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Love and Chaos in Kathmandu

Amanda Johnson | Acupuncture Volunteer Nepal

In that instant, when you’re sandwiched between a motor bike on your right, its passengers shirt tail grazing your arm, a gutter filled with unidentifiable sludge on your left, and an oncoming taxi crammed with 12 Nepalese wildly speeding toward you, you start to re-evaluate the meaning of chaos.

How do these millions of people survive in the streets of Kathmandu with no road lines, lights, stop signs or any apparent rules of the road?Cars, vans, bicycles, pedestrians, tuk-tuks and animals all playing a calculated game of frogger. It’s fastinating to watch – unnerving at times- but strangely beautiful.

I’ve learned to enjoy the thrill of going on a harrowing taxi ride, like a child enjoying rollercoasters….or a fight against incontinence!

Amanda Johnson | Acupuncture Volunteer Nepal

It occurs to me that perhaps why there are not many accidents (that I’ve seen) is because people are in the flow of the moment here. Not generally distracted by phones, eating in the car, putting on make-up – all the things I see far too frequently in the USA. Biking around Portland I get to watch many drivers – and a shocking number are not actually looking at the road. It’s insanity! Maybe the comfort of road lines, lights, signs has put us on auto-pilot. Our ability to take in our surroundings, to be sharp and reactive, declines. We kill people because we can’t wait to send a text?! WHAT!?

Maybe it’s love that saves lives and prevents accidents in Nepal. I have been reading the book Shantaram, a story about an Australian fugitive who escapes from prison to the slums of India. In the story, a character explains why millions of people can manage to live in relative peace together in India is because no one loves like Indians. It’s this collective love for each other that keeps people from freaking out over the claustrophobic conditions, lack of resources and general chaos. I believe this law of love, if you will, applies in Nepal.

Nothing is done alone here, potentially using the toilet is your one moment of precious privacy…potentially. People live with multiple generations of family. They walk, shop, eat, laugh, yell, cry, smoke, drink, sit on stoops together. Contrast this to the typical American, for whom it can be a struggle to car pool with another person. There’s an ingrained sense of independence in Americans. I can do this, not we can do this. Perhaps the Nepalese culture of sharing, of interdependence, plants the seeds for love to grow. I have come to know the warm love of community in Kogate, being immediately embraced as a sister and daughter into my host family. My walk to the clinic each morning is enriched by a “Namaste!”, a smile, a familiar nod. I feel as cared for by them as, I hope, they feel cared for through my work.

Amanda Johnson | Acupuncture Volunteer Nepal

There are millions of people and animals, moving as an amoeba, depending upon each other for survival. Horns blaring here and there, not out of anger, but seemingly (again this is not my culture, so I’m speculating) to alert another of your presence. “Hey! My taxi is 1 inch from your foot, excuse me, I don’t want to crush you!”. A courtesy. When horns blare in the U.S. they’re usually followed by a violent gesture, yelling, or at least some dramatic facial gestures from the driver. I am thankful horn on horn violence is a rarity in Portland :)

So next time I’m feeling late for work, stressed about the pace of traffic, ruffled by the inevitable obstacles set before me, I’ll try to be part of the ameoba. Give thanks for the protective bubble of my car, the safety of the sidewalk, the rules of the road that, theorically, allow me to put on make-up while driving. But of course I won’t! ---Amanda Johnson

Challenging, Educational and Enlightening

Marian Klaes | Acupuncture Volunteer Nepal

My experience with the Acupuncture Relief Project began after reading an article in an Acupuncture newsletter.  The information on the website described it as a cultural immersion and it truly lived up to that description.  As a participant we lived with a local resident and learned what is like to be part of the local culture and live the lifestyle of the  residents  in Bhemphedi, Nepal.  

I found the people of Nepl to be a very gracious culture.  At one point I had commented to an interpreter that I was so impressed with how kindly  we were being treated and he responded that we are guests of Nepal and that is how guests should be  treated.  There was never a time we felt unwelcome - whether we were working, trekking, or walking through the village, everyone was kind and respectful.  I found particular delight in the young children I encountered on my daily walks or coming home from the clinic.  The would shyly say Nameste, then say hello.  They would giggle with delight when I said Hello back to them.  They were so excited to know their English had been understood and would say  hello and goodbye repeatedly just to have me answer them.

