Sunday, July 25, 2010

For My Own Sake - The End

This post is for my sake, there will be no new adventures in this one, nor any pictures.

I was wickedly scared when I was going to Nepal. On that plane, I felt Nepal was either going to make me or break me. Now, after two long months, Nepal feels like a second home to me. I miss the food, I miss the landscape. I face a culture shock just walking down the roads here. Malls, streets, everything seems foreign in a way. I miss the prayer flags in the sky everywhere, the incense in the air.

Most of all, I miss the people. Everyone I met there, no matter if that's how they are back home, were amazing people. Some of the best people I've ever met. The girls all had personalities I wish I could find back here in Calgary. And all the guys were just damn great guys, and an absolute pleasure to know. I felt close to everyone there, whether I actually was or not. Closer than I've been to anyone here in Canada for a long time.

I also miss just having these people around. I don't have many people to talk to here, and none to really have a great, deep discussion like with some of the volunteers. In all honesty, life seems kind of lonely here. I really don't have much of an idea of what to do with myself here. There's no hospitals, no roof to hang out on, no one really even to chat with for half the day. I have no one to adventure with on the weekends, and right now no resources to do it. The kindness of Pabitra and playing with Sumna, I'll miss those since those were purely Nepali phenomena. Those didn't originate in the west.

My life's here, but there is a lot that I'll miss from Nepal. But, everyone that I met while in Nepal, everyone I spent time with, thank you for making this summer the best summer I've ever had. It was an amazing once in a lifetime experience. All of it. Thank you and goodbye. I'll miss you.

The Final Week: Goodbyes and Hectic Times - July 13th to July 19th

Well, here's a photo of Martin and Kate playing basketball with the kids from Snowlands! Another day in the life of volunteers in Nepal!

My last week in Nepal was pretty similiar to all the others in all honesty. At least until the end.

This is NOH.

Tuesday I saw another spinal surgery involving more large screws being jammed into the spine. There was also a partial hip replacement where the head of the femur was pulled out and replaced with a metal ball. When you think of surgery you usually think of delicacy, not the hammers, drills, files, and brute force the surgeons usually need to use here for operations. There was also a skin graft going on on a 16 year old boy who had fallen into a fire 8 or 9 years ago. He had serious third degree burns all over his right torso and arm. The skin graft was being placed in his underarm, where the skin stretches and tears. Since he's been having surgeries for 8 or 9 years his leg was covered in scars from all the skin that had been taken over the years. He had had surgery in India multiple times but it would continue to tear and not heal properly. The doctor told me and Luke (from Oz down under) that they ran tests and discovered carcinoma (cancer) cells in the tissue samples. That seemed to be the reason he wouldn't heal. That's quite a lot of difficulties for a boy from rural India, I think.

Wednesday was a bit of a strange. Oddly enough, even though I had been in Nepal for 8 weeks at that point it was the first time I had an "it doesn't have to be this way" moment at the hospital. Two injured girls came in to the emergency ward for wound cleaning and bandage changing. They both seemed to be somewhere in their mid-teens. The first girl had an infection in her foot and needed to have her leg amputated from mid-shin down. That was 5 years ago and she has been confined to a wheelchair since then. She had just come in to change the dressing on a wound on the end of where she had the amputation. In all honesty, that can't be a difficult prosthetic to make but it's possibly to expensive for this young Nepali girl. No one should be confined to a wheelchair when the solution is as simple as a piece of plastic shaped like a foot. The second girl had had severe burns over the right half of her face and neck. They seemed to be older since they were mostly healed except her neck, which seemed to be re-healing after tearing. Sure, the burns were severe, but plastic surgery would most likely not be difficult at all in the west. Nothing needed to be rebuilt, just scar tissue needed to be exchanged for clear skin. I find it hard that it would be hard to find a doctor with the skills and the money to do this in the west. For any girl, or anyone really, living in any culture with scars like that can make life ridiculously harder. And there's really no reason why it needs to be this way besides a lack of funds to have it done in one of the poorest countries of the world where, though cheaper than medical help here, everything needs to be paid for privately. That ended up being a difficult day for me, to be honest, and it's still a difficult memory.

Dr. Kugler ready for action!

Dr. Kugler in action!

Thursday there weren't a whole lot of surgeries to see, but one was interesting: I got to see Dr. Sebastian in action. He assisted a surgery where a lady who had a screw put into here heel to hold a fracture was ready to have it taken out again. At NOH, the doctors are the ones who do the operations. Senior doctors do the more complicated parts of the procedures, while younger doctors assist. I think there's maybe one or two dedicated surgeons at NOH, but I haven't seen them in action. Sebastion's doctor he was paired with did the incision and exposed the head of the screw where Sebastian took over, removed the screw and stitched the wound shut. He was shaking quite a bit while doing the stithes, but hell, so would I! I'm kind of jealous at the amount Sebastian has gotten to do at NOH but he's also a qualified physio who has the knowledge to back up assisting. He has more than just a clue about what he's doing, the initiative to act, and the balls to follow through. He has my respect for that and he can do it, so he might as well actually do it.

Here's me and Chika.

