One of the best things about spending time in rural nepal is your perspective on the excitement of the day shifts. In new york there is a constant feeling of “do.” Weekends are filled to the brim with brunches, park adventures, bars, workouts, dinners, etc. Everything socially imaginable is available to you, which can make these moments lose their spark and make you feel like you’re constantly missing out (fomo).
In achham, that feeling goes away. I don’t miss what bars my friends are going to, what tacos they’re eating, or what memorial day weekend mishaps they’re getting into (things I would genuinely care about if I was home). Here, the highlight of the day is simplified: an hour of free time to read under a bodhi tree, a game of pingpong, or actually getting to eat meat for dinner becomes your oasis, your moment of utter bliss. And that one small moment is enough. It’s all you need.
Yesterday we found a french press and my whole day was made by the simple fact I could drink an afternoon cup of coffee. And it’s that moment — a simple life pleasure —I want to carry with me always.
Today I was able to interview some of our inpatients at the hospital. The first person I talked to was a father who came here with his three-month old daughter who was severely malnourished. My heart nearly broke as I looked at the beautiful baby girl curled up on the hospital bed with a tiny IV in her hand.
When she first became sick, her father took her to one of our local health clinics near their house, where she was diagnosed and then referred to Bayalpata. They walked four hours to the hospital where she’s receiving free care and is already seeing major improvements.
It’s moments like this where the hardships of being in Achham diminish. This adventure is anything but sexy. It’s fucking hard. Over the past few days I’ve been really sick, unable to keep food down, fighting nausea and pounding headaches, and realizing there is little to no escape from the hard-hitting heat and dust. I also have a lot of work to do and my mind is racing a mile a minute while also feeling like it’s trudging through mud. And while it’s only been a week, I do miss New York — I miss eating protein and sitting in the air conditioning and not thinking I’m going to throw up every .7 seconds.
My time talking to our patients today really helped put things into acute perspective. I am uncomfortable, but I have all the comfort waiting for me at home. I am sick, but I will get better.
This trip has also given me quality time to really dive deep into the organization. We’re building a system that goes beyond someone giving money so someone else can get better. We’ve created ‘durable healthcare,’ our unique private/public model where we work within the Nepali government infrastructure, and so the better results we provide, the more government funding we receive. We’re a non-profit, but we function as a business and in the long term will rely less on philanthropic dollars.
This message is what I’m excited to craft and build. With durable healthcare, we can ensure that Nepali’s, just like the little girl I met this morning, will receive the quality help they need to live long, healthy, and fulfilling lives.
I woke up to my sticky hands plastered against my thighs.
The fan was off — the electricity shuts down at certains times throughout the night to conserve power, a reminder that even the expat hotels aren’t dismissed from the subtle pangs of poverty.
It’s probably close to 5am, the sun desperately trying to rise, and the humidity shrouds over my body like a thick blanket. There is a natural cacophony out the window: dozens of birds chirping in different decibels, rhythms, and timbres, with stray dogs barking and monkeys chattering throughout.
You can hear the women being to sweep, the swoosh-swoosh-swish rhythm interlocking with the birds, dogs, and monkeys. I count down the minutes until the fan will turn back on and I can steal a few more moments of sleep.
I can barely move my left arm; I pulled it in a yoga class a few weeks ago, and ignored the increasing amount of discomfort in the final days before leaving for Nepal. Now the stiffness and sharp electric stabs of pain are starkly present, so I move over to my back and stretch my arm to the side, feeling the mild pulse of pain against the thin sheet sopped in my sweat.
This is travel; this is life. These small moments are when I feel inherently alive. The discomfort is a challenge, and the adjustment is the reward. I’m still in a jet-lagged, culture-shocked funk, my senses overstimulated though my mind still clouded. And today we leave for more: another trip to an airport, another flight, and a long, long jeep ride along ragged roads that could take up to 18 hours.
This is travel; this is life. The fan finally turns back on and I roll over for the last few minutes of light sleep. And then we begin to move again.
Tomorrow night we finally “complete” our journey, arriving in Achham at around 1am.
Kathmandu has been a crazy and blurry few days. At first glance, the city is pretty chaotic, and I wish I had more time to actually break the ice and understand how it “works.” So far, all I can tell are the drivers are fucking insane, mo-mo’s are delicious, people are proud of their wifi, and almost every taxi has a huge decal that say ‘SPORTS’ on their window. (#sports!)
