I feel my time in Nepal (only 12 days so far... crazy, feels like a year) has already greatly stretched, opened and expanded my view of culture, community, self and life in general. A perspective and growth I think and hope will stay with me forever. I feel like every moment is packed with SO much stimulus, it can feel like an overwhelming sense of raw emotions... bursting and bubbling... trying to make sense of, integrate and digest everything at once, before the next moment, equally as intense and stimulating arrives. There is just so much to take in and process... (A little alone time each day for me is highly needed).
Being immersed in some Nepalese city life and culture in Kathmandu for a few days after arrival and introduction to our Acupuncture Relief Project team was a whirlwind of exciting events while we adjusted to our different time zones (America, Canada and Australia). On reflection some highlights include a trip on the back of Andrew’s (our team lead) motorbike from the airport to the earth house hotel. Goodbye Australia and hello Nepal... a complete cultural change!!! As the thick smog filters through my respiratory system, my eyes water from the smoke and speed of the bike, animals, pedestrians, bikes, motor vehicles and fuel trucks weave a path with many honks and near clashes, and I think back to my friend saying to me before I left that Nepal/India can often feel like you have landed in a completely different universe... yet the chaos to me feels so fluid and free and somehow I felt a sense of adrenaline, excitement and a great sense of LIFE!!!
We had a very warm welcome and I felt extremely safe and at home. I was already beginning to sense that Nepal was a place of unpredictability and really keeps you on your toes... literally... those first couple of days we did a lot of walking... exploring and discovering the city and some of its treasures... lead partly by Andrew along with some of his Nepalese friends/connections... who are very interesting and inspiring people who generously shared their stories, art and knowledge of the city, temples and hot spots. (And by hot spots I don’t mean wi-fi... a concept, which has become foreign to us in Kogate and at its mention our ears prick up with anticipated attention).
Some “hot spots” for me included the monkey temple ‘Swayambhunath’ where we had some great laughs watching many monkeys jumping and playing in a small water pool (remind me to show you a video of this) and a sacred site Pashupatinath where on one side of the river bodies are burned in funeral celebrations and on the other side there are temples for fertility. The way life and death are so connected here is very beautiful... A sense of impermanence and flow... Everything seems more out in the open... the rubbish being another example... instead of feeling disgusted by it I also see it gives another understanding that we use SO much unnecessary packaging and garbage in our society and here its just more ‘out there’. In Kogate all the rubbish we use we burn so it really gives you a more immediate idea of what and how much you bring/use/dispose of.
Our journey to Kogate was an adventurous funny, somewhat scary ride with all 7 of us packed into a jeep bobbing up and down with all the bumps, lots of screams of near close encounters with oncoming traffic around bends and the often sketch (Patty’s sketch scale rating) roads and lots of girly giggling (our poor driver ...a young Nepalese man who found enjoyment from telling us cars had just tumbled down the cliff the other day... totally NOT funny information while squeezed in the back of a jeep on that road!!!!).
We arrived somewhat relived, very hungry and tired.... Only the next day could I fully appreciate the beauty of our new home and its mountainous surrounds. There is a little running creek which today we bathed in on our one day off ... it felt lovely and was refreshingly cool. We have explored some of the little trails around after our clinic days and the beauty is very overwhelming and breathtaking... as is the altitude and the steepness!!!
Setting up the clinic was exciting and the first week has been both challenging and rewarding. The Nepalese people are very sweet and welcoming, funny and grateful. I think I have treated and seen more people/conditions in the first week than a whole semester at college! From pregnant women, young children to people in their 80’s and all different social classes they arrive at our clinic late morning and just keep rolling in ... often I have around 10 family members in the room all having their input into a particular case and getting involved (at first can be very overwhelming, along with the children piling around the windows all watching, sniggering and giving you shy smiles).
Being a “primary health worker” aka “famous white doctor” has been a big adjustment in my thinking and practicing mind and I have found working with new assessment tools and exams rather challenging yet I feel privileged to learn these new skills in practice and be able to help the people where is needed. Sometimes they don’t need acupuncture or herbs, they need a medical diagnosis or a referral or simply to be heard and listened to.
One of my patients I have seen everyday this week is an older man who suffered an ischemic stroke in late February and now is unable to speak. He comes in with his wife (a very caring beautiful lady) and is only able to sound “la la la” and is partially paralyzed on his right side. I have been treating him with acupuncture, using both electro and scalp acupuncture and also doing speech training with him. I sit in front of him (or Tessa, another volunteer who is helping out does) and we sound out the vowels getting him to watch us and try his best at copying our sounds. He finds this frustrating I think yet with the right encouragement he develops a big smile! This warms my heart and I feel so humbled by these people I have met who seem to have many health concerns yet are so open, happy and grateful. Many great qualities I will continue to aspire towards as my time here with Acupuncture Relief Project continues. - Anna Helms