Thursday was also my final lesson with Chika, the Japanese girl I was tutoring in English. The lessons never really went beyond us just having a conversation and if something confused her, me explaining it the best I could. It was sad, I've really enjoyed practicing speaking with her. We had talked about almost everything, that kind of happens when you just sit and talk for an hour and a half twice a week for a month and it was nice getting to know her. To me, those lessons were a large part of my experience in Nepal since for almost half of my time there we had our lessons.

My last day of work on Friday mainly just consisted of me bumming around the hospital. I bought some cheap vitamin B pills to bring back (one month for 90 rupees, so like $1.20), checked the lab to see if there was something I could do, chatted with the lab tech since it was slow, and went to the emergency ward to see if there was something there for me to do. I had just been in emergency for a few minutes when the two girls I remembered from Wednesday came in again for another dressing change. All the nursing students were already occupied, so it ended up being me doing it. It wasn't the most enjoyable experience. Cleaning wounds and changing dressings isn't really fun at the beast of times, in all honesty. And after cleaning the cleaning the girl with the burn's neck I'm quite sure she was quite pretty before whatever accident happened happened to her. I feel like this is what it is to be a doctor in a nutshell. Something you'd really rather not do, on people you feel for, but you still need to do it, and do it well. Welcome to medicine 101.

That was also the day when I figured out I'd be leaving Nepal on the 18th. It was a depressing, but expected, outcome. I was finally able to stop worrying about money and go buy souvenirs, on the plus side I guess.

Dan, Ian, and Grace had gone traveling around to Pokhara and Chitwan National Park and had returned and we all decided on going on one last scooter tip on Saturday, because we survived two, so might as well shoot for three! We all named our scooters each time: first time mine was Sylvia, then Samantha, and the final time Coraline. They were all good scooters, but Coraline was a bit of a pain in the ass. I'll explain later. We set our sights on Nagarkot this time.. Nagarkot's a mountaintop village with breathtaking views of the surrounding Nepali landscape. They say on a really clear day you can see Everest. We weren't expecting anything as lucky as that, but we still wanted to go.

The day started off pretty eventful. I found this really good coffee shop at the advice of Chika which serves Nepali grown coffee and is yards ahead any of the coffee shops I've been to in Calgary. It was good having just a damn good cup of coffee again for breakfast. The breakfast wraps we had weren't half bad either. Right after we had rented the scooters and were leaving Thamel, I had a bit of a hard time getting through an intersection a traffic cop wasn't controlling due to oncoming traffic (unluckily, I was last in our line of scooters) and was for some reason questioned by the cop on seeing my bike license. Of course I didn't have my license, I don't even have a bike license and my driver's license was back in Canada since I figured "why would I need a license in Nepal?" So, I told the cop it was back at the hostel and I was going to go pick it up now. So me and him stood there in the middle of Kathmandu traffic for a while discussing what we were going to do next. He wanted to impound the scooter and get me to bring my license to the station and pay a fine, then simply wanted to give me a fine, but he never got around to it, while I offered to take the scooter back to the rental place or take a ticket if that's what he wanted. It hadn't dawned on me before I was writing this that maybe he was fishing for a bribe, but I wouldn't have given him one even if I had figured it out. I was leaving in two days, so not happening. Luckily, right then Sebastian rolled up and flashed his German bike license at the cop and the cop backed off and gave me a warning instead. The rest of the way to the hostel was uneventful though, fortunately. What a great start to the day!

Here's the kind of mud we had to travel through.

Here you can see the qualified physio taking care of important business while they bandage Kate in the background!

The road up to Nagarkot was really muddy from the overnight and morning rainfall so it became an adventure navigating the rural roads and staying upright. Unfortunately, this was also where we had our first casualty. Kate (from Chicago) burned her leg on the exhaust of Ian's scooter as she was getting off before a big mud hole. It was pretty bad, but not bad enough that it couldn't be bandaged up and certainly not bad enough to stop the girl from Chicago! We just had a bit of a first aid stop for a little while. All the future med students and the presence of the qualified nurse (my passenger, Steina, from Denmark) made it a pretty quick stop. After we passed all of the giant patches of mud the hill got ridiculously steep which makes it pretty damn difficult for our scooters to keep up speed, especially with two people on. There were a lot of fully throttled motors as we all tried or damnedest to get up the next stupid rise of the horribly cobbled road. Eventually I got my scooter (and Steina, I'm proud to say) to a flat area where we could rest and wait for Sebastian to gather up all the leftover passengers on his motorcycle and bring them up while the scooters struggled up. Yeah, Sebastian on the bike were pretty much our safety all three days, gotta admit. While we waited, we discovered a "village in the clouds" on the way to Nagarkot as clouds engulfed our waiting area. It was pretty much more of the same hills until we finally made it up to Nagarkot.

"The village in the clouds."

Once we got there, we had a brainstorming session, then followed some random Nepali guy we just met down another muddy-as-all-hell road to a hotel/restaurant with a balcony for lunch. There I finally got to try Choila, a buff jerky in a kind of chili marinade, that I had wanted to have for ages. I don't think it's come up before this, but since the population's 80% Hindu in Nepal, you can't eat beef. Killing a cow is life imprisonment in Nepal. What you get is water buffalo, or buff, which tastes leaner and more like bison, but it's still really good. As the clouds burnt off while we were eating we realized why people said it was worth it to come here: the views were spectacular and no matter how many pictures I took I could never really capture the pure awe of seeing the Nepali landscape below you.

