Throughout the years Mike has been to many countries for organizations such as Concern America, the Committee on U.S./Central American Relations, Projects for Planetary Peace, Interreligious Committee for Peace in the Middle East, Human Rights Watch, The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, The Christian Children’s Fund, Death Penalty Focus, and, the Center for International Policy..
For each trip, he has written a journal, either for personal purposes or to inform the organizations he’s traveled for, of the situation in the areas.
To read the journals, just click on the links below.
As the 1980 spokesperson for CONCERN/America, a nondenominational, international refugee aid organization, I was asked to attend a conference on refugees in Cork , Ireland at the end of May. After agreeing to attend, I was then asked if I would first stop off to visit some of the refugee camps on the Thai/Cambodian border and then continue on to the conference in Ireland , coming home from there.
Around the world in a week? Well, why not?
Days one and two
Arriving at Los Angeles International Airport in plenty of time for my 11 AM departure on Sunday, May 25, I’m pleasantly surprised to be met by Jeanne Favreau and her friend Frank Sorvillo, two CONCERN volunteers who are active here in the States. In a typically thoughtful manner they wanted to see me off and express their gratitude for my having agreed to the trip. Also, they wanted me to take a package along to one of the volunteers in the field, Dr. Davida Coady. Carry a package a third of the way around the world, I think, through all the customs and security checks, to a doctor in the refugee camp? I have visions of vitally important medicines. It is, as it turns out, a vitally important package of homemade chocolate chip cookies.
Once in the air I have a sense of being enclosed in a time capsule. It is somehow clear that I am traveling at great height and speed, but there is more than that. I am in fairly familiar surroundings (for one in my business) and yet heading for something that I can barely imagine. The stories of the holocaust in Cambodia , while horrifying, are further disturbing because they are said to be happening now, in my world. That’s one kind of consideration when hearing it on the radio while driving down Ventura Blvd. , and a whole other thing when you are on your way there. Further, I will admit to a growing feeling of discomfort every time a friend, on hearing of my trip, said “Good luck!”
Sleeping on airplanes is an art that yet eludes me. I grope my way back to consciousness through the impression of filtered air and a woolen tongue to hear the air-hostess announcing our arrival in Tokyo . Local time, she says as I peer at my watch, is six-something o’clock on May 27th. My watch still says May 26th, so I stare at it stupidly as she explains that we have crossed the International Date Line and should now adjust to local time.
A sudden disorientation, coupled with some rapid calculations convince me that if I leave my watch on Los Angeles time for the whole trip, I will end up a week later back at home with a whole day having somehow disappeared from my life. I decide to leave my watch alone and see how things develop.
Aground in Tokyo for an hour, a leg-stretching walk through the terminal confirms my suspicions that I am, in fact, not in Tokyo at all. I’m in some sort of nether world way station called “Airport” which could as well be Hawaii or Houston . “Airport” is a country full of luggage, tired-looking people and cigarette butts. It has that same filtered air odor, soft drink cans in assorted sizes and colors, and restrooms in various languages.
Once again in the air in a semi-sleep trance, I’m urged up by the pilot’s voice for a “magnificent view of the coast of mainland China at Sunset.” (Sunset, which day being a matter of contention.) “Mainland China ” from 35,000 feet is pretty much the same as anything else from 35,000 feet … a fact that further solidifies my time capsule conviction.
Then the descent down through the ever-increasing darkness toward what I’m told is Hong Kong . Down between the rocky islands, lower over the water we settle, until suddenly the lights of the city appear on the hills on both sides. And still we slip lower, lower, only at the last possible moment the land rushes out to meet our wheels and we are down.
Disembarking in exotic Hong Kong to make connections to Bangkok , I am disappointed to find myself once again in “Airport.” It is now clearly the middle of the night and my watch says it is morning. I’ve given up worrying about what day it is. The chocolate chip cookies and I pass muster through a security check and I find a place (I’m sure I’ve seen this place before, somehow…) to sit, stare, roam around and try to sleep until at last the Bangkok flight is announced.
Same craft, different markings. A German crew and a much more generous number of Asian passengers among the polyglot population of our capsule. While certainly not the only westerner on the flight, I suspect I’m the only American and I’m certainly the only one wearing a cowboy hat. (My protection against the tropical sun). Again the fogginess creeps in, dulling the senses and bringing a vague awareness of a more exotic mixture of sights, sounds and smells around me as we whirl through the elements.
The now familiar sound effects and sensations precede the multi-lingual announcement of our imminent arrival in Bangkok , Thailand , South East Asia . Can it be?
Once again the litany of landing, the fleeting terror-filled thoughts of what if. Then it’s up and out. Grab your bags and head for the door. Down the corridors and into the passport control area. An immediate sense of sticky wet heat is the only indicator of change so far. As I hand over my passport to the pleasant face in the cubicle, he nods, smiling, and says, “Cowboy?” As I smile in return he looks at his partner, exchanges a few quick words and a short, embarrassed laugh, then he turns to me and hands the passport back with an apologetic grin, saying, “Cow Man.”
Once through the cursory customs check, signs point me toward a waiting group. A smile and wave from a large man who looks to be a slightly out-of-place football coach, let’s me know that I am, in fact, one third of the way around the world and in friendly hands. He is Aengus Finucane, director of the CONCERN field operation in Thailand and, in spite of his casual dress, rugged appearance and earthy manner, a Catholic priest. His assistant is an equally earthy, also casually dressed woman with a warm Irish smile and a name to match: Ciunas Bunworth. They introduce me to their Thai driver, Sampong, and finally, to Dr. Davida Coady, the American pediatrician who has been such an invaluable addition to the CONCERN team here.
First things first. I discharge my sacred duty and turn over the chocolate chippers.
The heat of the night, while not extreme, seems to be excuse enough for Sampong to turn on the air conditioner for the twenty-minute drive through the city to Gus’ apartment. I’m to spend the night, or what’s left of it, with Gus before heading for the border camps at first light…six hours from now. En route Ciunas, Gus and Davida fill me in on as much of the program as they can, and ask in turn about American interest in the situation here which I have to report has been pushed out of the news by developments in the southern U.S. , vis-a-vis Cuban refugees.
The four of us continue the discussion at Gus’ apartment, a louvered-window and open-air affair reminiscent of movies I’ve seen about tropical Central America . Davida is full of considerations. Did I have my diphtheria and tetanus shots? Yes. Did I have a gamma globulin shot? Yes, but why did I? She informs me that hepatitis is rife in the camps. Am I taking chloroquin to ward off the possibility of malaria from the ever-present mosquitoes? Again, yes. Fine. Don’t drink the water unless it’s been boiled or it’s from a bottle. Don’t even use it to brush my teeth. And don’t use ice in drinks unless it was made from boiled water. Amoebic dysentery has been a problem for westerners. Watch out for rabid dogs and snakes… “My God, Davida,” Aengus breaks in. “Lay off! You’ll have the man on the next plane back to the States,” he laughs.
After many apologies for keeping me up, Davida and Ciunas leave, saying they’ll see us in five hours. Gus leads me up to my bed, a large one by Thai standards, with a thin mattress on top of a board. My room, I discover with relief, has an air cooler that makes my now damp clothes feel cold. (It’s only later that I discover that mine is the only room in the house with an air cooler and was in fact Gus’ room.)