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The Sacred in Everything

Jennifer Rankin | Acupuncture Volunteer Nepal

As time passes here in Chapagaon, I have come to reflect many times on how the sacred seems to infuse every aspect of life here. The mundane and the spiritual seem to be woven together in such a way that on one hand it is a colorful dizzying display and on the other it is deeply rooted in a basic respect for something deeper. This has had a profound effect on my experience thus far.

Namaste Greeting NepalBeginning with the greeting my patients meet me with every morning - "Namaste". The simple moment when palms come together in a prayer like position at the front of the heart marks the beginning of almost every interaction I have had with a patient. This beautiful greeting is punctuated with intentional and sustained eye contact. This is often the instant I pause and collect myself to be fully available to the person sitting in front of me. The way my Nepali patients have taught me presence I will never forget.

Near the beginning of my stay at the clinic the festival of Tihar started. Known as the festival of light it is a time when one decorates the home with elaborate and colorful flower mandalas and every entranceway and window is lit up with candles as a way to welcome in Laksmi the goddess of abundance. It was an incredible introduction to the way Nepali's celebrate through ritual.

Tihar Festival NepalIt seems my patients, and many Nepalis as a whole, celebrate their devotion on a daily basis and in very extroverted ways. Early in the morning women in the community can be seen doing their "puja" at the local temples; carrying with them their prayers, dishes of fruit, flowers and rice as offerings. Another such ritual is the "tika"; a form of decoration in which men and women paint their forehead with colored paste. It has many meanings but is often worn to represent the spiritual. I love seeing people walk into my treatment room adorned in this way. In fact it becomes so widespread I almost forget how different these customs are from Canada. These outward expressions of the inner spiritual life has allowed me to look more deeply at my own hopes and dreams and to truly contemplate my devotion and gratitude for the beauty in my life.

The other night some of the practitioners, interpreters and monks were having "chia" (milk tea) at the forest view, which is a small shop we tend to hang out in playing cards and enjoying each others company. The woman who owns the shop came over to share her offerings. She had just returned from an all day pilgrimage to a rural temple and had brought back with her gifts from that place to share. She walked around the table and placed in each of our hands an assortment of flowers, dry rice and fennel. She was happy to share her blessings from the temple with us. It was special yet commonplace. Some rested the flowers on their heads and others behind their ears. All those present responded with a bow as a heartfelt acknowledgment to the deeper meaning of this gesture.

Tihar Fextival Nepal

Patients regularly come in to see us bringing gifts -  bags of fruit or bunches of spinach as a way to say thank you. When in reality, I have come to realize I am the greatest beneficiary of this experience. The chance to be witness to so many healing journeys is a true gift. The spark of connection these patients ignite in me is significant. During those stories that are hard to hear and those cases that may not have the perfect happy ending I am especially struck by this realization. The other day a patient stopped me and told me (with the help of my amazing interpreter) that I would always be with them. She said that a piece of me would stay here and always be in the hearts of my patients. That she would not forget and that a part of Nepal would go home with me and live in my heart forever. And you know what? She was right. ---Jennifer Rankin

Jennifer Rankin | Volunteer Acupunturist Nepal

People, Patients and Moments Shared

Felicity Woebkenberg | Volunteer Acupuncturist Nepal

I knew that the time that I spent in Nepal with the Acupuncture Relief Project would be a personal conquest of service. However, when I walked through the doors of the Vajra Varahi Healthcare Clinic I had no idea of the transformative journey that would lie ahead of me. I did not grasp that I would soon need all of my inner strength and courage to face many new challenges strait on. As I reflect, I see that I have learned some valuable lessons along the way. More importantly I see the friendships and personal connections that will eternally impact my life.

Felicity Woebkenberg | Acupuncture VolunteerAs a practitioner, I have grown in ways that I never could have anticipated. As a human being I have been filled with gratitude and compassion for the world, and my soul has been inspired by the resiliency of the human spirit in the face of hardship, obstacles, and poverty.

As many of my patients have said, "Khe garne?" or “What is there to do?”  I am placed in a position where I can provide hope where this word has long been forgotten. For some this is done with the insertion of a needle, for others it is through creating a space in which they can speak their hearts and truth, and for others it is sharing a similar destination of healing.

I think of my patients and the therapeutic relationship that we have formed in a relatively short period of time. I think of the expressive glances and common understanding that we have formed together. Through this experience, there is an intuitive knowing which I have nurtured and come to trust within myself in a new way. Slight movements of the skin, a subtle change in the tone of a voice, the way that an individual carries his or her self, and the glimmer or dullness of the eyes are all pieces of the new language that I have learned.

