Nick, Jade and I arrived in Kathmandu a little more than a month ago—how time has flown! Our stay in Kathmandu provided a much needed introduction to Nepali language and culture but I have to admit that Kathmandu is very different than I expected. The city’s pollution is oppressive—from noise to physical to water to air—and I found that walks around the city were almost unbearable. It was also really sad to see the UNESCO World Heritage Sites in their current state of disrepair. However, it is hard to tease out how much of it is a result of the earthquake, if the overcrowding was mostly caused by the city’s population boom after the nation’s 10-year civil war and/or how much is engendered by governmental factors and Nepal’s place as one of the poorest countries on Earth. Despite the hurdle of confronting my expectations versus the reality of Kathmandu, the intensive Nepali classes made the time in the capital well worth it. Although I am far from fluent, my ability to understand the sentence structure of Nepali as well as individual word comprehension has paid serious dividends. So all in all, malaai kusi laggyo (I am happy) with our time spent in Kathmandu taking Nepali language classes.
So after finishing up three weeks of class in Kathmandu, Nick, Jade and I finally began our journey to meet John in Manma (the district capital of Kalikot) and then trek onto Oda. To reiterate the sentiment proposed in previous blog posts, the journey was long and at times frightening. My favorite part though was when we finally arrived in Sarabara and began our trek up to the site of the Oda Foundation. A smile didn’t leave my face the entire 2-hour hike as so much anticipation built up to this day—about a year of conversing with John in fact! After two suspension bridges, two steep uphill climbs, and a host of spectacular views, we reached Oda right around dusk. The first thing that struck me was that Oda is so peaceful. Three of Oda’s communities spread behind the health center (numbering to around 2,000 people) and the site lies on flat ground amidst a sea of towering and vibrantly green mountains. It was all I hoped for and more.
The first thing I did the next morning, and continue to do every morning, is open my windows wide to some incredible views (see photos above). I truly do feel “off the grid” here but in the best possible way. Nick, Jade and I are some of the only people in the world to behold these sights—how ridiculous is that?! The company of the Oda staff and the relationships I am beginning to build with the people, this place is really starting to feel like a second (or third, as Nick and Jade can attest to John and my endless talking about the great Washington and Lee University) home. Despite witnessing a lot of hardship this year working in the health clinic, it is easy to see the love, gentleness and tenacity of the people who work day in and day out to shape the mountains to provide for their families. The fact that the roads that transported us here are carved out of the highest mountain range in the world and that people are able to toil among the rocks and carry back-breaking loads to survive makes me wonder what people can’t accomplish. Hopefully in the next 50 years, we can add eradicating extreme poverty to the list!
So far in Oda my days have been devoted to shadowing the various CMA (Community Medical Assistants) in the clinic, hiking, maintaining Sean T’s Insanity workout regimen in the most unlikely of places, hand-washing clothes, entering patient data into a massive spreadsheet, reading and most of all, getting to know and practicing Nepali with the Oda staff. After shadowing Surita in the pharmacy, I got a sense for just how many patients the Oda Foundation serves everyday—an unbelievable 70+ appointments! Since then, I have seen patients and helped fill prescriptions for diseases we only read about in textbooks in the U.S. such as ringworm, scabies and dysentery to name a few. My most impactful experience thus far was watching Nerendra stitch up a woman’s ear after a painful bout of domestic abuse. Despite how heart-wrenching working in the health center can be, I only have to think about the 15,000 patients that the Oda Foundation has served to turn my mood around. I also only have to walk about 50 steps to the classroom to witness dozens of smiling Oda kids learning English and shouting “hi, how are you?” along my path.
From the breathtaking environment to the shyly friendly people, I am enjoying my time at Oda immensely. The relationship that John has built with the community is inspiring and every conversation with him seeps with his love of the people of Kalikot. Our “workplace environment,” if you can call it that, is marked by laughter and compassion; I have to say that although people may call me crazy, I haven’t missed the Internet or home at all (sorry mom and dad!). In the next week or so I look forward to beginning my various projects on preventative health strategies, creating an Oda Women’s Health pilot program and researching traditional medicine as well as continuing my ongoing project in the Monitoring and Evaluation arm of the organization. Stay tuned for more on those projects in the near future!