Anytime anything goes wrong or slow or just plain silly, it can be explained away with an exasperated “oh, Nepal” and an eyeroll.
4 inches of water in the street?
Cucumber and mayonnaise sandwiches for dinner?
Electricity that only works during the last half of a rainstorm?
It’s funny, but no one ever uses that phrase for the delightful and strange happenings that are just as frequent as the negative things and could also only happen in Nepal. For example, yesterday I headed off to the hospital with Sam, one of the other volunteers, so I could be shown the ropes and
figure out what I was going to do before the next phase of this excursion. I’m volunteering in a community hospital, but what I (a public health and law type) would actually be doing there has always been sort of glossed over. Once we got on the bus and to the hospital (we’ll talk about that damn bus in a minute), I realized that I had no business whatsoever attempting to assist on medical procedures and I would be bored stiff just watching for days on end. To be frank, I was a little bit bored by the end of the tour. So I then decided to ask the supervisor, Dr. Gupta, if he would mind
letting me take a look at the medical records for the hospital so I could do some kind of statistical work up on them (demographic served, chronic conditions, prevalence, etc.). Dear lord, you would have thought I’d offered to buy the
man a puppy. I was quickly grabbed (Dr. Gupta is not a small dude) and shuttled off to the president of the hospital who also jumped on board and sent me packing to talk to the hospital administrator.
Keep in mind this is a non-profit community hospital that serves anyone who comes to them, regardless of ability to pay. They are in the black (theoretically), but it’s not like they are rolling in it or have an excess of facilities or supplies. The hospital administrator has to manage all the daily workings of the hospital (as well as Dr. Gupta’s ego – trust me, no small task!) and make sure that they are adhering to international standards of informed consent, medical quality, government regulations and access to all, etc. The woman is brilliant – she has had more than eight years of post-high school education (UNHEARD of for a woman around here) and was overjoyed to hear what I wanted to spend some time doing. For the first 20 minutes of our discussion she just kept asking “who are you??” “where did you come from??” and smiling from ear to
ear. She told me to come back the next day at 10 to meet the administrative staff and get started.
(Had some killer curry for lunch, though I once more ran into to the Nepali obsession with all things sweet – this country has a sweet tooth like I’ve never seen – tea is served with as much sugar as they can get to dissolve. I have gotten more weird looks for asking for unsweetened tea than I have from my hair – the waiter thought I was crazy and there was almost a scene :-). Sam had a pizza – like most of the other volunteers here, he sticks to food from home. To each his own I guess. Poor guy got grossed out by the fact that my chicken curry still had bones in the chicken. I guess I’ve got pretty strong feelings about animals as food. The way I see it, if you can’t deal with
the fact that your food used to be alive and kicking, skin, bones and all, than you should probably stick with beans, but I’m a judgmental pain in the ass that way)
I went home, did some shopping at the Bhat Batteni (I’ve been spelling it wrong, and it’s pronounced “bop-atini”, no I don’t know why, stop asking.) and decided to take a walk around the neighborhood. This isn’t quite as easy as it sounds – roads do not run to the cardinal directions around here -they run to the cardinal whim of whoever wanted to get from point x to point y bad enough to build a road/path/speedway/etc. Lost is the rule rather than the exception. I did finally manage to get off of the main ring road, a miserable loud congested and polluted street with random chickens, cows, toothless old men and an assortment of things that smell bad (including a large portion of the toothless old men). I had a good wander, didn’t get too lost, and generally amused the crap out of a dozen small children who were daring each other to say hello to me. One of the girls finally did and when I smiled back and said hello, namaste, they freaked out and ran off giggling as all 10 year old girls should.
Then I looked up. Which is a bad idea if you’re out for a wander in Nepal and didn’t really bother to bring an umbrella because you were going to buy one at the Bhat and then refused because over your dead body were you going to pay NR385 (about $4.50) for a freaking umbrella. When I looked up I realized I was about to get soaked – which I did, and I have some lovely blisters from finishing my tromp in soggy sandals as a souvenir. Oh Nepal.
This morning I got up to tackle my very first solo navigation of the Nepali bus “system”. Really, even the quotation marks don’t begin to convey the gaping void between what you all think of as public transportation and the realities of a minibus. Kathmandu has a large Ring Road that circles the city, and several major streets or chowks that, along with neighborhood names, give you a way to navigate the city. There are no street signs, lights, stop signs, lanes, lane markers, curbs or anything else but a more or less continuous stretch of asphalt that wanders around the city. You hail a bus much like you would hail a taxi, but you get a limited list of destination
options. As the bus (ahem, broken down 1980’s japanese minivan with the interior ripped out to make more room, ahem) approaches, a young guy dangles out of the open side door and rattles off neighborhoods faster than you can blink. Then you act like a dumb american and say “Chabahil?” if the kid nods, then you get on, if he looks past you then you wait for the next bus. If he nods, then he’ll move aside and point you to a seat – a seat could be on someone’s lap, or the floor or bent over at the waist with your ass hanging out the side window. My current record for people in a minibus is 24 – remember the old dodge caravans? yeah, that. Put 24 people in there. Yes, you can. You can too. Just try harder. Cram people in every nook and cranny and lap. You see those three people that got their feet and heads tucked in the side door, and are holding on for dear life, but the door won’t close? Just let them be, they’re good. Now put a ten year old on the back of one of them and you have the 24 people riding in my minivan as it bobbed and weaved through Thunderdome, Kathmandu style.
Frighteningly, it’s safer than walking.
When you leave you just hand the door guy NR 10. As long as you don’t even try to haggle he won’t ask for more – its like the secret code. If you know what the fare is supposed to be without asking, then that’s what you pay. If you have to ask, then it’s NR 15-20.
Once I got to work things were wonderful. The administration staff is so grateful to have me there working on those records, they are constantly coming in to see how I’m doing and if I need anything. This morning Mrs. Karki, the hospital administrator said “I had no idea you were coming, I didn’t know there was anyone like you coming. You must have been sent from God.” Not a bad way to start the day 🙂 I think I
can do a lot for them – they have no idea where their patients are coming from or really who they are serving and what they are being treated for. I’m already finding trends in seasonal diseases that should allow them to be able to staff more efficiently depending on the date and patient load. All in all, it’s a pretty good gig.
I’m trying to arrange a trip to Pohkara this weekend for some hiking and sightseeing (and hot water) and then next week I’ll be heading up to the mountain clinic for a few days so you all will have a break from my rambling 🙂
Thanks for all the thoughts and well wishes! If there’s anything I’m not rambling about that you would like to know, just give me a heads up and I’ll see what I can do.
Hugs all around!