The Road Less Taken

By Gee-Gee O. Torres

I went to visit our Filipino missionaries in Thailand in 1998. There I met Sr Angela San Jose of the Daughters of Charity. At that time she was assigned to St Clare’s Hospice in Pathumthani, a hospice for AIDS patients who are in the last stages of AIDS. It was founded by the Franciscan Friars in response to the great need to care for poor and homeless persons with AIDS. Today Sr Angela is assigned to Laos. Below I share with you my visit to her.

As I write this article, it’s almost six years since I visited Sr Angela in Thailand. It’s been quite a long time, but how could I forget her? Finding her ‘sanctuary’ was one of my unforgettable experiences when I visited our Filipino missionaries there.

Father Leo Ochoa SDB, my tour guide, accompanied me to almost all of the mission stations I visited. However when it was time to visit Sr Angela he could not go with me so he asked one of his staff, Nui, instead. Father Leo assured me that we would be okay. He must have sensed my anxiety, knowing that I was not familiar with the place. We left his office at 4 pm, took the bus and off we went. I didn’t have any idea how long the trip was going to take. I trusted Nui knew where St Clare’s Hospice was. Father Leo gave her the directions. I didn’t understand their conversation since they were talking in Thai. I just caught the words “about two hours”.

The bus ride

I sat quietly in the bus, enjoying the view especially the scenery outside the city. However when the passengers on the bus got fewer and fewer, I began to feel uneasy and nervous. It was already dark, almost 8pm. Eventually Nui stopped the bus and we got off. I felt relieved thinking that we had reached our destination. But I was mistaken. Nui didn’t know exactly where St Clare’s Hospice was. I could see the worry in her eyes while she was asking for directions from the few people around.

Travelling with a stranger

We were both hungry. We saw a carinderia and went in. Unfortunately they were already closing. Good thing there was still some chicken mami left for us to take out. Then a young man approached us. He said he could bring us to the hospice. I was suspicious, but I didn’t have the chance to tell Nui because she took me by surprise when she told me right away to ride the motorbike — the two of us. The driver said it was just nearby, but it seemed like eternity to me. It was taking us more than 30 minutes already on rough roads and here we were on a motorbike with a stranger. We were passing through field after field. There weren’t any houses at all. I saw some flickering lights from a distance. I told myself not to be afraid anymore because the lights meant that there were people living in the area. But still I surrendered my life to God and prayed, ‘Thy will be done!’

Arrival at the hospice

The motorbike stopped in front of a gate. Finally we had reached our destination. I wanted to jump with joy. We thanked the young man and he left. We called out – several times – but no one answered. We began to panic. We tried calling Father Leo on his cellphone but to no avail. Then a priest came out. With a puzzled look, he asked us for our purpose. He must have been surprised to find two young ladies on his doorstep at this unholy hour. I told him that we were looking for Sr Angela and that we arrived late because we got lost. I thought we would have to sleep outside because he seemed hesitant. But he did offer us a room! He said we could see Sr Angela the next day since she must be asleep already at the hospice. We stayed in their guest room. Nui and I were very tired; we immediately settled our things in the room and without much ado took out the chicken mami we bought from the carinderia. We didn’t have any utensils so you can just imagine how we struggled to eat the noodles.

No wonder

The next day Nui and I shared with Sr Angela our exciting trip. She smiled and told us that, aside from our getting lost, we traveled 60 kms northeast of Bangkok and since we left Bangkok at the rush hour, we got caught in the traffic. No wonder it took us forever to reach the hospice!

Sr Angela showed me around. I was surprised to find the hospice surrounded by a beautiful garden. I imagined it to be just an ordinary building with rooms for patients. But the flowers in the garden made the place bloom with hope and happiness. When we were about to enter the hospice, Sister asked me if I was ready to meet the patients. I said Yes, even though I was quite apprehensive because this was my first time to meet AIDS patients. She introduced me to them and they welcomed me with their timid smiles. It was time for Sister to prepare their food and their medicines, so she excused herself. I walked around and quietly observed the volunteers attending to the patients. I marveled at their sincerity and commitment in helping the Sisters in their work.

A better world

There is still no cure for AIDS. This epidemic continues to spread throughout the world. AIDS victims are neglected by the society, leaving them to die in misery. However, with people like Sr Angela who are truly dedicated in caring for these people, this world becomes a better place to live in.

I left the hospice with a smile on my face. The long, tiring and tense journey was all worth it. I knew that the patients who welcomed me with their timid smiles would not be left to die alone in misery because they were living in a home with people happy to care for them.