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  • Writer's pictureKirk

Leprosy Village

I bet you never expected this as a post, did you? How many even know leper colonies still exist? While traveling through the small villages of Thailand I learned of this leper village and knew I had to drive through. I mean, when else would I get a chance?

I really hesitated to publish this story because of the stigma associated with Hansen's disease (leprosy). I'm afraid people will view me as irresponsible to chance a drive through a leper's village for the chance I would bring the disease home. But that's an ill-informed view.

Leprosy is very difficult to contract. I would say impossible by just a drive through a village. Additionally, in the USA we have a built in immunity to the disease. Did you know armadillos carry the bacteria for the disease? Those pesky critters visit my lawn every night. I'm probably more likely to get it from them than a drive through a leper's village.

The village was quite uneventful for the most part:

Not much to see. I had but three interactions during my 20 minute motorbike ride through it.

The first was a small group of kids playing in front of a home. Their mother was outside with them. I carry candy with me most the time for the children I meet so I took some out as I approached and threw it near them as I drove by. They looked more bewildered at a white guy on a bike driving through their village than the candy so they did not immediately pick it up that I saw.

The second encounter was at the end of the dead end street. As I slowed to turn my bike around, an aggressive dog took off after me from a home. I'm on a 125 cc bike with little acceleration but I gave it all I could. The dog caught up with me and I lifted my leg he was nipping at. I don't think you can get leprosy from a dog bite, but I wasn't sure enough I wanted to find out. Anyway, after utilizing every cc of those 125 I pulled away, bite free.

The third interaction was on the return through the village. Those same kids were outside playing and saw me approaching. This time I could see their building excitement as they realized I was "The Candy Man". Not wanting to disappoint, I pulled out more candy and tossed it at them as I passed. I could hear their excitement behind me as I motored through.

Other than that the village was pretty dead:

I had decided before I entered the village I would not take pictures of any people. I didn't want anyone to feel like some sideshow for a foreign tourist in their environment.

Even if I had filmed the people it wouldn't have been very revealing.The few people I did see in the village looked as normal as any other village. There were no signs of leprosy at all, not even marks on the skin.

Leprosy of today is not like what most imagine. The symptoms are largely controlled by a multi-drug treatment of antibiotics. In a leprosy village, those who contract it know to be tested early and likely never develop severe symptoms.

The people of the village are productive members of society. They grow produce that is sold in open markets. There's a decent chance I've eaten what they've grown without knowing.

The stigma associated with the disease is still quite inhibiting on those who have it. Although it is very difficult to get it through casual contact, including shaking of hands, people still avoid the villages known to have the disease. Although I didn't avoid it, I did not stop to interact more closely with the children with the candy as I normally would. So yeah, I'm no different than the masses I'm ashamed to say. But with the risk to family at home, most tend not to take even the slightest of risks. Even though we likely take greater risks just driving our car (or bike) every day.

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