Saturday, March 21, 2015

January 18 - Last Day in Kathmandu

It's hard to believe that this incredible trip has come to an end. We were lucky enough to be able to spend our last day in Nepal exploring Kathmandu and Thamel, which was a relaxing way to see the city one last time and make sure everybody had bought everything they needed. It was my first time in Thamel, as I had joined the trip late, and I loved seeing how business is done in the shopping district. Shopping districts are always great places to visit in any country, because it reminds you how similar all cultures are when it comes to selling and buying -- buyers are always looking for a bargain and sellers are always trying to peddle their trade profitably.
Thamel is busy and noisy, and an incredible place to buy souvenirs and gifts for friends and family, while also learning the unique art of haggling. We got quite good at, as a team, haggling with many of the storeowners (within reason), and everybody was quite pleased with the various jewelry, clothing, and trinkets we brought back.
For lunch, we had our last momos and daal bhat at a restaurant in town, and took a final taxi ride back to the house in Kathmandu. It was bittersweet saying goodbye to the new friends we had made from different universities and other countries around the world, but it was an eventful two weeks, and our return to school was inevitable. We had a great last dinner with the sisters and the others staying with the Mountain Fund, and spent the night lounging around together and packing up to leave in the morning. I am so grateful for this first time getting the lay of the land in Nepal, and figuring out what Swastha Nepal's role will be there in the future. Dhanyabaad, Nepal, and can't wait to be seeing you again! - Lillian

January 17 - Leaving Chitwan and Returning to Kathmandu

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January 16 - Day at Chitwan

Today was our exciting day visiting Chitwan National Park! The weather was exceptionally sunny and warm - perfect for the hours we would spend outside. The hotel provided a wake-up call and a large buffet breakfast (which included the ever present and delicious option of milk tea) to begin our day and then we were off.
            We all piled into the back of a pick-up truck and bounced our way to the park. The roads were so bumpy I seriously thought that a couple of us might be catapulted out. After a short ride, we pulled up to the edge of the park into an area full of men riding elephants (the mahouts sit right behind the elephants’ heads). Elephants are huge up close in case anyone was doubtful of that and large platforms with ladders were set up for mounting. Mounting (and dismounting) was a somewhat difficult affair - four people per elephant squeezed onto platforms with railings which was fine until the last person had to push their way into a sitting position with minimal space. Each person got a corner and our legs hung out over the side of the elephant. As Liam, one of the Australians we had met at HerFarm, had warned us, riding an elephant is quite rough but totally worth it of course. The whole ride lasted almost two hours and was largely uneventful apart from two exciting instances. First was the rhino we got to see up close. This entire area of the jungle is full of people riding elephants and whenever one mahout finds a rhino he shouts out to all of the others so that all of the tourists can get their share of the excitement. And so it was with our unfortunate rhino friend. It turns out that rhinos are quite afraid of elephants and this rhino certainly was not pleased to find itself surrounded. Rhinos are super cool and wrinkly and huge. The second bit of excitement came on our way back when a couple elephants decided to pick a fight with each other (or something). Loud elephant trumpeting echoed all around along with loud purring-like sounds. Our elephant started dancing around a bit and rumbling in discomfort which was a bit nerve wracking as none of us wished to end our trip crushed by an elephant having a temper tantrum. But our lovely ride above the jungle came to an end too soon and we headed back to the hotel for a huge buffet lunch.
            After lunch we had a canoe ride and a walk through the jungle that culminated in a visit to the elephant breeding center. The canoe ride was honestly my favorite part of our visit to Chitwan. The boat was really narrow and long and a man with a pole stood at the front to guide our progress along the river. The bank was covered in crocodiles soaking in the sun and our guide strongly suggested that we keep our fingers out of the water to avoid becoming a snack. Turns out there are two main types of crocodiles in this area of Nepal: the huge stereotypical crocodile that reminds one of Steve Irwin and the Gharial crocodile which has a long, narrow snout. We also saw another rhino from far away and lots of different birds. Our canoe ride ended about an hours walk from the elephant breeding center and the edge of Chitwan. Before we set off into the jungle out guide gave us a rather disturbing warning. If we should come across a rhino we were to run as fast as we could and try to climb trees to get away. Tigers would be scared away by the size of our group but a rhino would almost definitely charge us. Come to find out, our guide was one of the few to brave bringing tourists into the jungle. Luckily, we didn’t come across any rhinos though we did see a couple herds of deer. The breeding center was our final destination and was quite interesting. Elephant training isn’t as kind as I’d hoped but wasn’t as cruel as I feared. The general condition of the elephants was good but it seemed to me that they were kept on chains that were much too short. While we were there a wild, male elephant came to inspect his captive female audience. Apparently he had discovered that the breeding center was a source of free ladies and free food. If I thought the elephants we had seen so far were huge, they had nothing on this guy. He was the most massive animal I have ever seen with massive tusks at least a meter long (though probably longer). After we left we could hear a huge ruckus of shouting and trumpeting, so I’m guessing he got into some mischief.
            That night after dinner we went for a night time walk of the town to collect snacks for our six hour bus ride back to Kathmandu the next day. There were many bars and restaurants open as well as small convenience stores full primarily of toiletries and alcohol.  Like the rest of Nepal, there is a very strange dichotomy involving alcohol - on one hand, native Nepalis don’t drink at all and don’t respect people who do. On the other, there is an expectation that all white tourists get drunk all the time. It’s quite strange and somewhat perplexing.

