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Acupuncture Relief Project  | Good Health Nepal | Jeff Chiu

Today's topic: Death! (the author does not pick blog topics; the blog topics choose him)

I began thinking about this after hearing that one of our ARP staff members, Tsering, had to step in to help a family who didn't know about Sherpa (an ethnic group here in Nepal) burial rights, help bury their father who had passed recently.  The deceased was somewhat estranged from his family and living in Kathmandu, and when he passed, his daughters were at a loss at what to do for a proper burial.  Luckily, Tsering and his wife were around and able to help the family, in the middle of the night, with proper burial rights.  

Acupuncture Relief Project  | Good Health Nepal | Jeff Chiu

I have heard from regulars that have worked with ARP multiple times that as a country, Nepal's citizens are, in a way, unconcerned with death.  I didn’t understand it at the time until  visiting one of many temple locations in Kathmandu, at Pashupatinath, where cremation ceremonies can be observed 24 hours a day.  When the time comes, family members carry the dead body down to stone platforms that are located on the river that runs through the temple grounds.  They help wash the feet of the deceased and will stay and watch the deceased body slowly turn to ash as a cremation specialist dressed in white tends to the pyre and manages the several hour long process.  Upon completion, the mixture of human and wood ashes are pushed into the river to be swept away in a poetic, and likely practical, end to the hours long process.  With the physical body now just ashes, depending on the deceased’s particular religion, the person's karma through their life is assessed and that determines their next reincarnation.  Physical breakdown of the body done, the family continue observance for the next few weeks and up to a year.

Acupuncture Relief Project  | Good Health Nepal | Jeff Chiu

Death is a strange thing to observe; if you’ve had the unenviable task of observing a close family member passing, the moment of death crushes the soul and leaves you a husk of your normal self as you begin processing the present and the future without this person.  Even now, when I see or hear about people dying it definitely gets my mind spinning and thinking about the family and what they must be going through.  Two poignant moments come to mind during my stay in Nepal.  

Acupuncture Relief Project  | Good Health Nepal | Jeff Chiu

Early on, soon after arriving at camp, it was the end of a clinic day and I was asked if I could help with a severely dehydrated patient at the health-post next door.  I show up and a delirious woman lays there, sweating profusely, apparently not able to keep down water.  I am asked if I could take a shot at putting in an IV.  Reality check: aside from putting in an IV for lab rats in college I am in NO way qualified to do this.  I try anyway and of course fail where even the experienced health post nurses couldn’t find the minute veins in this exhausted and dried out patient.  I observe her husband and the health post staff discuss what they should do.  Against their suggestions, the husband thinks going 3 hours back to kathmandu to the major hospital is better than going to the larger healthpost the next town over.  She doesn’t make it and dies in transit.  

Later on in the camp, I find out one of my regular patients had passed.  The 82 year old patient had passed over Dosain, a national holiday of Nepal.  She’d been coming to the ARP clinic since last season.  She was a bit of a firecracker even at her old age; wasn't compliant, had uncontrolled diabetes, and walked with the help of a crutch due to a stroke she had years earlier. Oh, and apparently she occasionally took swipes at practitioners when she didn't like what they were telling her.  She always came in complaining about arm pain, wasn't particularly interested in answering questions, but still, I liked her quite a bit and thought she was quite sweet old lady. Oh and she never took a swing at me.  Ritesh, our head interpreter, said that Dosain is a time when many people pass on.  

Acupuncture Relief Project  | Good Health Nepal | Jeff Chiu

I find rituals around death particularly interesting; I believe they're another cultural fingerprint, along with food, language, etc.  The degree to which death is handled in a more personal and hands-on way has me re-evaluating how I want to my body handled when I go.  Nepal has reminded me of the frailty and beauty of life; that life can be short, unpredictable and that family is important.  Use time wisely, spare it on people/places/things that interest you, protect it from things that don't.     

On that note, see you next tale.  -- Jeff Chiu

Acupuncture Relief Project  | Good Health Nepal | Emma Snare

The morning sunlight, through a gap in my curtain reaches onto my bed and teases my skin. I look outside the window to see beautiful blue sky above our mountain protected valley. Since last time, there is more yellow in the fields and the mustard flowers are coming into season. I am glad we are back in Bajarabarahi. The noisy bikes, trucks and polluted air of Kathmandu is left behind.

