I just returned from a bone rattling trip to a remote district. Although the distance is only 80 kms. (about 50 miles), it takes 4 to 5 hours to reach the town. And that's on a good day. If there's an accident or the road is otherwise blocked, the trip can be delayed even further.
Since last Sunday, my week has been like this:
Monday - worked at the office during the day. Although I kept planning to buy cat food and also goodies to bring south with me, this plan was derailed. The water pump in my car blew up and my mechanic friend spent the day taking care of it. He showed me the parts that had to be replace - reminded me of unexploded ordnance! I did get a chance to get the cat food, then drove the car home so I could get my things, take a shower and returned to the office. One of the drivers sent me to the bus station and I caught my 8 pm bus to Pakse.
While I was waiting, I bought a few roti - Lao roti are not like the Indian ones - there is an outer crust of dough which is grilled on a hot pan, an egg is cracked on it and smoothed around the circle of dough. The vendor lifts the edges to make a square and lets it cook. Finally he pours condensed sweet milk on the roti, rolls it up and wraps it in paper which immediately becomes translucent because of the fat. Unfortunately, I didn't have my camera with me to record the process - and I enjoyed the expressions on a two little girls who were fascinated by the process.
Tuesday - after an uneventful bus ride, where I couldn't sleep that much because of the snoring of another passenger across the aisle, I arrived in Pakse. Went to our usual spot for Lao coffee and fried eggs with French bread.
We continued on to another district where the regional trainers were holding a first-aid training for sub-district health staff and village health volunteers. Everyone was very enthusiastic about the training and I overheard one older man tell his neighbor that he was sleepy because he had stayed up the night before reading the textbook that we had printed in Lao language. That endorsement really tickled me!
Wednesday - while we tried to leave early in the morning, I got a whole slew of phone calls. I got a little worried about the time - the trips to the district the month before had taken 7 hours and I hate to be on the road after dark. We finally left at noon - but then I realized that if we didn't eat before leaving town, we'd have to wait at least 3 hours for something approximating a restaurant. So we left at 12:30.
On the way, we visited a sub-district health centers. These centers are staff by mid-level nurses (what we would call Licensed Vocational Nurses in the US) who usually people who live in the area and can speak at least one of the myriad of ethnic minority languages and understand the culture of the people using the services. I just wanted to see what equipment they have now and get information on the patients that they commonly see in a day. I did see one patient, an old man with a skin problem like eczema; however, the lesion was not typical. I'll have to do some research today.
We arrived on Wednesday afternoon and I checked into the guesthouse that I like to stay in. Everyone else went to a guest house in the town, which is crowded and noisy. The place where I like to stay is also frequented by other NGO staff, and sits above the river. It's very quiet and from my little balcony, I could watch the sunset, sunrise and read in peace.
Thursday - I sat in on the nursing management and technical training that's been going on for the past two weeks. We trained one group of nurses from this district hospital at the province hospital for six months. I was very impressed by their skill and their leadership during the training. I also followed-up on some repair work and going through some recently donated materials, figuring out what instruction sheets we should prepare so the staff can use the donation.
Friday - After the closing ceremony of the training, we returned on the same bumpy road and I arrived home at 5 pm. Just in time to relax, put my feet up and watch the clouds over the mountain.
This is a little house in the forest. The villagers are so poor, living in the middle of nowhere. I'm always amazed that people would live in the woods like this - however, they do have their culture, language and a more independent life style. Some people head for the city, but without education and money, they run into problems.
Saturday - I spent a good part of the day cleaning and dusting my house while listening to audio-books. My landlady came by in the evening, looking worried that I hadn't left the house all day.
And today - I went on a long bicycle ride in the morning and now I'm here in the office.