As we left the restaurant I noticed my scooter was having the unusual and new found tendency of the rear tire skidding back and forth instead of gripping the road. Soon after that we came to the conclusion that my tire was flat and so we set out to find a shop and a shop is what we found; a Nepali guy running a shop out of his house, to be exact. It took a while to find and repair the leak so we had more time to sit and reflect on the scenery and for me to attempt to come to terms with the idea that I was leaving all of that behind the next day.

Once we finally set out again, we miraculously found a paved road and some relief from the terrible cobbled and dirt roads. Go figure the only asphalt road around was one by an army base. We made our way to the view tower at Nagarkot to check it out. There were some quite charming drunken Nepali guys in the tower wasted and high out of their minds. A few of us were trying to figure out how they made it down the ladder on the tower again. The view we saw was once again, worth the drive, and the drunk guys. The "road" down was another matter entirely.

These are the kind of views we drove to see!

It was pretty reminiscent of that green hiking trail we slid down on our first trek. It was another harrowing, slippery slope with trenches we had to drive around and sometimes through and slick mud to deal with. Before the trenches had even began to appear I had a bit of trouble when my rear tire decided to lose control and fishtail and my scooter slid. I stopped the scooter just in time from falling over completely, but not soon enough from stopping Steina from spilling out into the mud. Sorry about that Steina... The next bit of excitement was when ahead of me Sebastian's bike took a fall over and spilled off Kate and Grace. One of the trenches took his front down into it and he was able to hang on and keep it up but he hurt his shoulder. It turned out he sprained some ligaments as far as I know and was in pain the rest of the trip back but other than that he was fine. After that we took a short break a little farther down and the others made him a shoulder brace deal from a belt. I'm not sure if it worked though, but it was a good attempt. From then we were out of the forest and it's mud slicked roads and back to the horribly cobbled roads we knew before. At this point, we became in a bit of a rush since it was getting close to when we needed to return the scooters and in our rush we split up on to two different roads. Me and Sebastion with Kate, Grace, and Steina with everyone else going a different way back to Kathmandu.

We each surged on our diverging paths and Sebastian and I made our way down to a road that would take us back to Bhaktapur and then Kathmandu. We were just on that road when I started hearing a very disconcerting sound: my muffler dragging on the road... The bolt holding it in place didn't have a nut it seemed and there was a crack right by the engine we noticed which caused the exhaust to shake the bolt out and so it dropped. We stopped and with the help of some kind Nepali people we attempted to use some wire and rope to hold it up. After a couple frustrating tries we found a young guy who had a screw for us to use and lucky for us, that held. It seemed almost like we were home free, but not quite. After we got on to the main road into Kathmandu the last little bit of bad luck hit me: my rear tire simply exploded. Apparently, that's one of the worst things that can happen on a bike, but luckily, even with all the shaking and swerving and fishtailing I was able to get us to the side of the road without any damage to me, Steina, nor the bike. Well, besides our nerves anyways.

After this incident we went our separate ways again: the passengers, Kate, Grace, and Steina took a bus back to Boudha, Sebastion went on ahead to the shop and to get his shoulder checked out, and I wandered with my scooter searching for a place to repair the tire. It was Saturday, the one day most Nepali people have for a weekend, so of course everything was closed. I ended up deciding to drive to the shop on the flat. But, of course, my regular glasses were off in Martin's backpack, and, of course, it gets dark by 7 in Nepal so I had to drive back in the dark with no glasses on. I got to drive for somewhere around on hour on a scooter that had no control, on the side of the road with insane Kathmandu traffic, with only blurry glares to guide me. I figured my fun was done when I got to the shop, but when I got there they saw the tire, touched the exhaust and it fell off. It seemed the crack that caused the shaking got damaged enough from the road that it fell off. The guys at the shop decided to keep my passport as a deposit until morning when I would talk the guy's brother about paying for repairs. A good thing was that Ian got fed up with the horrible control of his scooter and kicked it, damaging the front, so they had his passport as well and I didn't have to go back alone. The rest of the night with everyone was a good way to unwind anyways. Luke's plan's got changed so he wasn't going to Everest base camp anymore so I chatted with him for a while.

In the morning, there was some apprehension, some mild discussion about who was at fault and I paid a much more reasonable amount than I had expected (500 rupees) and I got my passport back. Ian had a bit of a tougher time negotiating and ended up being ripped for 2500 rupees. Him, Dan, and Grace left Monday morning so he didn't have much of a choice. Like me, he just really needed that little book back. The rest of the morning was a mad rush of spending my money on souvenirs and gifts. I ran into Asim (from the UK), who arrived the day after me and was leaving the next day with Dan, Ian, and Grace and so I went around with him and we chatted about the different things we'd done over our months, and a couple new volunteers who just arrived tagged along too.

Martin, Amelie, the kids, and their dance.