I hear a rooster crow in the distance. If you are quiet, you can also hear a buffalo – somewhere - munching his grass.

Acupuncture Relief Project  | Good Health Nepal | Emma Snare

With a tub of water I am squatting on the roof doing my washing in the fresh morning air and not-yet-hot sun. Scrubbing scrubbing, I look across the dusty road and see a lady in a house leaning over her balcony hanging her washing in the sunlight. She turns, and in Nepali scolds her son who is pinching his younger sister and who has now erupted in tears. Connected by a common understanding of humanity and of our daily chores, We look at each other and smile.

 A shop nearby has just opened. Uplifting Nepali music bounces through the village and dives into open windows as the town slowly awakens…  In the shop, I can see the middle aged man dust his counter as he prepares for a days work. He happily hums to himself in the mornings soon-to-be-warmth.  In Australia, on the other side of the world, the same sun shines. -A young surfer rises early, he bobs his head to funky tunes as he loads his surfboard to the car.

Acupuncture Relief Project  | Good Health Nepal | Emma Snare

Over my balcony there is a big grassy oval. Litter flickers silver in the sun. On the oval there are two young men playing with a new motorbike. There is one female with a baby in her arms, standing nonchalantly behind them.

Countries and cultures are different, but humans are the same. A smile brings joy and connection. Morning sunshine and music awakens spirits and inspires song. Chores still exist, children still cry and men still like motorbikes.

Patients still come to clinics. In Nepal, with feet as cracked and worn as the earth, and patterned materials as vibrant as the mustard flowered fields. In Australia, patients come. With short shorts, pink painted nails, sunglasses and thongs. 

Acupuncture Relief Project  | Good Health Nepal | Emma Snare

Through deep brown eyes ensconced with wrinkles, or through bright blue eyes laced with mascara. With hope, trust and respect. No matter the country, our patients come in search of a listening ear and compassionate heart.  

From the mountainous valleys of Nepal, to the sparkling beaches of Australia, cultures and landscapes my differ, However, the state of being 'human' connects us. The face of a frantic mum or the weary face of a hard worked farmer shares the same story. Like one melody penetrates many souls, Common humanity allows our universal hearts to beat as one.

Acupuncture Relief Project  | Good Health Nepal | Emma Snare

I tip out my tub of dirty water. The lady across the road has finished her washing also. Her children have quieted and she reclines in the shade to sip her tea. From her balcony, she glances at me. I hold up my tea cup, And together we drink as the morning sunshine begins to scorch the village. -- Emma Snare

Acupuncture Relief Project  | Good Health Nepal | Jeff Chiu

Fun fact, my body is 85% digestive tract with the rest being sensory and motor structures that assist me in attaining more food.  My genetics are closely related to a fluke.  

I love food.  From fancy, high class meals (when they can be afforded/somebody else is paying), to simple home food, to in moments of weakness, blue box macaroni & cheese and/or packaged instant ramen.  When traveling I have a deep respect for the food because I find that local food is the quickest way to get to know a culture.  With globalization, and the increase of foreign travel, restaurants can always be found that have western food to appeal to picky foreigners or foreigners who are craving food from home.  Initially, I try to soak up at much of the local cuisine as I can in a new place.  

Acupuncture Relief Project  | Good Health Nepal | Jeff Chiu

Here in Nepal, the staple is dal bhat, or lentils and rice.  The rice and lentil combo is the starting point and vehicle for the rest of the meal which often consists of vegetables or protein and a bit of spicy chili or spicy/sour pickle.  Infinitely transmutable, it is a healthy and balanced meal that keeps ARP practitioners going for 90% of our meals as it is lovingly prepared by our staff cooks. 

