sen monorom district, Mondolkiri province – You have got to be kidding me, I thought. This is no road. I was peering down a boulder-pocked, ravine-scarred path through the trees that looked more like a trail I had hiked on as a child.
I was in a convoy of four Ministry of Health trucks, sitting in one of them with Dr Nuoung Sao Kri, the vice director of the National Malaria Center. He peered at the road and looked back at me. Our driver chuckled and shook his head, his hands nervously gripping and releasing the steering wheel. And down we went.
We were somewhere between Village III (or was it II?) and Village IV, our destination for a distribution of mosquito nets purchased with donations to The Cambodia Daily Mosquito Net Campaign.
Most of the high-risk areas in Mondolkiri province have been covered by net distributions. The malaria center estimates a coverage of about 95 percent for the highest-risk groups, those people living or working in the wooded vales of the province, where the mosquitoes that carry malaria live and feed.
But the work is never done. Nets get old and torn. The insecticide they are treated with needs replenished.
These needs keep malaria center staffers like Mondolkiri provincial supervisor Phok Nivitou busy. Phok Nivitou takes round-trips as long as 200 km.
“When I distribute at the village and they live far away, I can go by car, by moto, by boat, by ox. No problem,” he said.
Other staffers all over the country are traveling to villages so remote they don’t even have names, just numbers.
Driving down roads that aren’t roads.
Roads like this one.
Down we went, deeper into the forest. The countryside is a tangle of brambles. Bamboo grows together like a fence out of the red dust and ash. Thorny vines weave through these fences, and somehow in between them grow carnivorous weeds with leaves that, when touched, close like a trap.
Finally we broke out of the wilderness and rolled into a recognizable village. Smoke hung in the air from the fires the villagers use to clear the forest. It was close to noon, and the air was so hot I was afraid to light a cigarette.
We handed nets to the sweating villagers, some of the 4,000 distributed on this trip. We inspected a health clinic. We spent about an hour out of the truck. Then we were back on the path, rumbling into the forest.
You have got to be kidding me, I thought. These guys do this all the time?