In the afternoon, our plans were to go to the opening ceremony for the new building for LDC (Life Development Centre), a project where Amilie and Martin worked. LDC is a home, they call it a school but it mainly just takes care of the people, for mentally challenged people. The youngest there are kids and the oldest I believe is around 40. The old building was in Jorpati near NOH and the outskirts of Kathmandu. It was an old building with no way for the kids inside to go outside, no showers or baths, and was in as bad condition as any other urban building in Kathmandu. The new building was on the outskirts of the rural town of Sankhu, 20 km from Kathmandu, and had showers and many bathrooms, a courtyard that was going to be filled with grass and trees, and was in brand new condition. We were all really happy and excited to see the kids get this new building. The speeches were.....nice......but the best part of the ceremony, and what we came to see, were the traditional dances involving people who stay at LDC and people who work there. The highlight was definitely Amilie and Martin in traditional Nepali costumes doing a dance to a song that went on for 6 minutes. They both did a great job prancing around and waving their arms traditionally though (a damn sight better than I could have pulled off anyways)!

The brand new LDC!

Once we got back, I had to rush and pack. And by pack, I mean throw everything I was taking with me into my suitcases and hope I didn't forget anything. I left behind clothes, my towel, and a pair of shoes to donate to Snowlands school where I had already donated the guitar I bought in Nepal and my tuner, so that cleared up some badly needed space. It all fit, it was packed beyond belief, but it fit. And that's what matters.

As a last send off for myself, Grace, Dan, and Ian who were all leaving the next morning as well, we went out for dinner one more time to the Shechen monastery. For me, it was more sad than anything else. It was when I had a chance to look around the table, remember all the experiences I had with all these people, remember the ones that had left already and realize just how lucky I was and just how much I was going to miss all these people. The farewells were probably the longest I've ever had and the heartfelt for me since I was a child. Taking that cab to the airport and giving the driver the last rupees I had felt like the longest, quietest, and the saddest journey I've made in a very long time.

Hong Kong and the ocean. It's unbelievably different...I should also mention I love the ocean. I should really just live by the ocean. I really should. Why do I live in Calgary?

Hong Kong was alright. It was another chance to contemplate where you've come from, where you are right now, and where you're heading. But hey, I got to see the ocean again, and at least that's something.

The Rockies.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Rain, Rain, Lake, Lake, Rain: A Weekend in Pokhara - July 9th to July 12th

To start off, here's a photo from the set where 4-year-old Sumna figured out how to use my camera after playing with it for a minute and a half...

The weekend of the 9th, everyone left at the hostel (so me, Martin, Sebastian, Anna, and Amilie) along with Jude, who got back from Everest on the 8th, decided to go to Pokhara. Jude had gone to climb Everest base camp and finished it in only 4 days (the norm is at least a week, usually more) and did some other short hikes in that area. Pokhara is a lakeside tourist base where people go to start trekking in the Annapurna mountains, which are easier than Everest base camp so more people go to hike there. It was a riveting seven hour bus journey through the mountains in a bus built for people half a foot shorter than myself. I spent most of my ride with my head hanging out the window. It's a good way to travel in the green, leafy hills of Nepal, it really is.

Here's an introductory shot of Pokhara! (pronounced "Pokra")

The weekend we spent there was great if only because the rush and bustle of Kathmandu was nonexistent there. It was mainly a weekend of monging (a word I've picked up from my British counterparts here; "mong" = "relax") out around the sleepy town. It was really only sleepy since it was the off-season for hikers, but whatever. Since it was the off-season the shops had discounts and weren't horribly pushy about making sales, which was nice. It rained a good portion of the weekend, it was only really sunny a couple hours Saturday afternoon and for Sunday afternoon and that just reinforced the monging atmosphere.

Probably one of the best parts of the weekend was that we went to a different restaurant for almost every meal and had good food at each one. There was an amazing Chinese restaurant run by a Cantonese chef. In the words of Martin "it looks like a Chinese fashion designer got way too drunk and threw up everywhere in here." There were even Christmas lights hanging outside the front windows. On the other hand, the menu had something like 200 items on it! I was able to try Zha Cai (Ja Sai), a really odd tasting but delicious pickle and had duck in a hot bean sauce which was oh, oh, oh so good!

Wandering around the bat cave. (Nananananananana BAT CAVE...yeah, that was thought of pretty quick)

The joys of cars in Nepal!

As for the regular touristy things, on Saturday (after we had monged all morning) we had a taxi drive us around to the small sites around Pokhara. We went to a bat cave which was fun, if messy, crawling around in. Only saw a few bats which sounded pretty annoyed after having half a dozen flashlights being shone at them hanging there, but it didn't take away from the experience. The exit was an almost vertical climb up out of a hole in the ground. That was probably the best part. Being covered in bat guano, not so much. Second, we went to Mahendra cave but that one was not nearly as difficult and just ended up being us walking around underground with nothing really to do or see. There was a small Hindu shrine, but it would only really be interesting to Hindus. The third thing we did was go to a gorge over the Seti River. The most interesting thing about it was a couple of small shrines over the bridge an old man built and called a temple. Martin, being Martin, ended up talking to him and getting a tika (a blessing on his forehead). The guy just really liked to talk to foreigners, actually and having them sign his guest book. Then we went to a temple complex, called Bindhya Bassini, and it was a nice little complex with a paved courtyard. It really fit the feel of the town. There were a couple of guys following us around and telling us what things were, then wanted a tip, but it was just kind of irritating when we never said we wanted him to do anything and he didn't really tell us anything we couldn't figure out on our own. After that we stopped for samosas at a tiny little corner shop because, damn, they make good samosas in Nepal!

The most interesting part of Mahendra's entrance...

