Michal Giboda

* 1938

  • “When somebody came to the hospital, we didn’t ask if he was a Red Khmer, a Pol Pot supporter or a true Cambodian. Only sometimes our coworkers warned us to be careful, because a person was a Pol Pot supporter. We didn’t make a difference, for us they were patients. But they did protect us a little bit, because at that time there were rubber tree plantations in the south, and the Russians were in charge of them as the experts. What happened was that Pol Pot supporters came there with ten Russians and they began pulling them one by one from the car and shooting them at the back of their necks. The Cambodian soldiers who were there to protect them ran away. We had guards, but I am sure that if something blew up there, they would run away. They used to say: ´There are just ten of you, so what? 1,5 million people have died here.´”

  • “There was a guy from Britain (a liaison in WHO) and I wrote him a letter – there were no emails at that time – that I had one such strain of Leishmania, and I included specific information about where and when that person became infected, when we isolated him, etc. He replied immediately and asked me to send that strain to him. As an idiot, instead of investing a hundred crowns for the postage and sending it to him, I went to see the department head and explained that I would like to have the specimen sent to England. He told me: ´Are you nuts? You want to send this to a capitalist country, to Liverpool?´ – ´Why not, there is the institute of tropical medicine, so why…?´ – ´Well, I need to discuss it with the director first.´ The director was wary of me, because he knew that I harboured thoughts of emigration, and he called me to his office. When I wrote to England, I mentioned that the disease had been isolated in the vicinity of Basra in Iraq, and the director blamed me that I had revealed a state secret.”

  • “Pol Pot established such a system that roads were interrupted by holes about a metre wide and 1,5 metres deep for every 800 or 900 metres so that cars would not be able to drive too fast. We were driving there, with no air con, but with all windows open so that the air was blowing through. As I was watching the little houses on poles covered with palm leaves, I thought: Oh Christ, Michal, where have you arrived? The journey took a long time, and I asked: ´When are we going to arrive to Takeo?´ – ´But we are already in Takeo now!´ – ´This is Takeo?´ A provincial town, a regional centre, perhaps something like Ústí nad Labem in importance. We passed by what looked like a barn, and they explained: ´This is the tuberculosis hospital.´ So this is a hospital? God help us then. Then we arrived to our place. When there was a brick or concrete building, it was half torn down. It was empty upstairs, and on the ground floor there were bars instead of windows.”

  • “I remember that we traveled from Prague to Bucharest by the same plane which had brought home Zátopek and Zátopková and Jan Zachar, the Olympic winner in boxing, and I loved it. As we were airborne, we were invited to the cockpit to see what flying a plane looked like; it was a Dakota airplane. I made the decision to become a pilot, nothing else but a pilot. After graduation from grammar school I even went to Prague to take the entry examination in the Institute of Aviation Medicine. I was in Prague for the first time! I didn’t know where it was, but the people from the military authority explained to us how to get there. I passed, but because my father was a chairman in the Democratic Party, which had lost in the 1948 election to the Communist Party… The Democratic Party had won in Slovakia, but the Communists had won in Bohemia, and we thus found ourselves on the other side, and we were not in favour. For this reason I received a laconic reply: ´You have complied with all the prerequisites for admission to the flight school, but you can not be accepted due to a high number of applicants.´ So this still remains an unfulfilled dream of mine.”

  • “We left the village. As kids, we thought the fire was fun. I was four or five years old when it happened. Cows and pigs were running freely through the village, ands we kids were chasing them and it was great fun. Our parents were already behind the village, we had to go. They noticed that I was not around, and father thus stopped the wagon. One German came to him, and urged him: los, los, ordering him to go. Father tried to explain that he was waiting for his son, but the German probably didn’t understand him and started shooting at his feet as a warning. When I caught up with them, I was scolded and told I had to keep close to the wagon and not go anywhere.”

  • “We had to be guarded, and once I went by myself, just to try it, to the village of Bara. Five minutes later the soldiers were after me: No, no, come back, you cannot go alone. It is true that wherever you showed up, there would be immediately at least twenty people gathered around you. They would not say anything, they would just stand in front of you and stare at you. From all sides. Especially the children. Children were touching you to see if you were a ghost or a man.”

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    Praha, 26.03.2014

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A creative person who does not have the opportunity to put his ideas into reality is depressed, he loses courage and the reason for working. It is comparable to physical coercion

Michal Giboda was born on November 16, 1938 in Štefanovce in eastern Slovakia. After his graduation from high school in Vranov nad Topľou, he went to study biology and physical education in Bratislava. He graduated from the university in 1960. He was an active athlete and also worked as a coach and sports journalist. After his military service in Dukla Tábor he continued with his studies, focusing now on zoology at the School of Science at Jan Amos Komenský University in Bratislava. In 1971 he received a doctoral degree in parasitology. At that time, Michal Giboda was also successful as a documentary author and scriptwriter for the Czechoslovak Television. From 1981 he worked as a research worker in the Parasitology Institute of the Czechoslovak Academy of Sciences in České Budějovice. In 1983 he went for a one-year work program to the Czechoslovak hospital in Cambodia. In the following years he was involved in a number of scientific programs and he spent many years abroad (Cambodia for the second time, Laos, Yemen, Cuba) studying tropical parasites. He received many awards abroad for his scientific work. In the 1990s he worked as the head of the department of microbiology at the San Juan Bautista School of Medicine in Puerto Rico. He is the author of nearly ninety scientific publications. Currently he leads the civic organization Dialogue of Science and Art and he is a member of the Journalists Syndicate of the Czech Republic.