A San Francisco Bay Area native, Praveena loves slam poetry and cold cliffy beaches. Her belief in the power of storytelling feeds her daily practice. She is a maker of higgledy-piggledy to-do lists, vegan cuisine, and the occasional scrapbook.
write. edit. rinse. repeat.
The last two weeks I lived in Isaan were by far the busiest. I spent countless and ungodly hours with my co-writer, Abbey, editing a two-part story we had been working on for months. Read Part I here and Part II here.
Earlier this semester, a team of two students, myself, and a journalist set out with the loose goal of learning more about the true nature of Northeast Thailand's Healthcare system. We followed a team of doctors making afternoon rounds to visit three patients in palliative care. Dieow was the second patient we met. His humble testimony and strength moved everyone in the room. Dieow's credo of acceptance of his imminent death left me incredulous and filled with emotion. We asked Dieow if we could center our article around his narrative.
The days blur and our regimen of writing, while taxing, is exhilarating. l roll out of bed, wearing my shambolic spiked morning hair and grab my MacBook. Slipping on my birks and glasses, I'm soon armed enough to meet Abbey at 7:00 am. We grab a quick breakfast- usually an amalgam of street food and 7/11 snacks from across the street. We break bread ($0.10 taro flavored roll with a forever shelf life) in the over air-conditioned small office that, by now, feels like home.
As we open our laptops to pull up the most recent google document, I sigh to exhale any apprehension I have towards the upcoming hours of fussy and scrupulous editing.
Really, I’m tapping back into a marathon of:
“What if we made this a separate paragraph?”
"I was taught to never begin a sentence with 'but'. But I guess we can make an exception."
“Do people even say exuberates anymore?”
Good writing, I’m learning, is not a sprint.
I eat all three meals with Abbey and we are both glued to our screens, steadfastly in editing mode until one of us falls asleep from exhaustion at 2:00 am on the other's bed. I’ll be the first to admit this routine was unhealthy and far from balanced. But it was absolutely exhilarating to dedicate my whole self to crafting something that felt so important. Other than eating, our breaks were also filled with dream-chatter about our futures, jamming to Hamilton, and reflecting on our relationships back home. After doing the math, we calculated that neither one of us has ever spent such concentrated time and effort on anything else before. Yes, not even Abbey’s long nights of cramming for a grueling organic chemistry exam.
But all of these efforts felt minuscule in comparison to the grim reality behind our storytelling- a man destined to die. In our most recent meeting with Dieow, his doctor informed us that he only had a few weeks left to live.
Storytelling and oral history are at the core of humanity- it’s what connects us, it builds empathy and cross-cultural understanding, and it’s a tool for survival. Without stories, humans would be aimless and apathetic- merely sacks of skin and bones. We spent hours writing to be sure that our piece embraced the integrity of Dieow’s voice, while also framing it in the larger public health issue of access to care.
Finally finished writing, we were ready to make the call we had been dreading. We wait in anticipation as the translator dials, and with each ring I submerge slowly underwater. When the translator smiles to affirm that Dieow was the one who answered, we gasp for air and I feel the hot tears begin to form- he's alive. Elated and exhausted, we spend the rest of the day scrambling to plan a trip back to Dieow to read him our two-part story.
And more importantly, we want to say thank you.
That night Abbey’s Thai peer tutor, Proud, offers to drive us to Nong Bua Lamphu. During the three hour trip, we gleefully listen to music and nap, basking in the down time. Upon arrival back, we deliver a few small gifts to Dieow and his mother.
After hugs and admittedly a few happy tears, we soon embark on a speedy adventure to purchase two necessities: a mattress and clean ceramic/stainless steel table. Medical students and Dr. Pure, our initial connection to the community, join us and before we know it, all seven of us pull up at a local furniture shop.
At 4 pm on a Tuesday, a happy scene emerges in this desolate town- young, laughing Thai and American students come together to carry a mattress and a table. They deliver it to a man who has now changed all their lives, for the better.