My favourite part of Bindhya Bassini.

Last but not least we ended up at Devi's Falls. The falls themselves run under the mountains nearby and there's a cave where you can follow to where the falls end and run underground. If you're reckless it's possible to fall in but it's still worth just going down there to the water's edge. Devi's Falls aren't huge or anything but how it cuts into the rock makes it interesting. The landscape around the falls makes it seem almost from a fairytale, as well. Then we monged out for a while in a little building at the falls. That little while made the whole day worth it in my opinion.

The cave under Devi's Falls. (That's Devi's Falls in that crack up ahead)

Devi's Falls, in all it's fairytale glory.

Hangin' about.

Sunday when the sun burnt the rain clouds off we decided to go out on the lake. I really wanted to go kayaking so a guy at our hotel had a guy he knew rent me a kayak (that's how things work in Nepal, it's always a guy who knows a guy). That was kind of a bad decision, as it turned out. It was a shoddy kayak and sank while I was out on the water and had only been kayaking for twenty minutes. I later had to go to the man's house and argue with the drunken wanker for a while about how you can't rent someone something dangerous like that. I ended up getting the money back except for one hour's worth, which is fine by me, from his wife the first time I was there and from his mother the second time I went back with other volunteers (Martin and Sebastian really wanted to talk to the guy after the bullshit I had gone through and he still refused to give me some of my money back). The two women were really kind, unlike him. It's a shame good people end up with horrible bastards like that. I got to argue with him the next morning before we left, as well. He wouldn't come out and talk to us the second time me and the others went over there and that's when the older women gave me the rest of the money the man owed me, and he wasn't too happy about that. I might be a white tourist, but you can't rip me off like that. It's a poor country, but a wanker like that doesn't deserve any money.

The beauty of Phewa Tal and Pokhara.

But then again, if you ignore the kayak debacle the afternoon was fantastic though. I hopped on the wooden boat that the locals use and we rowed out in to the middle of the lake. Pokhara is simply stunning in the sunlight looking out from the middle of Phewa Tal (the lake), there's no other way to put it. We dove off the boat and went swimming too. Just hanging out in the water in the lake was a great way to spend a couple of hours. Unfortunately, I forgot my phone was in my swimming trunks pocket, so it got wet, and my camera got dropped in to a puddle on the boat, but both survived so whatever.

The bus trip back was fun as could be expected with each of us curled up in a pair of empty seats trying to sleep while it rained.

The whole weekend was a brilliant opposite from the busy life in Kathmandu. Plus it was so great to see Jude one last time before she left for Thailand, like I said, you really start to miss these people once they're gone.

Long Time No Post - June 26th to July 8th

Let's start off with a picture of everyone walking in our nearby neighbourhood where the hostel was under a rainbow!

So, it's been quite a while since I've had a chance to post anything, but now I have some time to put down the rest of my experience in Nepal.

That next Saturday most of us from the hostel had a chat with Sajani who run Projects-Abroad here in Nepal. The owners of the building made up a story about us staying up until 4 a.m. on the roof of the building and peeing in the water tanks. I still don't understand why we would do that or where they got that idea. It's unfortunate, but the owners seemed to have a grudge against all of the volunteers the entire time I was in Nepal, they seemed to just not like that we were foreigners and didn't like our western ways. But when you rent out flats to a hostel for western volunteers what else would you expect? The main problem was they never tried to discuss any issues with us or come to a compromise, they wanted to pressure Santosh to force us to act like traditional Nepalis which I'm afraid would never happen. But, moving on. We did stay up on the roof chatting, playing card games and drinking a little, but we try to be respectful and most of us are usually down off the roof by midnight.

After that there was a talk on orthopaedics by the chief doctor at a hospital in Banepa. It was an interesting talk but it was mainly just the most basic information about the topic and I kind of fell asleep during it.

Here's Pashupathi in the daylight.

This is everyone walking through a different part of Pashupathi (it's a big complex).

That Sunday we ended up going to Pashupathi again in the morning. We wandered around the temples, went into the forest to see the sadhus' (holy men) graves which stretch off into the forest and saw some threatening gangs of monkeys (I hear sometimes they charge tourists money to take pictures of them, but we were lucky this time). I also learned how to hug a tree... what an exciting and informative day...

Here's a shot of some of the Sadhus' grave stretching out into the forest, with a dash of holy cows.

Nicki teaches us all the proper way to hug a tree while Ian and Dan watch in rapt attention (the proper way is to lay your hand on the tree to ask permission, press forehead and stomach against tree, hug, rinse, repeat for anyone who actually cares).

Since that Monday the 28th I've been working at NOH (Nepal Orthapaedic Hospital) instead of Stupa. It's quite a stunning difference between the two. NOH more closely resembles a western hospital. There are also many more on staff doctors, more nurses and nursing students and many more patients. I like it there, but I think I'm just getting restless of mainly acting as an intern without much actual impact involved. I'm getting kind of glad that next week will be my final week working at the hospital.

My first day on Monday was pretty eventful for a first day. I wasn't placed with a doctor so I spent my time in the emergency ward. There really aren't many actual "emergencies" that come in, but more bandages that need changing, wounds that need cleaning, and casts that need to be taken off or put on. It was only a little bit strange just kind of being thrown into it. There was a man with a dislocated thumb and I had to support him while Dr. Laxman (the emergence ward doctor) attempted to push it back in place. The guy eventually just fainted on the table. I'm pretty sure it ended up being serious enough to require surgery. I also had to help hold a little boy who was very unhappy about setting his broken arm and putting a cast on it. There was another boy who had pins in his hip that weren't holding the bones properly so he needed to have a cast put on from his waist down to his right ankle. He just handled it really well and was just shockingly quiet. As an extra bonus for the day I found out after a nurse started asking me about a rash she had that Dr. Laxman was letting the nursing students know I was a skin specialist from Canada. So, on that note, I'm a dermatologist now!

A nice picture of everyone at the table!

With a photo of Sumna and Pabitra!

That night we all went to the cafe at Shechen Monastery for dinner. We got to bring Pabitra and Sumna too! The meal was great and it was just nice having everyone there before people started to leave. Unfortunately, Jude had already left that morning and the next day Dan from Germany left. It got really quiet in the hostel after that night. It just felt empty at meals.

The rice-planting mess Ian and I became...

Tuesday was something a little different. Projects-Abroad held an event for the beginning of the rice planting season and that, of course, was rice planting! Well, I think we were supposed to be rice kind of devolved into a big mud fight for the first while after we were given water...but we planted some rice eventually...not much but we at least planted some...

On a whole other note, back in Canada I was never a big soccer fan but being here where soccer and the World Cup are front page news every day is just plain infectious. I really enjoy watching the games with the other volunteers here. It's hard not to get excited for on of the home teams, like Germany or England. The Germany - Holland game was really a great game to watch, and it helped that there's some Germans at the hostel. I'm pretty psyched to see the final game next Sunday!

A routine day at work.

Now back to work. The rest of the past week at NOH was pretty good. Nothing really to complain about anyways. I stayed in the emergency room on Tuesday, where nothing horribly out of the ordinary happened and went to consultations with my doctor, Dr. Sandeep, on Wednesday. Consultations have kind of lost their lustre at this point though. It seems doing them for three straight weeks with Dr. Swasti has kind of numbed the excitement of watching people speak Nepali to each other. Sandeep like to talk and explain things though, so that's a definite bonus. I had the opportunity to clean some wounds and change some dressings on Thursday since we couldn't go into the operation theatre. It's not exactly difficult to do but I can be a little anxious about it and I just need to realize I'm not going to hurt the person by cleaning the wound. Not seriously, at any rate. Friday was more consultations with a surprise case of what seemed to be leukemia. I kind of miss Stupa Hospital where I had built up a rapport with the doctors there and was able to have more chances to ask more useful questions. NOH is much more busy and the pace is much quicker than Stupa.

Everyone and the kids that followed us resting.

On Saturday we returned to our tendency towards great trips. We traveled out of Kathmandu to the Nagajurn Reserved Forest. It took us some time trying to find the bus to take us there and after making to Balaju we decided just to walk there as no one seemed to have a clue how to get to the forest by bus. Our goal was to hike up the Jamacho mountain in the forest. We ended up, after a while of walking, finding the main gate, but we being the cheap bastards that we are, decided to go further down and hop the wall near a cave with a shrine inside to save 250 rupees. Some kids hanging out near the cave decided to follow us for a while up some stone steps while making roaring noises and stuff. The kids here in Nepal are ridiculously friendly and a lot of fun! The forest was so thick and humid and you became surrounded on all sides by the buzzing of the cicadas again. Most of the trail was actually quite steep so you just kept walking up rather than forwards. Me, Amilie (from France) and Anna (from Germany) all tired out pretty fast while the others tired out but just kept going. I guess they just had a bit more stamina for uphill hiking. We reached a lower peak, took in the view, took some photos, decided the climb was definitely worth it, realized we hadn't reached the peak yet and were only about halfway up, asked if we were really going to climb the rest of it and moved on to climbing the actual peak of Jamacho. It's the smallest mountain in the Kathmandu valley but still a bit of a challenging hike.

This is the view we climbed for. So worth it.

What we didn't expect!

Once we reached the peak we discovered something we truly didn't expect: a stupa and a whole bunch of Nepali people doing a rain-dance and praying! We decided, once again, that the view was completely worth the climb. The people gave us some food which was really kind of them and of course the food was great. Chickpea curry, rice pudding, and chiura (rice flakes) are always delicious! Some of the food was given to us on giant leaves as plates. Martin, Dan, Amilie and Nicki all decided to join in the rain dance and hopefully not mess up the calls for rain. A big cloud started to engulf the peak as we sat there so it seems like their calls did something anyways! Watching a cloud engulf a mountain peak is pretty eerie too, I must say. The leeches attached to everyone's legs weren't quite as eerie, just kind of annoying and gross instead.

The rain dance! For rain!

Amilie playing with some children we met near the Shiva statue!

