The banana leaf man

Date Publish: 
Thailand / Asia

On a good day, Tzing, 47, can make three dollars. He could make a bit more if he was able to plant and harvest rice, but he’s getting over TB and it hurts him to stand for long periods. In any case, not many people want to employ someone with TB.

So now he picks up banana leaves and fashions them into planks, for want of a better word. In a day, he can make about 50 planks, that’s 50 Thai Baht, or just under two dollars.

Tzing crossed the border 26 years ago, leaving behind the danger of war in his native Myanmar. He met a woman from the same ethnic group, and they have a daughter, a lovely pretty little lady who loves Thai and art, who hopes that her dad gets better and that she can stay in school long enough to complete her exams and go to college. Her dad wants her to become a teacher.

They love each other, Tzing, Yang and 13-year-old Boot Nong. They look out for each other, in this little banana-and-Tongtung-leaf house by the side of the road, open to the elements. Anyone could come in any time and help themselves to the family’s meager but precious possessions. A storm, or a flood would flip them from poor to destitute in minutes.

Tzing started treatment for TB in August. He had been sick a lot longer but he had no cough, just a sore back and painful legs, so it took a while for the local hospital to decide to do a TB test. He was x-rayed, and TB was confirmed. He grew weaker and wife and daughter did the hard physical work, and worried about what to put on the table at the end of the day.  But within three months of starting the drugs, slowly slowly, Tzing got stronger and was able to collect banana leaves. 

Now he’s dreaming of farming again. His face lights up. “Rice farming. That’s what I like doing”.

TB sufferers have to take medicine every day for six months.  © Mikel Flamm 2013
Dr Upin Katikut watches Tzing (47) take his daily TB medication in Pang Mu village, Northern Thailand.  © Mikel Flamm 2013
Tzing opens his mouth to show he has swallowed his daily TB medication, in compliance with international TB treatment protocol.  © Mikel Flamm 2013
The “planks” made from banana leaves used for wall material that Tzing and his family sell. This stack sells for about USD1.50.  © Mikel Flamm 2013
Inside the banana- and tongtung-leaf house. Poor ventilation  increases the risk of TB transmission.  © Mikel Flamm 2013
Dr Katikut, Boot Nong, Yang, and Tzing outside the family home in Pang Mu, Northern Thailand.  © Mikel Flamm 2013
Tzing’s recovery is monitored at Mae Hong Son hospital, where his TB was originally diagnosed.  © Mikel Flamm 2013