Marian Klaes | Acupuncture Volunteer Nepal

Our team stayed with a delightful lady we called Auntie.  We stayed at her house which consisted of  four  bedrooms.  The remainder of the house consisted of an outdoor kitchen, outside bathrooom and outside shower.  Aunti was a gracious host who worked hard serving three substantial meals a day for six to twelve people.  All cooking was done on two propane burners as there are no ovens or electric/gas ranges.   There are no luxuries in Nepal -  appliances that  we consider  normal and essential  such as  microwaves,  washing machines,  clothes dryers, and dishwashers are not available in the rural villages.  Electricity would go out with no warning and there was never rhyme or reason when it would go out or how long it would stay out.  The Nepalis, used to it happening, would go about their business as they were accustomed to such interruptions.  

Marian Klaes | Acupuncture Volunteer Nepal

The work at  the clinic was busy and intense. We saw many different conditions usually related to  lifestyle.  Farming is mostly done by manual labor, women and children carry extremely heavy loads on their backs and necks.   The country is steep  and everyone walks on narrow and rocky paths often carrying large  loads of vegetables, firewood and staples such as rice and lentils.  The lifestyle contributes to back, neck and knee problems which were common ailments treated at the clinic.  Numerous other condtions such as stomach pain, menstrual disorders, stress and skin conditions were seen and it was gratifying  to see so many  respond to acupuncture treatment.  Seeing the reults of the treatments  has inspired me to return home and work with patients in my private practice.

When it rained the electricity would go out and the rain would come through the roof at the clinic. Patients would get wet yet they never complained. They were all appreciative that we  came to volunteer and they would sit in the cold, rain, or whatever to take advantage of health care services.  Heath care in Nepal is limited to non-existant.  There is no such thing as health insurance and any services are always out of pocket expense.  Employment opportunities are very limited and most people cannot afford to pay for care.  The ARP project is staffed by  volunteers and  patients pay nothing for the services.  Patients repeatedly thanked the team for what we provided and  would bring in vegetables ,  freshly made mustard oil or other gifts out of appreciation.   They would walk  or ride the bus one, two or three hours to come to the clinic and it was not uncommon for them to have to wait an hour or two before being seen. They were always gracious and never complained about the wait -they were just grateful for a chance to get some help.

Marian Klaes | Acupuncture Volunteer Nepal

As part of the experience I learned a lot about life in Nepal and In general it is a very hard life.  Women and children carry heavy loads on their backs to provide feed for animals or wood for a fire.  Central heat or air is not an option.  We trekked in the area where it is very cold and the only way to get supplies there is by humans, horses or yaks.  Food is limited in supply and in  variety.  We stayed in small tea houses along the way and the owners were always gracious hosts and willing to share a warm  fire  in the very cold evenings.  The rooms were unheated, the bathroom were outside and unheated and I thought about how much colder it would get in the coming months.  I knew I would be home with my central heat  and they would still be there with nothing but a  clay cooking stove to provide heat and cook their meals.  Yet the guest houses were always warm and welcoming in attitude and in service.

Educational opportunites are also limited in Nepal and I met  many young people who valued the opportunity to attend school.  Any chance for an education is appreciated.   School is held six days a week and students often walk great distances to attend.  There are no school buses - any season, any weather, and  they walk to class as they know the more they learn the better the possibility of having a better life than their parents.   

Marian Klaes | Acupuncture Volunteer Nepal

The interpreters at the clinic were young {18-25} and absorbed all they could from the doctors.  The clinic where I volunteered was located in Bhemphedi although two nights  I stayed in the village of  Kogate as  ARP has a satellite clinic there.  One of the family members was a beautiful and enthusiastic young lady, Riesta,  who wanted to read to me.  I had a book on my computer  tablet and she jumped at the chance to practice her reading and verbal English skills.  At one point there was a statement in the book about life is not Disneyland.  What is Disney land she asked?  The conversation that followed found me searching for words to describe cartoons, amusement parks, Disney movies and many other subjects.  It is challenging to explain those things to someone who has no concept of those experiences are like.  She wanted to know all about America - politics, college, entertainment.  the list was endless and she was a captiated listener as I attempted to explain and answer questions.  She told me she was headed to college soon - she would take her backpack, take the bus, and go to a different town where her sister lived.  College with only a backpack?  I was amazed - not quite the experience for students in the States.

Marian Klaes | Acupuncture Volunteer Nepal

The second night Riesta came to read to me, she brought a small container of chocolate, dried coconut pieces and other treats.  They were in a small container with a ribbon and she carefully unwrapped the ribbon and wanted to share.   I looked at the container which held small candies and I knew they  must have been a special gift for her. They were unlike anything I had seen in our local village - definitely something out of the ordinary.  For Americans sweets like that are common, but for her it was something unusual and special.  I initially declined saying I didn't want to ruin my dinner and she seemed so disappointed and hurt.  I agreed to take her offer and she seemed so happy that I did.  Her kindness and generosity was so very touching as here was someone willing to give when she obviouly had so little.  This experience  exemplified the Nepali culture in general.  They are generous, gracious and caring and would share whatever they had even if it means they go without.