Sunday we decided on another scooter trip, since if we survived the first run we might as well go again! The drivers woke up pretty early and wandered down to get the scooters from Thamel. English Dan (the only Dan left) had a bit of trouble with the whole turning thing and almost smoked a cyclist, a little girl, and a traffic cop. He had a tendency of leaning over but without the scooter going the same direction! So instead of him driving, the honour was given to Amilie with Dan as her passenger. I ended up getting Ian as my passenger so we had a good, heavy weight thing going on, which made hills really interesting. Me with Ian and Martin with Anna had a few races uphill at about 5 km/h at a few points in the day. First thing we did was we drove out of Kathmandu to Hhaktapur which is an old, temple-filled city. They charge 750 rupees just for entrance to the city and once again, we're cheap bastards so we attempted to sneak in a back way but drove our scooters into Durbar Square which wasn't the best decision and had a guy escort us back out of the city. Driving through the streets was interesting though. Martin said the town felt like a small, old French town. It would have been nice to explore but when it comes to Nepal there's so many things to do and so little time!

It's big. Like I said.

The next place we visited was a giant Shiva statue in the hills between Bhaktapur and Banepa. It was completed just a couple of months ago so it's not an old wonder or anything but it's still pretty impressive. Along the way we discovered that maybe our scooters couldn't handle steep mountain roads with two people on them this time. It was a sad, but necessary revelation. The statue itself is big. Really big. And gold. Big and golden. When we were getting ready to leave some Nepali guy attempted to charge us for parking on the dirt road. We didn't let him hustle us of course, but I applaud his effort. Those kinda things happen here in Nepal.

The temple with no name!

Next was Banepa for lunch and after that we went off the main roads into the hills for the afternoon. We ended up at a tiny village called Nala with a temple none of us know the name of. No idea what it's called, but it was nice. Then we pushed on through the mountains to Changu Narayan. After a while of some steep, rocky mountain roads we needed to stop and siphon some gas from Sebastian's motorcycle a couple of the scooters that were running low. After we crested the next peak we reached Changu Narayan, a beautiful village with a temple complex perched on the peak of a hill. The most interesting piece of architecture there is a pillar with an inscription that dates back to 464 AD, the earliest known inscription in the Kathmandu valley. Of course my camera died at that point so I have no pictures of that...

One of the few pictures I have of Changu Narayan...

We went out to dinner on Monday again, but this time for Grace's birthday! We had bought a cake from a local baker where we buy donuts all the time and had the waitress bring it out for us. I just enjoyed spending dinner with everyone because you definitely start to miss these people once they're gone.

The next week was mainly represented by surgeries and dressings at NOH. On Tuesday and Thursday I watched surgeries in the operation theatre. Tuesday I had the opportunity to watch the doctors operate on the spine for a vertebrae fracture. It's a strange feeling when you here the crack as they put a screw in place in one of the vertebrae. We had to wear these giant lead vests which felt like a suit of armor. You get tired just standing in one place. I also saw the adjustment of a plate holding the femur together in a leg. Wednesday I worked in the emergency room with Anna and Sebastian. We took turns doing dressings. I ended up with an infected foot where the infection had spread and created a wound to the bones of some toes and a person with a pin holding the bones of the elbow in place. Putting the gauze on the pin ends up being quite tricky. Thursday there was just one interesting procedure was an amputation. A man had malignant melanoma (skin cancer that can spread) in his hand and there was a large black tumor growing from the palm and the ring finger. The doctors had to cut away a large portion of his hand and the ring finger to keep the cancer from spreading. Afterwards they attached the leftover portions of his hand together into a new three-fingered appendage. I don't really think he's that lucky since this was recurring cancer and now his life has gotten a bit more difficult and complicated for lack of a finger.

Well, that's those couple weeks covered. Three more posts to go to cover the rest of my stay in Nepal! I'll leave you with a photo of Dr. Gary ready to operate!

Friday, June 25, 2010

Hospital Labs, Eye Surgeries, and Nepali Traffic

So, another random photo. This time of the 4 year old daughter of Bobitra, Sumna.

The weekend rafting was great! I'm pretty sure most of the things we did on the river would be against safety procedure back in Canada! We're in a period between the dangerous monsoon rapids and low winter rapids so we had a nice strong current and great rapids. The raft I was on each also had the best guides by far! Both days my raft's guide had us doing cheers and playing games such as where we stood on the edge of the raft holding hands and tried to pull each other off into the water or stood and leaned on our paddles while going through rapids.

There were also times where guys would board the other raft and push people off or would swim around and yank people backwards into the water. We spent a lot of time in the water when there were no rapids to say the least. We also got to go cliff diving at one point!

Our volunteer leader, Ruth, said that was the first time she saw that happen too! We camped on a beach by the river and had a huge BBQ followed by "rafter's punch". The punch was apple juice, sliced apples and rum and was served warm. It tasted like alcoholic apple pie! The second day the first thing our guide did was launch the raft onto a huge rock like a ramp and almost flip the raft. We definitely had the best guide. The rapids were larger and faster the second day with more jumps, whirlpools and close calls. At one calm point, our guide had us flip the raft about four times intentionally. The last time two girls held on and were launched back into the raft! The whole weekend was amazing!

I spent Monday at work in the emergency ward. There was a man who had a collapsed urethra and so had a catheter inserted right into his bladder through the skin. It looked slightly painful. Also had a nice discussion with the newest doctor there. He's getting married in about 20 days and is probably the calmest groom to be I've ever seen. I'm pretty sure he's buddhist and he sees marriage as a "spiritual union" so I think he's going to be fine. He was giving me medical advice all day like asking what kind of symptoms to look for in certain cases and the order to treat them in. Always start with pain, that's what I learned. He also quizzed me on some things and luckily I knew the answers. He also advised me that Bhutan is a great place to practice medicine once I'm done school. I think I'll have to keep that in mine for later.

