May I get off to take pictures?
It seemed an ordinary request made by one of our cinematographers. We already knew what we came here for. So, I didn’t take much time to tag along with him by leaving our field equipment with ‘Uncle Dech’ the veteran four wheels driver who already ventured across every inch in Om Koi district, far north of Chiang Mai.
The driver evaluated the situation that surrounded us and killed the engine. He was pushing a low gear calmly while keeping the car drifted along sharped corners. It was such a complicated maneuver, almost too comically, if we compare the same situation while driving on a straight road in the common city. This was far from that comfy.
Of course, we were on the muddy road leading to the tremendous mountain that every step may be your last bet. I was trembling with fear to look forward. The more I looked at our wheels struggled in sticky mud the more uncomfortable feeling I got.
Heading to the high mountain that surrounds by a sea of mud was shook my sense of existence.
“The real journey just begins!” I re-energized my confident.
But why we had to be here in the first place? Why had to be in this designated season? And why we had to walk on feet either? These were my question that strangled my mind while I was on my first trip for shooting a documentary. Our team decided to capture the moment of the mobile medical unit from Princess Mother’s Medical Volunteer (PMMV).
They are a group of people consist of volunteer doctors, nurses and medical workers even individuals who dress in gray shirt with green bag pack that villagers called them ‘The mountain wanderers’
While I was rushing forward the caravan doctor to capture their facial expressions, I astounded by an unforgettable sight of greenish mountains, streams, untainted air and especially those little bloodsucking leeches. The little creature plays a crucial part as the indicator of biodiversity evaluation on this highland forest.
Om Koi district is one of the top poorest areas in Thailand. Every Karen’s villages scatter around on unreachable hills or hindered itself in the shrouded mystery.
It was such a heart throbbing feeling to know that even Karen people’s life is simplest as a folk song sung by Jaran Manopet (The Well-known folk song singer) but their life is coated with problems of inaccessibility of public utilities and basic facilities such as electricity, water supply, education and income generation. Especially, being treated effectively by the proper medical procedure is rarely to be seen.
The last batch of medicine was out of the pack, then, the soft cold rain began to chase down hill after hill further away. Soon it turned into a stronger rain shower but that didn’t stop the torrent of Karen people, lining up across the muddy road.
Some of them drove here by shaky motorcycles from another village. Some of them carried babies by attaching them to their back by cloth straps. Some of them walked on bared feet that we didn’t know how far they had made.
They no needed any heartfelt welcome ceremony or proper introduction. If only people filled in the wooden building (acted as a medical outpost) was enough to be an obvious sign of the beginning of medical surveillance.
Raining season is the most crucial time that people request medical attention from health specialists. If they miss the chance, they have to wait for another trip next year that won’t guarantee the chance of survival. Furthermore, this even increase more health risk because they have to spend days to reach the place. Even they could catch a bus from the village to the nearest hospital but it could cost them tremendous energy and money. Some of them choose to face the torment of illness instead exchanging resources with health services.
My both feet sunk in the muddy road that sucked my energy out. In the silver lining way, as I thought, we still had friends who share the same faith and a local guy who guided us through the labyrinth-like forest.
While tiredness was consumed my mind, the guide talked to me.
“This is pretty easy. The villagers here have to walk like this every day, 10 rounds a day at least.”
He smiled and chuckled a bit. His steady footsteps were firm and strong that I kept following him for a while. The guide isn’t deferent from any other villagers in Om Koi who was born and grown up here to continue the legacy of forest through many generations
We can’t change them of what he meant to be as long as mine. Everyone has their own space that we always happy to leap in. The place we called home
The mountain wanderers perform health service without any financial support. They don’t have necessity resource to turned wooden huts into a permanent hospital outpost. They don’t have direct authority to cut a new route through the mountain. All they can afford is walking by their own feet.
They walk to break the restriction. They walk to perceive the truth of what people facing.
You may hear the words “Circle of men meant to be fooled, poor and ignorance”
If we have to break the circle once and for all, we have to tackle each one carefully. These problems entangle with reason from lacking proper health service, sustainable income, and accessible knowledge.
One of the wanderer doctors talked to me about this trip. He was a role model for every volunteer health specialists. He said in the last day “Our goal can be achieved if we can go directly into the problem by any access but while we venture further don’t forget to look back behind you.”
“It isn’t how fast you go, it’s about how to make everyone reach the destination all together”
A journey from Achirawit Hengtaweesub scriptwriter of The Working Monarch