Thursday, April 3, 2014

Interaction Between Lepers and Regular Folk - Che Guevara Quote

My work-in-progress involves a fictional leper colony in the Philippines in 1909. I've been doing research and some of you may have read my earlier blog entries about Carville and Culion. From that research, I had enough information to get the chapter rolling, but then I got stuck, not really understanding how much interaction lepers had with regular folk.  The lepers were isolated after all, and it seemed to me logical that they would have extremely limited contact with people, beyond perhaps those providing health care.

I remembered the movie, "Motorcycle Diaries" - a good movie, by the way - based on Che Guevara's writings. The movie and book include a section where Che and his friend Alberto go to La Colonia de San Pablo in Peru. The movie makes a symbolic act out of Che's swimming in the Amazon: on the night of his 24th birthday, while they were celebrating his birthday in the compound for non-lepers, Che swims the river to join the lepers. I love the book and movie.
I've taken the liberty of quoting Che's writings, in particular the part where he talks about his contact with the lepers in the San Pablo Leper Colony.  I also found a short quotation about Jack London's visit to the Kalaupapa Leper Colony in Hawaii in 1908.

By the time Che wrote his Diaries in 1952, there already was a cure for leprosy, so one can assume that they were not contagious. But during Jack London's visit in 1908, there was no cure, and yet he seemed to have had close contact with them.

Here are the quotes:

From Motorcycle Diaries by Ernest "Che" Guevera:

"On Monday we ... went to the colony to visit the patients' compound. There are 600 sick people living independently in typical jungle huts, doing whatever they choose, looking after themselves, in an organization which has developed a rhythm and style of its own. There is a local official, a judge, a policeman, etc. The respect Dr. Bresciani commands is considerable and he clearly coordinates the whole colony, both protecting and sorting out disputes that arise between the different groups.

"On Tuesday we visited the colony again, joining Dr. Bresciani as he made his rounds, examining the patients' nervous systems. He is preparing a detailed study of nervous forms of leprosy based on 100 cases. It is really very interesting work because many of the cases of leprosy in this region attack the nervous system. Actually, I didn't see a single patient who wasn't presenting such symptoms. Bresciani told us that Dr. Souza Lima was interested in early signs of nervous disorder among the children living in the colony.

"We went to the part of the colony reserved for the healthy, where 20 or so people live. It is lacking basic amenities that are supposedly being installed, like electricity during the day, a refrigerator and even a laboratory. They are in need of a good microscope, a microtome, a technician -- at the moment this post is occupied by Mother Margarita, nice but not very knowledgeable -- and they need a surgeon to operate on nerves, eyes, etc. An interesting thing is that aside from the widespread nervous problems, there are very few blind people, perhaps leading to the conclusion that (indecipherable word) has something to do with it, seeing that most receive no treatment at all.

"We repeated our rounds on Wednesday, passing the day with fishing and swimming in between. I played chess with dr. Bresciani at night, or we chatted. Dr. Alfaro, the dentist, is a wonderful person -- relaxed and very friendly. Thursday is a day of rest for the colony so we changed our routine, not visiting the compound. We tried to fish, without success, in the morning. In the afternoon we played footbal and my performance in goal was less atrocious. On Friday I returned to the compound, but Alberto stayed to do bacilloscopes in the company of that sweet nun, Mother Margarita. I caught two species of sumbi fish, called mota, and gave one of them to Dr. Montoya to enjoy."

photo of San Pablo Leper Colony courtesy of Religious Hospitallers of Saint Joseph

From the site on Kalaupapa Leper Colony:
"Jack London wrote about his visit to the island colony in 1908, saying that, from a distance and thanks to its reputation, it seemed 'the pit of hell, the most cursed place on earth.' But after landing and spending time with the residents - watching horse races and listening to dinnertime sing-a-longs -- he found himself to be 'having a disgracefully good time along with eight hundred of the lepers who were likewise having a good time."

Kalaupapa Leper Colony in 1905- courtesy of Wilimedia commons

Read also
The Island of the Living Dead, Culion Leper Colony, Philippines
The Miracle of Carville, Louisiana Leper Home
Conflict Problem in My Fiction and Solution
Before You Write, Try Clustering

This is all for now,

No comments: