Ainslie’s Reflections From NepalApril 2, 2019
A Brave Woman Takes on Nepal.
The things about Nepal that left the biggest impression on me both occasions I have visited (separated by nearly 20 years) are the beauty of the mountains, how genuine the people are and the distinct odours. While some of the latter are quite, shall we say, pungent, it is also the smell of the spices in the Nepali tea and freshly cooked roti, both of which greeted us each morning when we stayed at the Chaujahari Hospital, as the guests of the hospital and Human Development and Community Services (HDCS).
I must admit I have struggled to explain the experience of the trip to friends and family. It was such a mixture of highs and lows, laughs and tears (choked and actual), immense gratitude, extreme reality checks, badly behaved politicians, physical exercise and stress. It honestly is like trying to explain how breathtaking the Himalaya are – there are no words or pictures that can make the listener truly understand. But I will try to explain.
The highs. The staff of HDCS and the hospital provide such a vital service to the communities in Rukum, and they are relentless in their pursuit of betterment for that community. They were incredibly generous with their time and patience while explaining the project and showing us the hospital. On the morning hospital rounds with Dr. Kaleb, we saw how he interacted with the patients and how they responded to him; we also saw this while walking around the hospital and the village with Dr Kaleb, how people would stop to speak to him and shake his hand. While I spent most of the time during the hospital rounds with my back pressed against the wall and my mouth squeezed shut to stop myself bursting into tears, the passion and commitment of HDCS and the hospital staff is something tremendous. As someone who cannot deliver medical services to anyone (I faint near blood or pain) the opportunity to financially support this project is such a positive thing.
The lows. In a country that has the second highest reserve of water of all the countries in the world (I was told by two separate Nepali people), it is just unbelievable that so many people do not have access to running water, and not even clean water. Women walk for hours each day to collect water for cooking and drinking, which makes them and their families sick, because it is not clean. The effort in obtaining any water is so great that they do not use the toilets, as water cannot be ‘wasted’ to flush them, leading to further significant health issues. If even running dirty water is provided to communities, toilets can be flushed and hands can be washed and water can be boiled for consumption and people can be healthier and work and earn money and look after their families and their kids can go to school. It’s such a simple thing with such a profound impact. Our tour guide in Pokhara told us she had risked her life to have a third child at her mother-in-law’s insistence (otherwise she planned to marry her son to another woman) in an effort to have a son (they already had two daughters) and how she aborted three unborn girls before becoming pregnant with a boy. How that same tour guide is ‘lucky’ that her educated husband gave her ‘permission’ to finish her studies and gives her ‘permission’ to work but not permission to work outside a certain distance from Pokhara. That in both towns full of educated people as well as remote villages, women with their period are not allowed in the kitchen or to touch their husband and that menstruation huts are not uncommon. This is in 2019.
Well, there were a lot actually. Pushing three wheelers uphill through mud was not in the travel brochure. Being driven in said three-wheeler, with a total of 6 passengers, by someone who looked about 12 (though claimed to be ‘almost 16’), with limbs hanging out the side and Nic having to kneel on the floor as our four butts could not physically fit on the back seat. I wish I could have Pri calling ‘Ashish! Ashish!’ turned into an alarm so I could wake giggling every day. After watching about 50 men trying to un-bog a bogged bus for an hour and a half, Pri instructing the driver of an excavator on what he had to do to deal with the long line of traffic backed up on either side of the bus on a one lane road. And she was right and we were freed. The swarm of a hundred primary school children running after Kenton’s drone like it was a UFO dropping lollies. The village women laughing at our efforts to carry their water up from the river. Yeti Airlines flight attendants moving up the aisle offering cotton wool for ear-stuffing before the plane took off. Us realising a jewellery shop owner had left us alone in his shop full of gems and gold while he motorbiked off to borrow a credit card machine from a friend.
I alluded to these above – the utter sadness of how the illnesses and ailments that are killing people in Nepal are virtually non-existent in so many other wealthier countries, and otherwise in many cases so easy to treat if you have the resources. How girls do not get educated because if there is no running water at school, they cannot use the toilets, so if they have their period they stay home and miss 25% of school every month, so end up not going. How in the hospital three of the soon-to-be or just-new mothers we met were 17, 18 and 19 respectively and this is not unusual. How many new mothers develop prolapsed uteruses as a result of returning to their normal physical work immediately after giving birth.
Our hosts went so far above and beyond to look after us, and to give us such an amazing experience that I am so humbled by this generosity of both personal time and effort and of spirit. People with already so many people relying on them and such busy days found time to spend with us and answer our questions. Gratitude that I was lucky enough to be born where I was born and afforded the opportunities that I have. That people who did not know us were willing to share their stories and sadnesses and motivations – immensely personal things. That while we must have been a sight to the locals in Rukum, we were welcomed. I’m sure I speak for all the Brave Women and men in offering heartfelt thanks to all at INA, HDCS and Brave Consulting for this opportunity, and especially to Ashish and Tulsa for being our guides, interpreters, educators and friends. I would be remiss to not mention how well we were fed at the hospital. A different roti every day, delicious dahl and rice and cauliflower, cake for breakfast, a Nepali tea appearing in front of you within seconds of sitting down. We were spoilt.
Extreme reality checks. See all of the above.
Badly behaved politicians.
Truly one of the most bizarre experiences I have ever had. A planned dinner for us with a local politician transforming into dinner with 10 politicians, their four-person security detail, a Finnish education expert and a birthday cake.
Pushing three-wheelers, walking kilometres after the bus got bogged, walking up steep hills after pushing a three-wheeler and it continuing to get bogged, traversing rivers in rolled up pants while carrying our shoes, getting to where we thought we were going and then finding out it was a further 20-minute walk. We learnt the hard way that a ‘Nepali minute’ is about six regular minutes, so when someone says its only 15 minutes further it’s really about an hour and a half. No complaints at all – it was funny and fun and just part of the unpredictability you come to predict when trying to get around in remote Nepal.
Have you ever tried to make a choice in a Nepali scarf shop? Out of a vast mixture of emotions and experiences on the trip, I have an over-riding feeling of positivity. The experience has been like no other and is one that has changed me. My view of the world is different. So, I’m afraid that this is the best I can do to explain. If you’ve ever seen the Himalaya you will understand.
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