Monday, November 21, 2011

A Day in the Red Cross-Delivering to Flood Victims

When first getting off the sky train in the morning, it smells like a sweet pastry from child hood.  I can not quite identify it at first and then I realize it smells like cinnamon raisin toast with brown sugar and butter-yum! It makes me feel at home and takes me back to a special time with my mom.  I love when scents take you back in time-don’t you?
I run for about 10 minutes to get to the Red Cross. I meet some friends who invite me to join their team.  They are all dentistry students at one of Bangkok’s best universities-Chulalong University.  I meet Ton, who is the leader of the group, 35 and not a student, but a financial advisor.  We chat about our desire to help and be in the center of the action.  He studied at University of La Verne in Calfornia and was familiar with my temporary place of residence-Westminster aka Little Saigon.  In Little Saigon, “Red means go and green means stop and everything is pha pha pha.” Him and his friend laugh at me and said they like my humor.   I told him I lived in Huntington Beach as well and he smiled big wearing his Hollister shirt from California.  We smile at one another and start loading bags onto the truck.  I get in the front of the line wanting to be the one to lift the bags off the truck.  Again, Thai people keep asking if I’m okay. And I respond, “ I am okay, I am tough like machine” and they all smile and laugh.  I worked so hard in New York running, biking, hiking, kickboxing-time to put this body to work! Always up for a challenge and love to work.

As we continue to load, a group of tourists get into the action and one looks like she just got a manicure done and is lightly touching everything.  I enjoy having minimal interaction with these people and stick to my Thai friends/locals.  
The girl in charge calls Ton and tells him it is time for us to go on the truck.  As we walk toward the truck, I realize that it is a closed truck. 
I thought all the trucks were open back,” I say to Ton. And he says. “Unfortunately  not.”
I admit that this was one of my bratty American moments.  I sat there thinking about the open truck while my friend, M, says to me. “Don’t worry Priscilla-we will take care of you.” I talk to my new friend, Cartoon. Her real name means daughter of a Buddhist.  We enjoy each other’s company while eating deep fried bananas and some dough with sugar-good for me-the sugar addict! In 4 days, I have eaten so many bananas what if I turn into one?  Perhaps that is contributes to my high levels of happiness as bananas are a “happy food” in Thailand and it seems to working quite well for them.

Ton sits in the front of the truck and periodically checks on me smiling.  I sit on the Red Cross bags in back with others crowded for space, but not one person is complaining. Well maybe they were, but I did not hear it because I do not speak Thai, but their non-verbal body language did not show it.
Sitting with M (24, Thai, well mannered,sweet, and just lovely) one of my favorite people and his friend, Chi, we chat about the flood, how it began, the Thai government, and what happens in crisis.   Most people in Thailand want fresh water and canned goods.  The government is not always giving fresh water, but the Red Cross makes sure to readily supply it.  The school of dentistry actually made their own mouthwash for the flood victims supplying  thousands of mouth wash bottles .  Toilets are severely flooded as well, therefore volunteers are creating toilets out of chairs and plastic bags.  Donations come from businesses and consumers and the Red Cross distributes to providences throughout Thailand-mainly the areas Northeast of Thailand. 
The main problem is that the center is so far from the victims that only a certain amount of trucks can go out per day-about 10-15 trucks leave the Red Cross per day.  TheThai Red Cross began it’s efforts in beginning of October and the floods are planned to continue until the end of November.  The floods began from rain from Chiang Mai.  The rain happens every year, but this year more water was produced and the dam could not contain the water.  Instead of deciding to release the water and let it run its course, the Thai government decided to create a triangle releasing the bigger parts into the smaller areas.  Bangkok happens to be better off than most providences north east of Bangkok.  The government’s goal is to protect economic/central areas east and west of Bangkok. 

M says, In times of crisis, the Thai people come together, which was definitely present in the Red Cross and throughout the city.  And on the other hand, some people take advantage by stealing from victims’ homes.  Many Thai people do not want to leave their homes because they want to protect their belongings.  When Hurricane Katrina hit in the USA, the theft was also a significant problem. Across cultures, people can come together, but people can also take advantage of an unfortunate circumstances.

As we cross the border to Nakorn Pathom, we stop and get some lunch(white fish with broccoli, rice, and noodles). As usual, it was delicious and I enjoyed every bite.   As we continue on our long drive(4 hours north east),  I enjoy sitting on the side of the truck with the truck cracked open.  We drive through the floods and I smile and wave at the flood victims who are in boats, in cars, in the streets, and some in their home.  Even with crisis, people are still smiling and give thanks to the volunteers.
We picked up a family and the woman kept smiling and placing her hands in Wai (this is to give thanks in Thailand) and saying Khob Khun(Thank you). We dropped this lovely lady off in a safer area away from the flooding.   I continue to sit in the side of the truck viewing homes, temples, cars, markets, stores, and restaurants under water.  
Coldplay- Politik
Open up your eyes, Open up your eyes, Just open up your eyes.....What do you see?
I see real people with open hearts coming together in a time of need.  When we arrive at our next destination, these real people are standing beneath our truck with their eyes wide open and thankfully waiting our delivery. There are families with many little children and elders with their hands in wai giving thanks to our delivery of rice and bags of goods. They come meet us at an in between island ground and head back on their motor boats to go back into their flooded area.

Then we headed to another spot, which needed to be reached by boat.  My little friend and I are laughing and holding on tight as we cruise through the waters.  There is a guy with a gun to ward off the crocodiles, which we ended up not seeing any.  This site was severely under water with limited sleeping arrangement and what seemed like more kids.  It felt like an island in the middle of fields with sunken parts surrounding it.  I met this adorable man who was speaking Thai.  People’s face light up like it is Christmas as they receive the goods, but also as they look into my eyes.  I make eye contact with people walking around and saying “hello.”   A guy was smiling and taking pictures of me, which tends to happen a lot on my trip and it is precious.  I run around lifting many bags at a time trying to follow the instructions of the lead Red Cross attendant.  Shortly after delivery, my little Crocodile Friend says, “Priscilla, it is time to go.” Time to go, but I felt not ready to leave.  I felt bad leaving them there with their smiling faces glowing at me.  The one man said he was sleeping in the temple, but it flooded and now he has to sleep in a chair.  I felt like I wanted to do more for them.  You go in and deliver goods, but it is just a temporary fix.  They are still stuck in the floods. What happens when it gets dark? Are they safe at night in those waters? How can they see? I have to hold onto what I witness, which is the unity among Thai people, especially in crisis.  They will take care of one another. 

We end up riding for hours more and then stop at a residential home to pick up dinner.  A Red Cross staff member’s mother made dinner for us- so cute.  We left the truck to go inside to say, “Kop di Ka” Thank you. I go into the bedroom to find a old Thai man on bed rest, still smiling, and I say “Kop di ka.” My Thai friend s look at me smiling and appreciating me giving thanks.  Dinner ended up being fish balls, which are something I do not like one bit, but I sat and ate a couple of them smiling at my friends-have to be respectful and not be an American brat. 
We rest on the truck and finally get back to the Red Cross sight at 10:30pm. The group of my Thai friends students all waive “Bye” to me and I feel sad parting from them-some I see again and some I do not. 

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for sharing this experience. I enjoy reading your posts.