Selaphum, 13th April, 2010. Happy Songkran.



Joy’s father, (“Loong” or Uncle to most of us), was about 10 years younger than me, but looked about 15 years older.

He was a worn out, wrinkled specimen of a man who had spent his entire life in back breaking labour in the sweltering paddy fields and dusty building sites scattered around  North Eastern Thailand, and was incapable of work.

The villagers took pity on him. Any time there was a ‘piss up’, they would make sure he  got ‘tanked up’ very early on and then he would quickly pass out – usually on the ground, where he was left till he woke, hours later.

He would always greet my arrival in the village with great enthusiasm and immediately pester me to buy him some beer or, his favourite tipple – Mekhong whisky. I used to be apprehensive about encouraging an obvious alcoholic who was clearly in bad medical shape, but Dang always assured me that it was Ok to give him the money.

I once asked Dang why his family and friends didn’t take him in hand and try to stop him drinking. Her response was that he had lived such a hard life; let him enjoy the few simple pleasures available to him before he passed on.

Joy’s mother (‘Na’ – Dang’s aunt) was a friendly, well rounded lady in her mid fifties. She lived just across the way from Dang’s family house and would always give me a wonderful welcome whenever I visited Dang’s village.

Na was very close to her sister, Dang’s mother, and was always in and out of the house, helping to cook and take care of the countless screaming urchins who scurried hither and thither, upsetting any stationary object in their path and generally getting under our feet.

She was a pillar of the community – until she got a brain tumour. The hospital could do nothing and sent her back to the village with a bag of pills.

Within weeks, she was a skeletal, barely conscious, and spent her time prostrated on a mat – unable to move or feed herself.

After a year of being in a semi coma, she started to make a partial recovery, but everyone knew she would never be the same person she was before the tumour – assuming she survived at all.

Joy was in her early thirties. She had been alone and penniless since her husband left her some years ago.

She spent her days in the family hut, living a frugal existence, reliant on hand outs from her already impoverished parents and other kindly souls in the village. Day after day she would mope around, staring into space and generally doing nothing.

When I visited the village, she would always come over to Dang’s family house, join in inevitable festivities that took place whenever Mobi made an appearance and help with the kids.

She rarely smiled – except on the odd occasions when we took her with us when we went on a day out with the kids.

I’ll never forget one day we all went to the waterfalls near Khao Chackan.  She enjoyed herself so much – swimming and splashing in the water, fully clothed and laughing with the kids. I have some lovely pictures of Joy and the kids from that day.

One day I went with Dang to my wife’s village, and Joy was sitting on the porch looking even more sad than usual. It soon became clear that she was not well.

My wife took her to the local doctor where she was given an ‘injection.’ I enquired what was wrong, but just received a shrug of the shoulders in reply. She really looked very ill, but was struggling to make the best of it and to join in the conversations with the rest of the family.

A week later, when we were back in Pattaya,  Dang told me that Joy had collapsed and Dang’s brother had taken her to the hospital in Sa Kaeo.

The doctors had examined her and told her she was in an advance stage of AIDs. They said there was no hope for her.

I was completely shocked. As far as I was aware, this woman had hardly ever been out of the village since she left school; she was no ‘looker’ and I couldn’t imagine how she could possibly have contracted AIDS.

My wife assured me that Joy had never ‘played around’ after her husband left her, and knowing the situation at first hand, I believed that was true.

Joy was a plain, simple woman, and she never went anywhere.

Her husband had obviously infected her.

It was far too late to do anything to help her, but Dang and I went back to Sa Kaeo, to do what we could.

We went to see Joy at the hospital. She was in a bad state, but she smiled when she saw us and held Dang’s hand for long time.

The next day we returned home to Pattaya.

Two day later, Dang told me that Joy was unconscious in ICU.

The next day Joy died.

If we had known about Joy’s condition earlier she would still be alive. I would have made sure she received the drugs she needed. But often the doctors won’t tell you when the girls are HIV. There is such a stigma.

My friend’s wife died of AIDS a few years ago. Right up to almost the end, the doctors never told her or her husband (a farang) that she had AIDS. Everyone thought it was TB. When her family in the North East found out she had died of AIDS they refused to attend the funeral and shunned her husband.

Thank God that didn’t happen in Joy’s case. Her family and friends were all around her to make sure she had a proper cremation and that her passing was properly remembered.

Once they had buried their daughter, both parents went downhill very quickly.

A few days later, Loong passed out in a drunken stupor, one extremely hot, Songkran afternoon and never woke up.

Na passed on a few days later, finally succumbing to the long endured brain tumour and no doubt devastated by the loss of her husband and daughter.

Shit happens, but it didn’t have to be that way.

RIP Lung, Na and Joy.

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