warm and friendly and shows us to our bed spaces. Not much more than a two inch mattress on the floor with a blanket and a matching one inch thick pillow. After settling in, I migrate outside the small house and try to communicate with Gyow who is tending to dinner. I am met with much smiling but it's clear she speaks no English and my level of Lao is limited to hello and thank you; this could be difficult.
The scenery from our little home stay is nothing short of spectacular to say the least; rice paddy fields backed by an almost shear mountain that rises 1000 meters behind. Each morning it is not until about ten o'clock when the clouds covering its peak are burned off by the sun and it can be seen fully. I must say I was wondering at the quality of the local food we might get and as such packed enough mi goreng noodles from Australia to tide me over in the event of unpalatable local fair. later that night, we shared games and dance competitions with the locals. Jessica was unanimously crowned Australian stick game champion after a number of wins against the local pro team in a heart pounding game that required speed, dexterity and a excellent grasp of Lao language.
Day four was the first clinic at Sop Jek! Sop Jek is a small village in the Seuang Valley with 73 families. We cut our teeth in remote community health care that day. Many of us were tired by the end of the day but grateful for the experience. We saw people with all manner ailments, and despite the communication issues were able to help many and in the process learn so much ourselves. By then end of the first clinic we are ready for more.
Day five and we set up for the big clinic of this week, run out of the local school; we have the benefit of four rooms to use. I have been delegated team leader and happy to say had a mixed emotional response, but ultimately reconciled with them all and channeled them into determination. Fortunately for me the teamed leaders value is the sum of its parts and I had a fantastic team to back me up. At every turn and with each problem the group innovated and created an efficiency I didn't think possible, kudos to all. By the end of the day we had seen 131 people through our clinic and everyone felt a strong sense of achievement; we were doing it, and we did it well.
Day six and we revisit Sop Jak, this time to provide sexual health education to the high school students. We rotated through several classes and answered anonymous questions from the class, we were surprised by many as it is information we take for granted.