Coping With Crohn’s In The More Remote Parts Of The World

Jo is back with another tale from her amazing travels…

My last blog about travelling with Crohns told of my trek in Peru to raise money ForCrohns. I have just returned from another adventure, which involved voluntary work in Thailand and Cambodia. This was not for the purpose of raising funds but I would like to share the experience to show how it is possible to travel to remoter parts of the world and cope with the challenges it presents for us Crohns sufferers.

The trip involved voluntary work with elephants in Thailand and teaching in Cambodia. I flew directly to Bangkok to meet up with the rest of the group who came from all over the world. For the first time, I had opted to share a room with a stranger and had some anxieties about this with the obvious toilet issues. As soon as I met my roommate, I was completely up front about my Crohns and how this affects me. She was totally understanding and as luck would have it was also a pharmacist who carried a range of drugs, which were helpful to many of us in the group!

After two nights in Bangkok we headed north to Surin, a northern province of Thailand. This involved a long bus journey with no toilet facilities, something which always makes me anxious. I briefed the tour guide and said that I may have to ask the driver to pull over at short notice. As it happened this was not necessary and we had several stops on the way. I always carry supplies of toilet paper, wet wipes and hand gel, which is doubly important in a country like this where toilet paper is not automatically supplied, and the order of the day is often a squat toilet or a “squatty potty” as it was nicknamed. I often find these a bit of a challenge but over time have developed strong leg muscles for squatting and balancing. I’m not sure how people with dodgy knees manage in this situation?

Our accommodation at the elephant village was basic. There were no flushing toilets but there was a lot of water available for pouring into the toilets. The showers were also inside the toilets cubicle. Sometimes the water dried up and we made do with bowls of cold water to wash but by and large we had a good supply of water, albeit cold! Here I shared a room with three others and we had a mosquito net and fan covering two beds. This made it quite interesting in the middle of the night for the frequent toilet visits I have to make!

During the daytime we were working in the fields, cutting grass for the elephants, planting grass and other projects. The work was physically exhausting and the heat and humidity very draining. I made sure that I drank a lot of water and used electrolytes to keep hydrated. The toilet issue was fine in the situation as I could just disappear privately with my bag of essentials. In the homestay we were cooked for and this caused a slight problem, as there was not a great variety of food. I gave them the long list of foodstuffs I can’t have and generally ate vegetarian or chicken. The diet was a bit boring but I needed to play safe as we were in a pretty remote location. The time spent with the elephants was very special, particularly went we walked them to the river and washed them.

After this part of the project we headed to Cambodia, which involved another long bus journey, which was manageable. I was quite desperate as we crossed the border but people get used to me disappearing with very little notice. In Cambodia our accommodation was much better with Western style flushing toilets. I was expecting to teach in Cambodia but the schools were shut due to a national holiday so I found myself on a building project instead. I was a bit concerned about this because I am not physically strong and can get worn out easily.

I was also concerned about the availability of a toilet but was told that we could use one in a house nearby. This was a squat toilet in what appeared to be an empty building. Cambodians with little money do not use toilet paper so there was nowhere to put it. Usually there is a waste paper bin next to the toilet to dispose of paper as if it is put down the toilet it will block the system. Lots of cold water had to suffice, as I needed to use this toilet during the day. Luckily in the heat you dry off quickly!

The project involved pulling down a house, which the family of five had been living in at a very basic level and rebuilding it in three days. With the help of a contractor and a few locals we managed to do this, with the exception of the floor, which would be completed later. We used bamboo sticks and banana leaves, which had to be painstakingly stuck together with wire to make the sides of the house. The group clubbed together to equip the house with some basics, which included a mattress for the family to sleep on as they had been sleeping on the floor. Their faces when it was finished and their gratitude made the hard work worthwhile and put into perspective my worries about going to the toilet.

I spent a further week in Cambodia on my own which involved some long bus journeys but again I found this manageable. The country of Cambodia has such a troubled history and visiting the genocide museum and the Killing Fields was a humbling experience. Tourism is developing at a fast rate and this will no doubt bring many changes, not all of them good. However, something about the people and the experience stole my heart so I plan to return to do some further voluntary work in a school and feel sure that I will be able to take on this challenge without too much anxiety. Shout if you feel like joining me?!

If you would like to talk to Jo about this please make contact via the charity at [email protected].