            Chitwan is extremely beautiful and was a lovely addition to our trip. - Isabelle

January 15 - Arrival at Chitwan

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January 14 - Final Day at Her Farm

This morning, Lillian, Caitlin, Emily, Liam and I woke up at 4am to hike up the mountain and watch the sunrise.  We started on up in the pitch black with our headlamps and found a nice spot to watch the sun come up at the top of the mountain. Of course…. we never did actually see the sun come up, as it was hidden behind another mountain until a few hours later, but we did make an adventure out of it! With two Her Farm dogs following us, we hiked up and around through farms and down pretty treacherous mountains, lost trails, and lots of burrs, but we finally made it back to the farm just in time for a much needed breakfast.  Later on, we worked on putting together our data from the clinic.  We copied down all of the information we gathered and got pretty good at deciphering the doctors’ handwriting on the prescriptions! The boys came to the school at 4pm to get an English lesson.  Tonight was our last night at the Farm! I’m really sad to leave such an amazing place but excited for the next adventure that waits at Chitwan. - Courtney

January 13 - Clinic Day 2

Today was much of the same as yesterday as we wrapped up our medical camp in the small rural village of Mankhu. On Nepali time, we again rose relatively early, ate breakfast, and lazed about throughout the morning, until around 10:30 when we started setting up for Day 2 of the clinic. Life in Nepal seemed to be slow-paced and generally relaxed. Nepalis tended to treat set times as more approximate and to use time in the morning and evening to relax while saving the middle bulk of the day for hard work. This was quite different from the constant rush and movement of the American lifestyle, a change I found refreshing.

            It happened that a nationwide strike had been called for this day, urging businesses to       close for the day and people to not work. As a result, the local school of the village was closed, and our camp was swamped with children. The kids who normally came to the farm for English lessons hung around, as well as many of the kids from the surrounding area who, looking for something to do with their free day, came for a checkup themselves or to accompany a family member. It struck me how happy these kids seemed to be, despite not having a fraction of the resources enjoyed by the typical middle-class American child. They still played among themselves in a rowdy and creative fashion, but instead of with fancy toys and bikes they used the world and materials around them to entertain themselves. In between helping with the clinic and interviewing clinic visitors, I played with the kids and was lucky to experience this first hand. I tossed a hacky-sac sized ball with a little girl, but instead of a hacky-sac or ball it was a particularly firm patch of grass that had the same effect on the child’s grins. I talked to another young girl, who explained to me the rules of a strategic pick-up game she had devised herself involving simply several rocks and her imagination. At one point, a group of girls gathered Lillian, Courtney and I and braided our hair, exclaiming afterwards that we looked “beautiful!” (They did do a good job!). 

Overall, the clinic proved a success. Even more people visited on the second day, bringing the total to over 200 Nepalis seen by the two doctors. As the people in this area are very spread out, many of these people will have walked miles in order to get to our camp and receive proper treatment and medication. It's not an easy life, but people do seem to freely find their own happinesses here. - Caitlin

Friday, March 20, 2015

January 12 - Clinic Day 1

Waking up at Her Farm for the first time was unforgettable - the view of the mountains and the villages below was serene and centering, and a sharp contrast to the bustling city life of Kathmandu. I awoke more excited that day than any other of the trip, knowing we were getting to the real meat of our stay there. I was looking forward to seeing how Swastha Nepal's second ever clinic would unfold, three years after the first. We had picked up a doctor in town the day before, and had the nurses with us at the farm; flyers had previously been put up at the government health post and around town, to let people know about the clinic.
In Nepal, mornings are much slower than they are in the U.S. and the "work day" does not really begin until the afternoon. After breakfast, and a few hours of journaling and exploring the farm, we made our way to the small clinic that is on site at Her Farm. It is equipped with two beds, a "pharmacy" of sorts, and a table where the patient and doctor sit to discuss what has brought him/her to the clinic. The vitals station was outside under the clinic's awning, run by the nurses.
Initially, it was unclear how us W&M students should integrate into the clinic's operations, as we did not want to be in the way or hinder any care, but soon we found our roles. Throughout the duration of the clinic, there was one student interviewing incoming patients before they were seen, one student observing at the vitals station, and typically two indoors overseeing the appointments themselves. We rotated positions so everyone got to experience the clinic from a different perspective, as there was certainly a lot to learn no matter what you were doing. Caitlin was our photographer for the day, and did an amazing job documenting everything. A very busy first day, but an excellent start to our research!
We had close to 100 patients that first day, ranging from the schoolchildren who came up during their lunch break to the elderly who had, in some cases, never seen a doctor before. The clinic ran for several hours - up until dinner - and we were all pleased with the turnout and how smoothly everything had gone. It was fascinating to hear about Nepali views on health and illness, and the importance of medicine and/or prayer in the healing process. Cultural relativity was key in interacting with the patients, and we showed that primarily just by being silent - listening was the most important part of our research by far. I went to sleep that night having learned things that extended well beyond medicine and disease, and happy that there was another day of our clinic ahead. - Lillian