PACKING DEFENSIVELY: Lessons Learned
The (almost) 7 D’s of packing defensively
Sometimes when traveling abroad for an aid mission you’ll pass through countries that, while friendly to your country, are not so friendly to deal with. On several occasions aid workers traveling to Thailand have had necessary medical items, such as splints, bandages, medications, etc. seized at customs despite providing the proper documentation. They were told this was to prevent anyone from bypassing the system and selling products within Thailand that will compete with local businesses and go untaxed by the government.
In order to prevent loss on a recent aid mission into Eastern Myanmar that began in Chiang Mai, Thailand, I decided it was best to pack defensively.
This particular aid mission meant traveling to a village in the remote mountainous jungles of the Karen State, Myanmar, and teaching trauma medicine to aspiring Physician Assistants. These PA students would soon be returning to their even more remote villages to become sole medical providers for their friends, neighbors, and the occasional passersby. I used my background as a medic in the Ranger Regiment and an instructor at the Joint Special Operations Medical Training Center to try to cater to the injuries they may face. Put simply: the goal was to prolong the process of death to the point where it meets the process of healing.
There is a distinct lack of medical infrastructure in the Karen State, mostly due to the 70-year civil war that has been fought with Burma/Myanmar. Moves made by the Burmese Government, such as declaring National Parks on Karen land (1), have stifled development and forced many of its inhabitants out of their homes. That, coupled with the unmatched density of landmines in Eastern Myanmar (2), has ensured there are high numbers of injuries that go untreated every year.
This aid mission was entirely crowd funded, despite being in partnership with a global charity. This charity is faith based and tends to exercise faith by going where they’re needed and letting God take care of the money. I followed their example and booked my ticket well before our minimum amount was reached, and I eventually ended up receiving more than I expected, though not until after leaving the United States. Because of the strain on funds at the time and my access to inexpensive (or donated) and somewhat niche equipment, I decided to try to sneak as much as I could manage in my luggage.