I oddly started missing Ghana today. Minus Costa Rica, which doesn’t really count, this is the first time I’ve been back in the developing world, wandering around bustling markets, smelling sewage and burning trash, navigating the dust and humidity, eating at delicious hole-in-the-wall cafes, and haggling for cool souvenirs while wishing I could put on an invisibility cloak and browse in peace. Nepalis seem really friendly, but also pretty reserved. They are quiet. In Ghana almost everyone was extraverted and loveddd talking with white people. Tourists are few and far between in KTM, and people often & simply ignore you. Maybe this is a premature and unfair judgement, but I guess I simply miss feeling like I belong in a foreign place.
The language barrier is also difficult; being able to speak the local language is so key to a transformative experience abroad, and unfortunately I’ve only nailed down “namaste.” (But may I say … I’m realllly nailing it.)
In any case, today was a good last day. We met Pradip, the Possible coordinator of Kathmandu, to drop off some American goods and exchange some luggage. We also went to tooown, seeing some insanely holy sites, including Boudhanath Stupa, the largest stupa in Nepal & the holiest Tibetan Buddhist temple (outside of Tibet). We went right at dusk during their ritual prayer sesh, which was an extremely cool experience. I sat and meditated on the stupa because it felt “right,” and then we went to one of the thousand rooftop bars (hot commodity!) for mo-mos (dumplings), curry, and mt. everest beer. Earlier in the day, we went to the monkey temple (Swayambhunath) where we chilled with the monkeys, bought some awesome paintings, drank vanilla lassis, and soaked up an awesome view.
Is this real life?
Tomorrow is a full day of travel: a two hours flight to Dhangadi and then a 10-14 jeep ride to Achham. I have dramamine, melatonin, and snacks, so that should get me through.
The wifi sitch is a bit unclear once we get to Achham, and I’ll actually be doing real work/ have less downtime. I’ll be living at the hospital, so who knows what kind of crazy things I’ll see and stories I’ll get to hear, along with finally getting to figure out what my job entails (the perks of creating the role yourself?). I’m basically ready to get settled into my rural life for a bit, unplug some more, and dive into this thing.
It’s technically Sunday morning in New York, which means I left less than 48 hours ago. This trip has been a whirlwind; I’m half awake right now, sipping on a whiskey sour (sounded refreshing) in the Summit Hotel courtyard, a beautiful hotel on the outer hills of Kathmandu.
But first: how I got here. I spent all day on Friday in Brooklyn and Manhattan, running on three hours of sleep & picking up some final things I needed: flashlight, dramamine, tea with a friend, xanax delivery, etc. Then I trekked down to South Brooklyn to my boss’s apartment, where he (Mark), my co-worker (Jess), and me (Laura) stuffed three suitcases to the brim with medical supplies, equipment to build doors at the hospital, and various US commodities (lotions, a watch, etc). It was also torrential down-pouring, our Uber was late, and we pretty much almost missed our flight to Doha.
On the ride to JFK we were already figuring out logistics: Mark was trying to make it to rural Nepal (where Bayalpata hospital is) while a big-time funder was visiting, but just learned she was arriving earlier than expected so would be getting the grand tour from some local medical workers. Mark was on the phone with someone trying to make sure her experience would be The Right One before he got there. “Make sure she understands we’re not just a hospital. We’re a health care system.”
The lack of sleep from the night before, the pure panic of flying, and the fact that eeeeveryone’s phone was going off in the airport alerting them of a flash food warning made me a very bit anxious. I somehow managed to keep composed on the runway; I took a xanax, then took another xanax, and was in and out of sleep for the 12 hour (and quite bumpy) flight.
We landed in Doha, Qatar at 6:45p and had to make a fancy Jeffersonian Dinner we were hosting at 7:30. We ended up only being 10 minutes late, and the various attendees (Al Jazeera journalists, reps from the Qatar government, global health care rock stars, and more) didn’t seem to mind. I changed into a dress in the hotel lobby, then sat for a three course meal and took part in a fascinating conversation with people across the globe, mainly discussing how we (Possible) can leverage the relationship we have with the government in Qatar that puts an amazing, albeit often dysfunctional emphasis on health care. I felt really lucky to be able to listen to intelligent people discuss topics I’m only beginning to become fluent in, and made it my commitment to be a sponge on this trip - educating myself more on health care systems across the globe, along with philanthropy, ngo politics, and government relations.
