Even the drive to the village requires effort. The road is inches away from being flooded; flooding caused by deforestation and hasty development, not mother nature. Navigating through the patches of partially paved and dirt sections, new potholes show themselves almost daily.
I decided to pick up Bpaet and his aunt to take them to Buriram Hospital. While health care is free in Thailand, a lot of villagers can't afford the cost of gas to get to a proper hospital. Bpaet has a rash on his head that just won't heal. The local hospital, if you can call it that, conceded and gave him the papers to go to Buriram. So here I am, thanks to our donors, to pick him up and get him a proper diagnosis and medicine.
When I arrived at Bpaet's ramshackle house, everyone was there waiting. Everyone except Bpaet, that is, who had taken off on his bicycle somewhere. A small boy approached Dee, Bpaet's aging auntie. At only forty years old years of manual labour and the stresses of providing for kids that aren't hers puts her weathered face at about fifty.
The boy quietly asks for some money, as if embarrassed. I shoot back at him.
"Who is your dad?"
"Well go ask him for money!”
Dee interjects, "His dad is dead."
"What about your mom?" I ask.
"We don't know where she is," Dee responds and we all get into the car.
Sak. I remember now. Sak is Bpaet's uncle who drank himself to death just last year. He was diagnosed with Hep C. The doctors said that as long as he took his medicine everyday and stopped drinking he would be fine but he couldn't. When I pictured Sak, I thought of an old man alone, not someone younger than Dee. Not someone that has an eleven year old boy and a fifteen year old daughter.
The kids ended up with Dee. Now with Bpaet included, she is raising and responsible for three school aged children. Her own two kids are grown and married; she gave her land to them and now has nothing. She picks up work in the fields for a measly $6 USD a day, working in the oppressive heat. Rice farming here is seasonal. The farmers, with no irrigation system in place, rely solely on rainfall. Odd jobs keep her going but only just.
I've been living paycheque by paycheque for my entire adult life and while there is stress it is different as I have always had a job and access to stable employment. This is a whole other level of financial insecurity. Unfortunately a lot of the family's burden has fallen on Bpaet, whose money earned through fighting has made a significant and positive impact on the family’s financial situation.
Dee however, still smiles, still laughs, and still hopes.