Marian Klaes | Acupuncture Volunteer Nepal

I listened to young people talk about their dreams and aspirations of traveling or having careers as  fashion designers or journalists.     It is an eye opening experience to relieze how much is available to the average American.   If we want to  travel,  go to college or pursue a specific career it is always an open door.  We do not have the limitations and obstacles that exist in Nepal.  It was hard watching their glowing eyes as they spoke - yet wondering if any of them will ever achieve their goals.   It was inspiring listening to their hopes and dreams but at the same time it was emotionally wretching knowing the reality of the situation. Many expressed to me their desire to visit the Staes as they view it as a place of great opportunity.  Their views made me appreciate so much what we have and expect and how much we  take for granted.  Employment in Nepal is extremely narrow and many leave the country to pursue employment wherever they can, often in low paying jobs but they feel so fortunate to be working they take any job available.

Everywhere I went in Nepal I was asked how I liked their country, how was my stay, what do I think?  Everyone takes great pride in their country and so much wanted the "guests" to enjoy their stay.  They wanted our group to feel at home and welcome and appreciate what the country has to offer.    In the end, my  life in in  Nepal has been challenging, educational and enlightening, and  will always stand out as a memorable rewarding experience. ---Marian Klaes

 

When do you stop CPR?

Beth Fitzgerald | Acupuncture Volunteer Nepal

Long after I realized the man's injuries were too extensive to survive but not until his wife said "arret" and gently reached out with her bloodied hands to stop my chest compressions. Coming to Nepal I knew clinic would challenge me in ways I couldn't even comprehend, yet I looked forward to those challenges and the personal and professional growth that would hopefully follow. I knew I would help many people, and anticipated it would be the ones I couldn't help that would stay more present in my mind. And it's true, they do, but not in a way I ever expected. 

Beth Fitzgerald | Acupuncture Volunteer Nepal

There appeared to be confusion ahead, someone mentioned rockfall and an injury. I asked if there was a doctor present, said we were a medical team and offered to help. People cleared the trail and we were ushered ahead. My heart raced, do we have the skills needed to help? A man was unconscious in the middle of the trail with an obvious head injury and a woman kneeling at his head. No one seemed to be taking charge, I was so grateful to have Jacq and Susana with me. We later realized our porter, Peking, had been there for quite some time before us. The woman started speaking rapidly in French, I said I spoke a little French and asked her to slow down. It appeared the man had been hit in the head by rockfall 15 minutes prior. He was just below the rockfall and looked to be in pretty bad shape. We quickly moved him slightly down trail to a safer area. I felt little to no pulse and Jacq started started chest compressions as we tried to gather more information. We checked his pupils with my headlamp and they were fixed, we were told he had been unconscious the entire time. I took over chest compressions and quickly realized how extensive his injuries were. The woman at his head was covered in blood and his wife, she told me they live in the mountains near Toulouse. She asked if I thought he would be ok. I expressed my concern with his injuries and difficulty for rescue. We then realized the man had been hit by a rock and fallen off the trail and it had taken an hour and half to get him back up to the trail, where he had been for 15 minutes. It quickly became clear he not only had a significant head injury, but likely a spinal injury from the fall and it had been too long, he would not survive. There was nothing more I could do for him.  At this point all my attention shifted to his wife. The rest of their party and the other guides and porters stood back, they had also been there much longer than us and I can only imagine what this first hour was like. We were told a helicopter had been called, a teahouse was ten minutes down the trail and a landing site further below. I said we need a stretcher, trekking poles or branches I suggested. I continued chest compressions as his wife was asking me what I thought. I gently said it was a bad injury to his head, I was worried about what further damage had been caused by his fall and pulling him back up to the trail and feared it had been too long. She nodded. I said I couldn't feel a pulse and he wasn't breathing on his own, but I would continue chest compression as long as she wanted me to. It would be a long trip down the trail, waiting for a helicopter and then a half hour flight to Kathmandu as well. She had amazing composure and seemed to be slowly putting everything together. I continued compressions and allowed her time. "We live in the mountains, the Pyrennes, I can't believe he will die in these mountains." She started to cry. It was truly heartbreaking. Here is a woman whose name I do not know yet and we are in the most intimate moment. She reached out and gently pressed my hands to his chest "arret" and she looked up at me "Merci, thank you for trying." People arrived with two big pipes, ropes and big plastic rice bags to form a stretcher. Bistare (slowly, which is my most used word in clinic) I said and then asked for 5 minutes and waved people away to clear the trail as I had no idea how long it would take to get this man down and what shape he would be in. Jacq and Susana cleared the trail and we stood back and gave her time. My thoughts raced to my family, his family and my years of guiding. She knelt there for a few minutes and then stood up. We rolled him onto the stretcher and I kept saying gentle and bistare. I picked up his bloodied backpack in one hand and his wife tightly grasped my other as we slowly followed them down the steep and winding mountain trail past the tea house to the a wide spot on the river. Just days before we stood happily gazing up the valley and to the adventure that was waiting for us. I lead her to the river and helped her wash the blood off her arms and face. The three of us sat with her next to the stretcher waiting for the helicopter, watching monkeys cross the river and swing in the trees as other groups looked on. I gently rubbed her back, uncertain what else to do. Susana brought out her space blanket to more fully cover him and we held it down with river rocks. There were three others in their party but they had mostly stood back, I expect in shock. One came down to sit with her and I started to gathered blue yellow and white flowers into a bouquet for her to place on his chest. I expressed how sorry I was for her loss and hugged her, she was grateful for our efforts. I think it was over when the rock hit him she said, he never put his arms out as he fell down the cliff. Loading the helicopter was less than graceful and a very difficult sight, but as it took off she waved and blew kisses. We stood in quiet shock and it started to sink in more fully. I no longer could keep my composure and felt a heaviness settle over me with tears in my eyes.

