Today we took a bus ride to Saraburi to the Tamkrabawk monastery drug detoxification center. We met with an English-speaking monk to discuss the monastery's traditional drug treatment program. We also had the honor of meeting the head monk "master" of the monastery. He answered our questions about the program and gave us a blessing. We said a Buddhist prayer and vowed to be not angry for one hour per day :) and we had the honor of accepting rings from him to remind ourselves of this promise. It was such an honor to converse with him and we were grateful to have the English speaking monk to translate his insightful words.
There are currently around 40 patients being treated at the monestery coming from all over the world. We had the chance to speak with a young gentleman from Las Vegas who was addicted to heroine and oxycodone. He tried various treatment programs and had gone to jail multiple times in the United States. The western hospital approach to treatment was unsuccessful for him and he relapsed before choosing to live a Buddhist lifestyle and detox his body at Tamkrabawk. He felt so strongly about the program and its success that he chose to become a monk and follow his traditional Thai heritage. We also met a German monk who was an addict and chose coming to the monastery over life on the streets. He said he'll return home after a 4-month service to ensure he himself is ready to return to his new sober life.
We had the opportunity to observe a demonstration of traditional medicine treatment which includes drinking an herbal concoction to make oneself vomit. Vomiting clears the stomach and detoxes the body from drug toxins. The vomiting practice was almost ceremonial. Other patients sang and chanted to support those taking the herbal concoction and vomiting. There was a real sense of community among the monastery. In addition to detoxification through vomiting, patients use herbal steam baths consisting of lemon grass and other various herbs to cleanse the body. The steam bath smelled wonderful, and we had a chance to step in. We were all very hot but agreed it felt amazing.
The people at the monastery were so wonderful and accepting. We were so grateful to have had that experience. It was interesting to compare how the US handles drugs and alcohol addiction compared to the monastery's traditional medicine and teaching. Ultimately, they practice sahtcha which means believing in yourself and making healthy conscious choices through the teachings of the Buddha.
Next on our agenda, or should I say "Jerry's great adventure", was to stop at a local Thai restaurant where we had good cheap Thai food (25 baht a plate, less than 1 usd) and jerry's special snacks. The fried banana was my favorite. Along the way to the restaurant we got street candy and saw monkeys! They were playing on the streets climbing telephone poles and running around cars. We made sure to watch our purses and sunglasses because they snatch them!
After lunch we visited Wat Phrabaht Namphu AIDS hospice and treatment center. This center houses over 100 adults affected by HIV and AIDS who are unable to care for themselves or have been banned from their families and society. Most patients at the center contracted the illness from sexual contact. Patients who are somewhat able to care for themselves and patients with families live in small houses on the grounds. Those who are too ill and require extensive medicinal treatment live in a ward. The ward is staffed by two nurses and 1 nursing assistant. The ward is a large room with hospital beds. Patients have their own belongings on beds with them. Temple sermons are available every Sunday and a monk is available to pray with the patients every evening. After a patient's death, the center also receives permission from families to preserve the bodies for educational purposes. Bodies which have been cremated instead are sent back to the families. Most ashes are returned to the center for placement in the temple. Families send the ashes back for fear of contamination and contracting the illness themselves.
Today was eye opening, to say the least. The first center left us all optimistic and serene after the visit with the monks and the patients who are working towards their sobriety. The second place left us all heavy-hearted and wanting to do more. Thailand is making great strides in their HIV AIDS education through health promotion activities; however, there is still a lack of understanding about disease transmission. Today we got to experience the power that religion has on the Thai people facing addiction and medical issues. It is truly impossible to understand the health care of the Thai people without first understanding the Buddhist influence on the country.
We are headed to Chang Rai in the morning. So long, Bangkok--what a wonderful way to start the trip!
Until next time,
Kelli, Paty, Shelby, Michelle, Megan, Chelsea, Ashley, Ashley, Nazgul, Sarah, Leilani, Caitlyn