Monday, September 5, 2011

Travels to Tabod – Part I – The Journey

We arrived in Imulnod Proper, another of the areas we needed to scout out for our Malaria project. At about 10am and talked with the Rural Health Midwife, Fatimah, for a while. The three-room Rural Health Station was clean and well-organized. We talked a while about the medical needs in the area and the resources that were available. I thanked her and, after some discussion, she offered to guide me to the nearest sitio (village), Tabod, to talk to the people there. I was hoping to interview someone in their home to directly ask about the problems. I had talked to a number of people who were down from the highlands, but I had not seen anything that was not connected to a road. Tabod was across a river, and I was excited at the opportunity to ford a river and to leave the World of Rubber Wheels.

I’d like to consider myself a hiker, but if I’m honest with myself, I don’t think I deserve the title. I used to hike quite a bit, but that was a long time ago. Nevertheless, I was in fairly good shape, so I thought I could endure a good hike.

We arrived at the river, and for the first day of the trip, I wasn’t wearing my Chocos (I had a meeting at the hospital that morning which required shoes). I had hoped the river crossing would be near the end of the hike. But in obedience to Murphy’s Law, it wasn’t but a quarter mile from our start. I surveyed the river, and it was about ankle deep for 25 meters; no way across without wet feet.

The sun was hot, and I had forgotten to shield my poor gringo skin with sunscreen. So I did like the locals and used an umbrella. I had changed into shorts, and I was able to stay somewhat cool for the first part. A soaked bandana on the neck helped immensely.

And then, about five minutes after crossing the river, maybe half a mile from the clinic, I was told we had arrived. There was a beautiful grass house outside between a corn field and a field of mature and profitable coconuts. Why so close?

I was introduced to the family and we began talking on camera. After a few questions, I got the sense that this family was not my target. I asked about bad cases of malaria, and through a mistranslation, the mother thought I was asking about the worse malaria species. Which she knew. “Plasmodium falciparum.” The kids were well-nourished, clothed, and visited the clinic as often as they were sick.

Being in development work is strange. A normal, well-adjusted person would be happy with such a report. But it has been a long time since I was a normal, well-adjusted person. In fact, I’m not sure I was ever a normal, well-adjusted person. A part of me (the human part) was happy. But, with it, I felt disappointment. I could not help this family. This family didn’t need my help. This family didn’t need help. And praise God!

But my job, for better and worse, was not to look for joyous stories. My job was not to be optimistic. I needed to see if there were ways that we could help. And that meant not focusing the lens where there was a nice picture, but, if it could be found, on where the image was upsetting.

It sounds almost perverse. But I suppose all excitement about work against the effects of the Fall are sick. It’s the same perversion that we all have in medicine, hoping for an ‘interesting’ case and disappointed when a cough is ‘only’ a cold, or a fever is ‘only’ the flu. Our work would be more challenging if the cough were TB or the fever leukemia. I’d guess good mechanics, accountants and artists experience the same thing. They want to engage all of their skills at solving a problem, not just mindlessly changing spark plugs, collating simple sums, and painting what’s already been painted.

So I ended the interview after a few questions. I thanked them profusely, and they seemed happy to entertain me. And I moved on, explaining to my guides that I wanted to talk to someone who was poor. The Palawano guiding us knew just the family. We hiked another quarter-mile and got to a collection of several houses and a spring box. After stopping to rest, my guides asked the people there for directions. They explained, and the midwife looked concerned.

Travels to Tabod – Part II – The Hill 

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