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Jennie King: Reflections on Nepal

I am literally bumping down the road from the Himalayas as I write this. My guide, Ganesh, is amused because it is quite the task considering the road. However, the long bus ride affords me the opportunity to reflect upon my experiences at the Vajra Varahi Clinic. I remember one year ago while still in classes, I would look at the Acupuncture Relief Project blog with longing. Now, I feel so blessed that I was present at the one-year anniversary of the clinic as it completes one cycle and begins another. 

Most of my time was spent in Chapagaon, so I feel that my adventure in Nepal holds more depth than width.  I am already feeling the loss of the clinic and its uniqueness both in living and working. Living together as a community was never dull. We had the four practitioners and Nicky the clinic director, as well as constant additions and subtractions. The food was amazing thanks to Umilla our cook. I am now an amateur chapatti maker and even bought my own pan to recreate the experience when I get home. The daily rhythm cannot be replaced and I long for the 5:30 am gong calling the monks to puja, the morning yoga on the roof, the after clinic walks through the village, and the evening monk clinic followed by conversations. These conversations were invaluable because the constant examination of our medicine and the case study discussions helped us find ourselves as practioners.

I will not be able to recreate the atmosphere that is succinctly Vajra Varahi Clinic anywhere else.  I will miss the bracelets that get in the way of any wrist point and ear points that have to be managed around large jewelry.  Both men and women wear miles and miles of fabric so that if you want to go anywhere near the middle be prepared to wait five minutes for an unwinding.  I will miss the expressiveness of my patient’s faces as they explain their story, the richness of one interpreter’s voice and the sweetness of another.  I appreciate that I could occasionally lean into Heidi amidst the chaos. By chaos I mean the combined effect of people piled in the waiting and treatment rooms who talk to one another while we try to communicate with them through an interpreter, all under the gaze of people staring in through the windows. Once a cow mooed so loudly outside the window it could have been standing next to me. Practicing in the U.S. will seem so quiet in comparison.

It is perfect that we are here for the harvest season. When we arrived the rice fields were lush and full. Now the plants are cut to the ground, the grass and seeds are drying and being packaged for the rest of the year.    I feel that it mirrors my relationship with the medicine. Four years ago I planted my seeds when I started at the Oregon College of Oriental Medicine (OCOM).  I had to nurture my dreams fiercely through the challenges of school. As I am here I have been cutting down the fruits of my labor, some I will use now, some I will chew on for awhile and some will be replanted.

Thank you to everyone who made this experience possible for the team, the clinic, our community and me. – Jennie

Happy Birthday

One year ago, November, 11th 2008, Acupuncture Relief Project helped open the Vajra Varhi Natural Healthcare Clinic, here in Chapagaon. The day before the doors opened we all sat around wondering if anyone from the village would even show up. How would this community embrace us and our strange medicine. Now a year later ARP has provided over 10,000 acupuncture treatments to this rural Newari and Nepali village. The clinic continues to grow and serves upward of 400 patients per week. Some walking up to 5 hours to reach the clinic. In addition to acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine the clinic now has practitioners who practice Tibetan herbal medicine and homeopathy. The clinic has also hosted two dental camps.

In celebration of the one year anniversary of our partnership with and opening of the Vajra Varahi Clinic we had a big party and invited the village to come sing and dance with us. We were inundated by gifts of sweets, pickled foods and other tasty treats. We had a local Newari folk band whose drums had everyone on their feet and a spread of food that won't soon be forgotten. After the last of our friends had retired for the evening I was struck by the sense of community involvement that lingered. A sense that this clinic had not only served the community but now was  something that actually belonged to them. Something to care about, nurture and protect. I don't think anyone in the western world can imagine how important a community clinic can be to a place that is without basic healthcare. Even a place as simple as our clinic where the community can get health advise, have their health conditions and medications explained to them and receive basic effective treatment for a wide variety of conditions makes a huge difference in the quality of life here.

After our celebration we had to say goodbye to our Camp A clinic team. Heidi, Jennie, Allydreth and Nikole all did remarkable work here and have many amazing stories of their experiences and clinical outcomes. Their last few days here were marked with many tears as their patients and interpreters said goodbye. They will be missed. I personally enjoyed working with and getting to know each of these talented and compassionate practitioners. They diligently struggled through their first confusing and frustrating weeks to emerge as confident and competent field clinicians. I hope they will seize the opportunity to reflect on all of the things they have contributed to this community and also the things this community contributed to them. I sincerely wish them success in their future practices. – Andrew

Saathi Samuha Care House Partnership

Acupuncture Relief Project has partnered with the Saathi Samuha Care House in Patan, Nepal. This facility provides crisis-care to poverty stricken drug-users, recovering drug-users and people living with HIV, AIDS and Hepititis. Our volunteers are visiting two times per week to treat both staff and clients for a variety of conditions related to HIV and drug-use recovery. In this interview, Program Supervisor, Shruti Karki shares how her organization helps recovering drug-users fight against the spread of AIDS and HIV in this vulnerable community.

Week 2: A Typical Clinic Day

We are settling into a routine at the clinic now. At 5 a.m. we are awakened by the sound of symbols and drums, followed by the sounds of "elephant" horns from the monastery next door as the monks start their morning meditation.  We shower, practice yoga, qi gong, or meditate to the sounds of the village slowly awakening.  Those of us who are taking care of the latest flu cases, check on the the sick monks and give them treatment.  Then we eat our breakfast of curried potatoes and chapatis, or pounded rice and milk tea.

At 9 a.m. the clinic opens.  We are treating a wide array of conditions from knee, back and shoulder pain, to myriad of digestive issues from parasites to ulcers. We also treat a lot of hypertension, diabetes, asthma, pneumonia, and a woman with a prolapsed uterus. On top of all that we have been treating some trauma cases from the construction site next door.

At 10:30, Umilla our fabulous cook, brings us sweet tea to keep our energy up and to give the interpreters a bit of a break to wet their throats. By 12:30 we have finished treating our morning patients, and break for lunch. The food is delicious and nutritious, consisting of Dal- Bhaat (brown rice with lentil soup), bitter greens, and curried vegetables.

At 1 p.m. it is back to work to treat our afternoon patients. As we bid farewell to our interpreters at 5pm, we clean and straighten up our clinic rooms and discuss the difficult cases of the day. Slowly, young monks with upset stomachs, minor injuries, or new flu cases trickle in and are treated.

By 6:30 it is time for dinner and around 9:30 p.m. we crawl into bed to the sounds of the village "street dogs" singing or asserting their territorial rights to sleep on a particular doorstep or defend it from interlopers. As we fall into sleep, we wonder what challenges tomorrow will bring.

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