I miss milk (it's all yak milk here, and a female yak is a nak, so it's nak yak milk) and being able to get my hands on fruit I can trust.

Tuesday there was a motorcycle accident in the ER. They were both horribly lucky and came away with just cuts and gashes. I also had another conversation with the new doctor and found he finally got a letter of placement for Stupa hospital! I'm happy for him, I think he'll make a great doctor. He was quizzing me again. I feel like I've been in residency for those couple of days. I tried working the lab again, but the people there didn't want to talk to me and just kind of ignored me. I found out the lady I would need to work with since she likes to teach, Sunita, was on night shift. It's disappointing since I bought a book on lab tech procedures that the guy working in the lab before me, Jens (Denmark, pronounced "yens") had and was hoping to work there for the next 2 weeks. After that I've put in to switch to NOH (Nepal Orthopedic Hospital) for the last 3 weeks. They're much busier and I'd have many more opportunities to work directly with patients doing dressings and such, as well as watching more surgeries.

I got to work in the lab again on Wednesday and Friday. Wednesday was with Jens as well, so it was fun learning all the basic stuff and the different things he's learned. I've done some clerk work and prepared urine examination tests. It might not be the most exciting stuff, but it's hands on for the whole day and that's good enough for me.

Friday there was a talent show at Snowlands organized by Grace and Jude. All the kids were super-talented with poetry, singing, dances, and skits! They did a great job!

Saturday was another self-organized trip by everyone at the hostel. Everyone had gone except Jens, who left for Tibet that morning and Grace who went to a Snowlands soccer match. We all rented scooters and Sebastian rented a motorcycle in Kathmandu and we went south to the Lele valley. It's a rural area where not many foreigners go so it was really great. We had to go travel on a dusty mountain road to get there, so I was very brown after a very short time. Lele was all green hills and small villages and was so very tranquil.

From there we traveled to Godawari, another small village where Bobitra, the lady who cooks for us, lived with her husband. We visited the Shanti Ban Buddha, a giant golden buddha overlooking Godawari.

We also traveled up to the Godawari Kunda, which we thought was a sacred spring, and it seemed like all we could find was men bathing. We went to sit in the botanical garden forest after that. It was beautiful and we really could understand why it is so popular on Saturdays, the Nepali peoples' holy and often they're only day off.

After that we rode up a rocky mountain trail where I fell over a couple of times due to potholes. The girl riding with me, Jennie, took it all in stride though. Our next stop was Bishanku Narayan, a Hindu shrine at the peak of the hill. Nepali people love stairs, so we climbed another set to get up to it. There's a cave there with a legend that if you can't fit through it then your sin is pride or gluttony.

Surprisingly, all of us fit through.

The view from above the shrine was amazing and we thought it would make an amazing picnic spot.

From there we kept on the mountain trail until we reached where the path sloped down again. Then it turned into more of a green, slimy hiking trail. We kept following it though and rode our brakes the entire way down. It felt like being in the middle of a rainforest with walls of green leafy trees on each side. The hum from the cicadas filled the air around and it was all I could hear besides my scooter. My scooter kept stalling too, so it was mainly just silence. It was definitely a one of those once-in-a-lifetime experiences. After that we booked it through Lubhu, another small village. I almost hit a bus trying to pass another bus in front of me. Luckily I stopped just in time and so did the other bus. Phew. On the way into Kathmandu me with Jennie and Jude lost the others at an intersection and we had to find our way back to Thamel on our own. We somehow pulled it off and made it back with five minutes before the scooters had to be returned. The entire trip was great and an amazing way to see Nepal. All of us want to do another scooter trip again!

Monday we went to a wedding reception of a famous bollywood actress that Santosh, who runs the hostel, knows so we went to a 5-star hotel and had a great night of food and drinks. Lots and lots and lots of food. The bunch of us scraggly, way too casually dressed volunteers didn't quite fit in.

Tuesday was the nest interesting day. Me, Sebastian and Nicki went to an eye hospital in Banepa to observe eye surgery. We observed about 5 cataract surgeries. There surgeon was real quick at cutting open the eye, removing the clouded lens, washing out the cloudy film in the eye, replacing the natural lens with an artificial one and cauterizing the wound back up. It almost seemed like a scene from a horror film with the eye being held open and blood pooling around the eye. I'll spare you pictures of that.

Yep, things are really sterile. You're allowed to bring a camera in...

We also saw the anesthetic being injected through a large needle being inserted beneath the eye and tilting the point towards the eye. That was enough to numb the muscles around the eye and the optic nerve. Being the first surgery I've seen I thought it was really fascinating. On our way there and back we saw a humongous statue of Shiva in the hills. I really hope we go back there sometime.

This week I've been working in the pathology lab. I've had more chances to prepare different tests like urine examination slides and white blood cell counts where I stained the different blood smears. I've also done more filing and stuff. I've learned different things about blood biochemistry, as well. Sunita wants me to learn to collect blood so I hope I'll be able to do that in the next couple of days before I move to NOH.

Well, that's all that I've had happen for the last while. Namaste.

P.S. I have a beard now!