One thing is for sure, our life is never boring. A few months ago a family moved into the house behind us. The house has been traditionally vacant except for rice planting and harvesting season. It is a typical Laos house with one room, a porch, and a kitchen that is very open to the outside. Mister Sen called us over to meet them introducing us, “My friend, my friend!” and then the khao-lao was passed around. It was a nice couple in their mid 40’s with a son about seven years old. They were nice folks, poor, but they did have a big screen TV and motorbike, so they make do.
We had seen the boy, Saysana, around a few times as he was somehow not like the other kids that dropped by our house to occasionally get a balloon. He always had a big smile and said, “Thank you,” In English. Saysana was soon hanging around our house hunting lizards and generally being a curious boy. We would give him paper and crayons to occupy him while we worked on our various projects. He fixed my slingshot and also showed me how to snare a lizard with a little loop on the end of a stick. We were buddies. We think he was not going to school because he was always around. He got really angry and pitched a fit followed by a moaning brooding when we only gave him one balloon one day. We tried to have him color instead, but that only resulted in violent, dark scribbles. We didn’t accept this attitude and sent him home. He slowly came back in the next days all smiles. Borders had been established. He was a good kid.
Don’t step on that!
One day about 2 weeks ago, Donna was doing dishes and looking out our kitchen window which faces their house. She noticed the lady staying in the hammock more than normal. After a few days more Peng, the mother, moved up to the veranda and camped in. Then Donna saw an old Lao man up there every day and the husband was staying home from work to take care of her. So, Donna sent me over to check out what was going on. Peng had stepped on a big thorn in the garden eight days before and her foot was a terribly swollen, infected mess. The old man Donna had seen was a “mor doo”, a local healer, doctoring her foot with mud laced with herbs. I asked if they had gone to the clinic to which they responded, “We don’t have money”. I reported to Donna and we agreed to take her to the clinic. I told Peng we would pay for her visit to the clinic.
After a little internet researching, we decided to put her on 1500 mg of Amoxicillin which is cheap and easily available here. The next morning I went over to their house to go but the boatman we called wanted to go after twelve, noon. That wouldn’t work so I told them we needed to go early because the clinic could be closed in the afternoon. The trip was put off yet again until the next morning. I was going up to their porch to clean and dress the wound with a Neosporin dressing daily. After a couple of days of the Amoxicillin, it did seem to be getting a little better. Peng said, “Your medicine is working so no need to go to the clinic.” The swelling had gone down considerably, but not as much as we had hoped. It was still bad with pus continuing to accumulate. Donna and I thought maybe the “mor doo’s” mud was interfering with the Neosporin dressing. Who knows what bacteria is in there? The “mor doo” stopped coming to treat her. We figured it was time to go to the clinic on the mainland and they agreed.
Packing for the Clinic?
The next morning I went over to their house to roust them into action as the market boat was soon to arrive. “Okay! Let’s go!” I said as Peng just sat there on the floor. Then the husband and a young girl that had been helping the family with doing laundry and cooking while the mother was out of commission started picking up stuff and shoving it in plastic bags. The husband started clearing off their Buddha shrine and also stuffing things into plastic bags. I’m thinking, ‘what is going on here? We’re only going to Nakasang to the clinic! We don’t need all this stuff!”
The Boat Arrives
I finally get Peng to motivate moving toward the stairs where she scooches herself down one step at a time. Saysana has his backpack on and is holding his new soccer ball. I walk down the other steps to make my way around to help the lady when the husband comes down the stairs and she climbs onto his back. We walk across the rice field next to our house and he climbs through the gateway as the boat is coming to pick us up. We help Peng into the market boat where she scoots along to the first seat. The girl and Saysana get in the boat and take a seat and the husband waves goodbye. This is confusing but we are on our way to the clinic.
Meanwhile Back at the House
The husband stayed home and Donna noticed a lot of activity over at the house. A friend had arrived with a big boat and they started to load in the washing machine and refrigerator. And a lot of other stuff. Donna calls me. “What is going on?” I don’t know! I tell Donna about them stuffing things into plastic bags. We are both confused. After they had left, with a full boatload, the old lady that owns the house showed up and started cleaning up. We had wondered if she was going to kick the family out since it is almost rice planting time and the owners use it as a field house during that time. Apparently, today was the day!
At the Clinic
Meanwhile, back on the mainland, I called Donna again with the news that not only did Peng have a really bad infection… well, but it also wasn’t just an infection. After seeing the infected foot, and even before taking temp or blood pressure, the clinic did a blood test. After the results, the nurse said, “Wow! You are off the charts with sugar in the blood! You need to go to Muang Khong to the hospital!” Peng has diabetes and that is why the foot didn’t heal. I’m prepared to go with them and even help pay for the next leg of this journey when the Peng tells me that they can handle it from here. So, Peng, the girl helper, and Saysana flagged down a “Saam-Laaw”, a motorbike with a side carriage, and off they went. Saysana was smiling and waving goodbye as they drove up the street.
As I walked back to the port I saw the boat driver that Donna had seen with all their possessions buying gas for the trip upriver. I went down to the shore where I saw the boat and the husband. “You’re moving out?!”
“We will live in Ban Kinak now.”
They had pre-arranged to meet up with the husband in Ban Kinak. I told him he needed to go to the hospital on Muang Khong with his wife, that she had diabetes. He smiled and nodded.
We had no idea that they were moving out! We were also surprised that they did not want me to go with them. We were paying for the clinic. Maybe the hospital is free. Unfortunately, most people on the island with diabetes die from it. They cannot afford the medicine. We would like to know how this story ends, but we’ll probably never see them again.