Patients at the Vajra Varahi Clinic NepalI recall the woman with knee pain whose husband suffered from typhoid fever, the man with Parkinson’s disease with the sparkle in his eye, the man with depression who echo’s beautiful tones from his trumpet across the valley, the woman with stroke sequela who is escorted into the clinic on her husband’s arm, the two women who have been friends since childhood with loving affection for each other, and the woman with the laugh that is contagious that by the end of the day everyone’s belly aches.

I reflect on the people that I have met, the patients that I have treated, and the moments that we have shared. And as I leave this place, there are heartstrings which are tugged with ample force reminding me of the bonds which have been made, and the people who I must leave behind. This is the choice that I have made... I have chosen to dive in and truly experience this place deeply, which has made it all the harder to let it go.

I came here to be of service to a community that needed my help. Little did I know how quickly I would become a part of it... and know it as a place that accepted me as its own. --- Felicity Woebkenberg

Felicity Woebkenberg | Acupuncture Volunteer Nepal

Volunteer practitioner Felicity Woebkenberg and interpreter Tsering Sherpa head out to a remote treatment site by motorbike.

Part of a Community

Stacey Kett | Volunteer Acupuncturist in Nepal

Chapagaon is surrounded by beautiful terraced rice fields. The fields are broken up into small plots that are farmed, by hand, by individual and groups of families. I see many of these family members as my patients in the Vajra Varahi Clinic. Ever since my arrival I have been taking long walks around the village wondering about the way the rice is farmed and harvested.

Volunteer NepalOne day I was talking to a patient about her work in the fields and how this was effecting the pain she had in her body. I mentioned that before I studied acupuncture I too had been a farmer. In fact, I've longed to see these terraced fields of rice since I started farming more than 15 years ago. Rice is a staple food, and yet it's growth and harvest has always been a mystery to me. My patient looked at me in disbelief but after I asked a few more questions she invited me to come help in the fields if I wanted. This seemed like an opportunity I couldn't refuse. 

A few weeks later the summer rains finally stopped, the rice began to yellow and the rice kernels were full. The family of one of our interpreters, Satyamohan, had a few fields of rice that were ready to harvest. His father, Dan Bahadur, is the caretaker of the Monastery grounds that the clinic is on. Their harvest day fortunately lined up with our day off and he arranged for us to help.

We walked out to the fields and found the small plot of land that we were to harvest. I was given an iron sickle and we began cutting the rice stalks and gently placing them into piles. Next, they set up the threshing machine, set out tarps and began to bring over the piles of rice. My fellow practitioners and I watched excitedly, wondering how it was all going to work.

The metal threshing machine had been carried on two bamboo poles out to the fields. It has a barrel with metal spokes all over it. Powered by a foot pedal that you pump to make the barrel spin around I quickly found that it takes a little coordination. Once you get the barrel spinning, you take a bundle of rice and put seed heads against the barrel. The metal spokes knock the rice grain off the stalk and as it falls to the ground and it is caught by a tarp that is underneath. The rice is then swept into a bigger pile, winnowed and cleaned by another group of women. There are so many hands involved!

After we watched for a while they let us have a turn at pedaling the thresher. Eventually they kicked us off so that the professionals could get to work. After the rice was cleaned it was bagged up into big sacks which needed to be carried to the nearby road. We were then taught how to carry the bag of rice, using the head strap across our foreheads that also wrapped around the middle of the sack. We each carried a bag (while everyone had a good laugh at our expense) over to the road. I had immediate appreciation for the people that carry these loads every day and now understood why so many of my patient's have such strong (and sore!) necks.


We also learned how to carry a water pot, One arm wraps around the neck and the bottom rests on your hip. The problem is that it rests right on your hip bone, which is uncomfortable after about 100 feet. The other challenge is trying to keep all the water in the pot. We all took a turn and realized why the women wear a wrap around their waist, to pad their hips and support their backs. This wrap is called a Patuka in Nepali, or Jannai in Nawari. Carrying the water pot also makes you walk with one hip off center offering some insight as to why the women here have such back and hip issues.

I felt so at home in the fields that day and I suddenly realized that I was becoming a part of this community. I hadn't considered how quickly this could happen, even when I have only been here for eight short weeks. Everyone was so excited that we were there, interested in knowing how they live and work. I was honored to be there. This brief experience helped me connect to the land, the people and the lifestyle in a way that I couldn't have previously imagined. My heart is so full from having had this opportunity to grow as a medical provider (and as a farmer)... it is going to be a difficult place for me to leave behind. ---Stacey Kett

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