Trip Report of 3/7/00

Dear All,

I've finally settled in in Mae Sot, a mid-sized town on the border of Thailand and Burma. I can't say too much for the place: it's hot, dry, and flat. In a month, it will change to hot, wet, and flat.

However, on the upside, a few of us are looking to rent a house; our latest bet is for a 5 br/2 ba teak house for a whopping $81/month. And I've got the living expenses down to about $6/day, which includes all the great Thai food I can eat (a lot).

Been learning a little Thai, but it's damn tough. The intonation of the words is just as important as the words themselves. My favorite example is given in the phrase book: with each word pronounced differently, "mai mai mai mai mai" means "new wood doesn't burn, does it?" Add one syllable to the word for gold, and you get the word for constipation. Who thinks this stuff up?

The clinic where I've started working is amazing, and the've really got their hands full. The clinic itself is home to about 300 displaced Burmese, and then offers medical care to others who make it across the border. Since the Thai government keeps deporting the Burmese, most of the ones in the camp are effectively trapped, lest they be sent back as well. (Starting to sound a little like CA/Mexico ya?)

The clinic trains "backpack medics" who take packs full of medicine across the border to the villages that can't get any medical help. Apparently it's quite dangerous. They are shot on sight by the Burmese military, and just last month two were injured by landmines.

This place is a strange mix of high and low tech. I've got internet access, which, although the connections speeds can be damn slow, costs 68 cents an hour. The clinic has several computers, and even a fax machine. However, they are lacking in some key equipment. One of the medics was asking for a bone saw for Christmas- he was mumbling something about getting tired of doing amputations with a hacksaw and a chisel. If anyone knows a doctor who wants to donate a bone saw, it would be most appreciated- have them email me.

I'm still on the initial learning curve about all that's going on, but from what I've heard so far, Burma is ruled by a military dictatorship. Lately they've had a nasty habit of burning the local villages, killing the people, and land mining the area. The villagers that make it out alive either hide in the jungle in small make-shift houses (no medical care, school, electricity, etc) or try to get across the border. (Not so much like CA/Mexico anymore.)

Anyway, I'm working on a few different tasks. The first is teaching Excel/computer skills to those who need to write grant proposals or field reports. Also working on condensing their working knowledge of herbal healing solutions for situations when western medicines are not available. This will then be used as a mini course for the backpack medic training. At night I'm teaching juggling, which has turned out to be quite a hit, as they can't go anywhere for fear of deportation...I think boredom sets in after year 4 or so... Lastly, looks like I'll be teaching English some starting next week.

I'll stay here for the next few months before moving on to Laos. Feel free to email; it may just take me a little bit to write back.

Ken

PS- very basic info on the clinic can be found at www.burmacare.org; feel free to support it!

Page Revised 3/25/00