The most interesting thing, and the only thing anyone was talking about, this week was the weather.
Until this week, we had been having an unusually warm winter. Temperatures tended to be around 30 - 32 degrees Celsius. Last Saturday, it was about 28 Celsius, but on Sunday the temperature fell to a high of 18. At 18, everyone was talking about the cold. We stopped at the care center after taking our garbage to the street at 6pm, and every patient was huddled around the television in a winter hat and wrapped in a bed comforter.
The temperature dropped to 10, but just like the first snow of any winter we had fun. Everyone was in a good mood. I would just look at people and smile and they would invariably say now mai which is Thai for ‘cold no?’ We did our exercises at 2pm with more laughter and great enthusiasm. Afterwords there was a huge pot of tea, I don’t think anyone had less than 3 glasses!
Although everyone was in a pleasant mood, as a nurse I could see physiologic signs of the cold effecting people. Red noses and cheeks are the most obvious signs, but some people complained of numb fingers. Looking at their fingers, I could see that gray/whiteness that comes from diminished blood flow. There were also people who were noticeably shivering throughout the day. On Monday night, the temperature dropped to 6 Celsius, and it began raining. It rained hard enough to wake me up twice during the night.
However, we had the great fortune of being invited to the Convent for a visit from the Irish Ambassador to Thailand. A wonderful evening of meeting many new people, hearing excellent musicians perform Irish folk music, and hearing more stories of Sister Mary. The real highlight though, was when she sang 'Delaney's Chicken' for us. A song that had never been heard by a Professor of Irish Studies who happened to be in the house, and it was a true joy as she sang the many verses.
Sounds from the party
It was clear that the temperature was already taking its toll, and it continued to rain on and off throughout the day. The staff at the care center took steps to ensure everyone was as comfortable as possible. Krisida brought in those white cotton work gloves for anyone who didn’t have them. He and P. Bon also arrived with three stoves and charcoal that we placed in the middle of the care center.
Everyone huddled around these small, charcoal stoves for the entire day. To give the day additional Thai flare, one of the gardeners (who had little to do because of heavy rains) grilled 6 whole catfish. We had tea again in the afternoon and exercised, but instead of laughter and humor - it tended to be more commiserating. Afternoon bathing was skipped because it just seemed like cruelty.
You may be surprised to hear, but in Thailand the cold can be quite dangerous. The first point to note is that no one has a heated house. As a result, when the cold becomes too much to bare, people bring their coal fueled cooking stoves inside. Obviously, this presents 3 possible points of danger - fire, smoke inhalation, and carbon monoxide poisoning.
Sunday night - One of the men showed me a picture on his phone of the raging red coals in the stove inside his house where he lives with his wife and 11-year-old daughter. I voiced my concern to a staff member who speaks some English, and I was laughed at! He basically told me that this is what we do. He was still laughing about my concern the next day, enough to bring it up to the nurse Krisida. At that point, we were able to have a longer conversation about it, and he came to understand my concern. We talked about the carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning, and Krisida even brought up that this is even a method of suicide sometimes in America.
Overall, concern about CO poisoning is pretty low because as Krisida said, “in Thailand, even when our houses are closed they really are not sealed.”
- Many people’s houses are elevated - the wooden floors are close together, but there is still room for air or CO to escape.
- Walls are often porous, whether wood or weaved material, allowing some breeze to come through.
- Even windows here do not shut completely.
However, I will continue to have concern because 1) I am a worrier and 2) The better construction of the houses here at the Garden of Friendship (brick walls - mortared over and painted), good windows, and solid doors make CO poisoning a real concern, in my opinion.
For now, I can stop my worrying though. Today was back to a balmy 25 degrees Celsius - we are all still in hooded sweatshirts, hats, and gloves, but we cannot see our breath anymore.
Well, maybe there are still a few things for me to worry about.