Beth Fitzgerald | Acupuncture Volunteer Nepal

We still had three long hours hiking uphill, I was lost in my thoughts. Personally, the mountains are my playground and it shook me to the core to see such a tragedy in a place that gives me so much happiness. We are in such a rough country, yet I do not think the outcome would have been any different on any trail anywhere else. My heart goes out to the guides and porters, obviously shaken and overhelmed. I spent ten years guiding and gratefully never had to deal with more than minor injuries. And to the couple, they remind me of my parents who traveled extensively and loved to walk and hike all over the world. It could easily have been my family. Someone lost a husband, perhaps a brother and a likely a dad. Shortly oceans away they would be getting a terrible phone call. 

That evening from our little hilltop village we could look way down the valley to the river. They has been out of electricity for 9 days which seemed appropriate. Our group, the four of us, two guides and two porters ate Dahl baht together by candle light. Later we climbed up to the roof and sat under the nearly full moon to talk. Shaken and sad with graphic images flashing through our mind we talked about what happened, could we have done more and what our roles had been. We will never know what occurred before we arrived, but I truly believe we were meant to be there. Medically there was nothing that could be done and I came to that conclusion quite quickly and clearly, allowing me to focus my attention to his wife. I spent two hours in one of the most intimate moments in ones life with a woman whose name I would only later learn. It was my hope that I could offer some calmness, comfort and compassion. Allow her some time and space to process before being whisked from deep in the mountains to the chaos of Kathmandu and the reality that awaited her.

Beth Fitzgerald | Acupuncture Volunteer Nepal

I sat under the moon for hours before finally going to bed, and was then bolted awake with an image at 3am. I returned to the roof flooded with moonlight and prayer flags gently blowing in the wind. What was it going to take for me to process? I bought prayer flags the next morning and the following two days my heart and body felt heavy. I wasn't sure if the flags were more for myself or for the couple. We got up at 4:30am to hike high up to Gosandkunda Lake, a sacred Hindu lake. At first glance I saw the place across the lake where the flags were meant to go. Everyone in our group had a moment with the flags and then Peking, our porter, and I hiked up. We tied the flags togther, one for each if them. Peking tied one end to the trident at the base and I climbed up to secure the top. It felt peaceful and calm, and as if a large weight was lifted off my shoulders. I was suppose to be there for some reason. Her friend had asked for my email and I looked forward to one day hearing from her. In time, I hope she finds comfort in the care I we tried to provide and I will share photos from our sacred lake.

Beth Fitzgerald | Acupuncture Volunteer Nepal

At the end of our trek I returned to Kathmandu to a short but wonderful email from her friend. They were back in France, grateful for the help and compassion and sent details on the funeral in hopes we might light a candle or hang flags. We are back in Bhimphedi and clinic has reopened after the holiday. Tomorrow morning we will be up early to walk out to my peaceful morning viewpoint for a quiet moment and to hang flags at the same time as they will be remembering in France. Exactly one week after his passing. Those flags will be hung with a much lighter heart. 

Before I left for Nepal I was told, "You do the best you can and it's usually enough." And it's true.  - Beth Fitzgerald

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