After the dinner we had a few hours until our connecting flight to Kathmandu, so Mark took us around Doha to a few of his favorite spots. We went to the waterfront to get an amazing view of the city, walked through an outdoor restaurant and art market where everyone (I mean everyone) was smoking hookah, and then made our way back the airport for flight #2. I totally wish I had more time in Doha, but there’s a great chance our NYC team may work out of there for the month of October, where we’ll be closer to key partners in Qatar and big-time influencers in Nepal.
The flight to Nepal was a squished five-hour journey where I totally lost my sense of time. It was technically a red-eye, but still felt like the afternoon even though I had recently indulged in a fancy dinner of scallops and lobster. I somehow managed to eat a bit of shitty indian food (it felt right), watch 40 minutes of American Hustle, and catch an hour or so of sleep before we finally, finally, finally landed in Kathmandu.
We got our visas and then Mark went straight to the domestic terminal to continue on to Accham. Jess and I are spending two days in the city to explore a bit before heading to the hospital (which will be another flight and 10 hour jeep ride…). Both jet-lagged and filled with adrenaline, we quickly showered at our hotel and went down to Dunbar Square, a huuuge market in the middle of the city. It was literal and utter chaos (which I love): the streets were filled with tons of people, cars honking left and right, motorcycles nearly running my ankles over, and tons of little stores selling things from pots and pans to fresh produce, jewelry, and fabrics. I’ve been in crowded markets before, but never ones where both cars and bikes are allowed in as well. (It also doesn’t help that the drivers are literally insane.)
The city architecture was stunning: the buildings are extremely old, and blend in with the many Buddhist and Hindu temples dispersed throughout. I felt totally in my element, navigating the somewhat horrifying and overwhelming streets, saying “no” constantly to pushcart peddlers, and familiarizing myself with fun city quirks. (For ie, many women hold umbrellas to shade the sun, while men wear face masks to keep out the dust. Signs for “Free Wifi Zone” are stamped on most store-fronts, and there is a fair share of stray dogs and cows rounding every corner.
We spent a few hours wandering around, soaking up the sights and getting a feel for the city rhythm, before getting a car and passing out in our hotel for a solid three hours. We ventured back into the city for some traditional Nepali cuisine (we accidentally ordered chicken wings as an appetizer) and now I’m back in this courtyard, sipping on whiskey, both exhausted and exhilarated, and anxious to get to Achham (late Tues night) to actually start working and see how I’m going to take this amazing organization and shape the message and vision in such a way that it resonates and sticks with the right people in lasting and incredible ways.
aaand that is absolutely all I’ve got. :)
even good change is loss.
in seven hours i’ll be boarding a plane and traveling to achham, nepal. it’s no quick trip; i have ~5 days, three flights, and a 10-14 bus ride before making it to bayalpata hospital, where possible delivers high quality and low cost healthcare to some of the poorest people in the world.
it’s also a trip of firsts: my first trip to asia, my first day at my new job, and the first time that i’ve felt such an acute sense of awe, excitement, and fear — all mixed in with an odd sense of calmness and peace.
it’s been an overwhelming few weeks. i left a company I loved (and still do) to go after a deep personal and professional desire. i signed a new lease and am moving to prospect heights, leaving behind my beloved williamsburg neighborhood and apartment. and i’ve formed strong relationships and emotional bonds with a few key people in my life, and some of those bonds have unexpectedly snapped in pieces, while others have become my life support and saving grace.
this day is an incredibly important one for me. i meditated just before, letting my cascading thoughts circle around and around in my brain for what felt like hours. i let it all just sit there, and then i pictured the words ‘strength’ ‘resilience’ ‘adventure’ and ‘beauty.’ i cannot forget that these words are the foundation to my spirit.
for whatever reason I felt compelled to express these somewhat vague and disconnected emotions in this type of medium. i plan on continuing to write about my travels to nepal right here, capturing the moments, both small and large, light and heavy, that define what will be an amazing two weeks.
seeeeee you there!