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Letters of the Week

Want to see what other Savvy visitors have to say? Read our letters of the week, and be sure to tell us what you think. We'd love to hear from you!

January 25, 2002

Traditional Thai Healing Meets Motorbike Exhaust Burns

Dear Savvy Traveler,
I recently listened to Anne-Marie Ruff's story about searching for traditional healers in northern Thailand. I, too, had an experience with a Thai healer.

I was in northern Thailand, northwest of Chiang Mai, and found myself with an infected motorbike exhaust burn on my right calf from riding with shorts on. I had it cleaned at the hospital straight away, but it hung around for ages -- not too painful, but not really improving much either.

One day I was out walking in the forests and rice fields around where we were staying. I met an old man from one of the local tribes carrying wood he had just cut. There were about 10 poles, all at least 10 feet long. He was having difficulty keeping them all together, so I helped him. We each shouldered one end of the bundle and set off.

After about a mile, the route to his destination diverged from mine, so I gestured to show him that I couldn't go on. He was thanking me (I assume) when he noticed the bandage on my leg. He indicated that he wanted to see the wound. I unwrapped it, and when I'd managed to explain how it had happened, he crouched down and began to chant. As he chanted, he waved his hand over the wound and blew gently all over it. Then he made me repeat his words. I got him to write them down in his language -- which wasn't Thai -- and then I wrote the sounds down phonetically to help me remember them.

We said our goodbyes and went our separate ways. Soon afterwards the infection cleared up completely. When I next went to Chiang Mai, I went to the university library to see if I could find someone to translate the chant for me. No luck. However, I did learn that the language was that of the Karen ethnic group, one of the largest hill tribe groups in the Burma-Thailand-Laos border area.

I carried the words and my phonetic version with me faithfully for many years. The writing got so faded I went over it in pen occasionally so as not to lose it altogether. Ultimately, I lost the paper, which upsets me a bit because I would really like to know what the healer was saying. At least I still have the memory of two people from completely different worlds working together in a small, simple way. I helped him, he helped me. I'm sure I got the better deal.

Damon Bramley

Savvy Resources:

Listen to Anne-Marie Ruff's story on traditional healers.


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