The rest of time when not being fed 3 square meals by our cooks, sometimes we travel back into the big city of Kathmandu where there are many options for food, or even here in the town of Bajra Barahi there are sit down food cafe's that we can go to for a meal.  Some of my favorites  that I’ve had (multiple times) are listed below:

Acupuncture Relief Project  | Good Health Nepal | Jeff Chiu

First is the momo.  A steamed, sometimes fried, dumpling with your choice of filling.  The standard, and my favorite, is 'buff' or buffalo meat. (cows are special in this part of the world; if you’re a chicken, buffalo or *gasp* a goat you are gonna be somebody’s dinner my friend)  I've yet to be hear otherwise, but I’m pretty sure all cultures have a dish that consists of filling inside dough.  When I travel, I love looking for the regional dumpling specialty.  Traveling in Asia is great because you often have too many options for dumplings.  The thing I like about the buff momo is the interplay between the spiced filling and the soft outer casing.  There's also the many ways I've seen the momos served; sometimes it's simply on a metal plate with a side of this mild, tomato based dipping sauce or sometimes it's served in a thinner, spiced soup.  Like dal bat, there is also variety in fillings; if you don't like buffalo meat you can have vegetables, chicken, and in a few cases while I was trekking in the mountains, a "snickers bar momo" that I was curious to try but worried that my teeth might rot out of my head.  

Acupuncture Relief Project  | Good Health Nepal | Jeff Chiu

Second, is any variety of chow mein.  Yes, the dish that you pick up at your local take out spot that fills that takeout box in an impossible way that makes you feel like you'll be fed for days, and the dish that I typically avoid when I visit a chinese restaurant back home, has somehow become something I crave now.  Perhaps there's something to do with the core of my Chinese heritage that misses noddles; I can't explain it, but I like it and typing about it is making me want it more.  Like the foods listed above, chow mein can be had so many different ways, but the magic of when noddles and oil fry together in a hot pan is where I fall in love.  

Acupuncture Relief Project  | Good Health Nepal | Jeff Chiu

Next, is thenduk, a dish that is as fun to say as it is good to eat.  Sounding a bit like an otomotopia; thuptka is a noodle soup concoction with thick rice flour noodles.  The soup is thickened either with starch or made from bone broth, but it is amazing.  Often with a piece or two of vegetables to pair with whatever ingredient you want (buffalo, chicken, vegetarian etc.) the dish is hearty and has that, homey, made by mum feel to it.  Just like the other foods listed above, it's hard not to compare them to similar Chinese dishes, however, I think if you looked, most cultures have a starch + soup combination that tastes extra delicious when you're feeling sick.  

Before we close this blog, I do want to issue a warning; If given the chance, Nepali's can and will try to kill you with hospitality. "Nepali Food Torture" is a thing.  Our crew was invited to an Interpreter's house for the Tihar/Diwali holiday and we were given a plate of buffalo meat, seasoned peanuts/chickpeas, potatoes, and a long piece of fried dough along with some rakshi, a local alcohol of dubious alcoholic content that everybody makes at home.  The food was a spicy and flavorful and the rakshi, was alcoholic tasting enough to tell you there was probably 15-30% ABV and it was just drinkable enough that you could easily get in trouble drinking it.  What I did not know was that there was a sequel to this meal; We were then invited to a relative's house where the Tihar/Diwali Bai tikka ceremony would take place; where the men of the house are given an appreciation ceremony administered by an aunt/sister/female cousin. 

Acupuncture Relief Project  | Good Health Nepal | Jeff Chiu

This was a wonderful ceremony to observe and even be a part of as our foreheads were also dotted with the ceremonial dyes.  Meal #2 came and it seemed to be endless as it was continually piled on to our plates by our hosts.  There was more spiced meat, more holiday sweets and more rakshi to drink.  My brain is hardwired if somebody offers you food/drink and hospitality that you be polite and you clean your plate; if more is offered, you keep going.  I succeeded where some of my compatriots did not (sissies) and cleaned my plate and drained my cup.  Victory in hand and head held high, I quickly ambled home for a nap. (not shown in my photo above; how uncomfortably full I am)

While Nepal might not be known for its food compared to other Asian/Pan-Pacific countries like Singapore, the food is good, is nutritious and is less animal protein-centric which is better in the long run.  My advice to visiting practitioners is embrace the simplicity of the food here, and when you do crave something different, go into town and scratch that itch with a snickers bar or a packet of cookies/biscuits.

Anyway, Ta ta for now; it’s breakfast time, may your meals be warm and your bellies full! See you next tale. -- Jeff Chiu

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