Tuesday, June 18, 2013

A Cultural Exchange

I am determined to mount a post in this first week of our Sri Lankan visit simply to prove that I have not succumbed entirely to the mental dislocations that left me seriously discombobulated for the first forty-eight hours of my stay in Colombo.  I now realize that whatever I may have thought in the past, this was my first experience of seriously long-distance air travel.  Never again will I use the phrase “jet lag” in glib or casual fashion.

            Nonetheless I have managed to accomplish a few of the essential things, beginning of course with an elephant ride.  I did it.  Photographic evidence does exist, though for technical reasons it cannot be produced at this time.  But I can promise you that a man with a brutalized coccyx needs no external documentary evidence.  We also toured the national museum in Colombo, where we saw many beautiful examples of early Buddhist sculpture.  Sunday was Father’s Day, and it was a particular pleasure for this old father to be able to celebrate it in the company of his youngest child, a rather new father, particularly as the celebration included a superb lunch in one of the capital’s premier hotels.  Should my son Richard read this post, let him eat his heart out at the news that at least five members of his immediate family have viewed the Sri Lankan gray hornbill—up close!           

            The next day we set off, the five of us distributed among three generations and three benches of a chauffeured van, on a tour of a few of the more notable sites of the land, one goal of which will be the reliquary shrine of the Tooth of the Buddha in Kandy, the old capital in the center of the island. We are just now at a fancy resort, the Chaaya Village at Habarana, a spacious sprawl of beautifully landscaped mini-chalets with tiled roofs and elegant, spare interior decoration.  Agile lemurs wander about the grounds.  There seems to be a new exotic bird in every tree.  At least this characterization applies to our section of the village.  We discovered on our lakeside walk some additional acres allotted to mini-mansions denominated the “Superior Suites” and the “De Luxe Suites”, leaving us to infer that we must actually be in the “Inferior Suites,” though the management has diplomatically refrained from proclaiming that on a sign post.

Chaaya Village

            I do not want to disparage the first-world luxuries of this place, which has served us as an absolutely necessary convalescent refuge.  For it is my embarrassing duty to confess that we have already had the kind of classic family medical episode characteristic of puny palefaces travelling through hot climes in southern and eastern parts of the globe.  Even as we were preparing to leave Colombo it seemed probable that some microbe was beginning his fugal sport among us.  After a hundred miles or so on Sri Lankan roads the probability had become certainty.  No one was spared, though the youngest (ten months) and the eldest members were most dramatic in their manifestation of symptoms at opposite ends of the spectrum, if you follow.

            This led to a most interesting cultural contact.  Among the other luxuries of the Chaaya Village is an on-call doctor, who showed up at our contiguous chalets within a couple of hours of our arrival.  She was a very handsome young woman wearing a beautiful professional sari.  Her accented English was a little difficult to place—could have been Oxford, could have been Cambridge.  She was accompanied by a uniformed nurse.  She conducted a kind of peripatetic clinic on the front porch of our cabin, liberally distributing diagnoses, antibiotics and electrolyte powders like a kind of medical Santa Claus. 

            Within a twenty minute period she had set us all back on the path to well-being, but that is not the main point of the story.  She inquired, as no doubt would be standard medical practice anywhere, about any drugs or medicines we might already be taking.  Our family doctor in Princeton had helped us prepare for our exotic travel with some injections and a supply of “anti-malarial” tablets called (according to the pharmacist’s label) “Atovaquone-Proguanil”.  Joan and I had never heard of the stuff, but of course we had been ingesting it dutifully.   The Sri Lankan doctor expressed a lively interest in the large, pinkish tablets.

            She then told me the following.  There is no malaria in Sri Lanka—the footnote being that people who have previously contracted the disease elsewhere can experience relapse in rare instances.  (The bad news to go with that good news was that dengue fever exists in all parts of Sri Lanka).  Hence, there was no purpose for me to be taking the pills, but (1) they are effective in treating cases of malarial relapse, and (2) they are unavailable in Sri Lanka on account of patent or licensing reasons.

            She then moved on to point three.  She just now has a patient seriously ill with malarial relapse, so seriously that life may be in danger.  Such costless opportunities to do a good deed are not to be squandered, but there has got to be something wrong about a system that makes life-saving medicines subject to chattel law.

1 comment:

  1. Laughing out loud in the cottage next door. Love this post! Looking forward to what the next week has in store.