Nepal Part 3: Sense of togetherness vs separation

Photo of Rachel and a group of villagers

There were 10 of us living in the ARP building: 5 health practitioners, 2 team leaders, 2 local coordinators and the cook. I shared a room with 3 female practitioners and I couldn’t ask for better roommates. We learnt to look out for each other in challenging living conditions.  The interpreters and acupuncture students lived in another building not far from us. In the two months, we have become family.

The kitchen is my favourite place.  We made sure we ate together.  During our lunch break or after work, the locals such as the coordinators, interpreters, acupuncture students and the cook, would pick up the guitar and madal drum to play music and sing together. And on some evenings we would sit around camp fires and sing folk songs all night long.  How I wished I knew the lyrics so I could sing along. Once I said to them that no one sings and plays music with me every evening like this in Australia, and they responded, ‘life must be so boring there’.

A photo of the locals singing folk songs around a campfire

Knowing that I didn’t bring a hot water bottle to the village, one of our local coordinators offered his to me. Once an itchy red rash appeared on my skin and because I was the one who treated the patient with scabies, everyone suspected I had got it too.  Naturally I expected that people would keep a distance from me but to my surprise some of the locals sat right next to me.  When I asked one of them why he wasn’t afraid at all, he said, ‘Oh it’s just a bit of itching. If it is contagious, I can deal with the itch.’ Then he helped me make a paste to apply on the spots. I felt overwhelmed by the kindness and compassion of the Nepalese people.

The villagers were always welcoming. During our weekend hikes, the villagers would invite us for lunch or tea as we walked past their homes.

A photo of a villager outside her home

The door of a villager’s home is always open to its neighbours. On a few of our visits to patients’ homes, neighbours just walked in and sat down to join our conversation. Although one patient and his wife are only living in a temporarily built tin shed as his house was damaged by the earthquake last year, he still has a spare bed incase by-passers from other villages need to stay overnight.

Photo of two villagers outside their tin shed

There was a 75 year old woman who recently had a stroke and became hemiplegic. As she lives about 45 mins from our clinic and up terraced fields and steep hills, it was very difficult for her family to bring her to see us. So we decided to see her at her home.  I was very touched seeing how her husband, sons and daughter in law looked after her. Made me reflect that I must not forget to show gratitude to those who raised me as ageing without love can be very lonely. I remember clearly on our second visit, though she couldn’t move the left side of her body, she still asked us, ‘have you had tea? Would you like to stay for lunch?’

Photo of Rachel treating a stroke patient

Photo of Rachel putting acupuncture needles on a patient

The villagers have a deep sense of gratitude. In return for our services, we were given bags of vegetables or homemade popcorn. Towards the end, we were even offered marriage proposals. But that’s another story. =) One of my patients who still lives in a tent as her home was destroyed in last year’s earthquake, wanted to cook me a pumpkin dish.  Seeing that she was struggling herself to make ends meet, I asked her to please keep the pumpkin for herself.  But she insisted, saying that we looked after her better than her parents and that was the least she could do for us.  These people still give even though they don’t have much, to me they have everything. 

Photo of Rachel and a patient who gave her a bag of popcorn

Photo of Rachel and a patient laughing

There is a strong sense of community and neighborhood in the villages of Nepal. In the first world, the prevailing culture is that of separation. I am me, and you are you.  We are focused on protecting our privacy, protecting our comfort, thinking always of ‘what is in it for me?’  We have lost the heart to heart connection, the spirit of contribution without expectation of anything in return. When was the last time we called or visited our parents?  How well do we know our neighbours? Though technology has advanced at lightning speed over the last few decades, our spiritual evolution has not caught up at the same pace. We can communicate these days without even seeing or hearing the other person, but does it make us happier? Does it make us better human beings?

A photo of a family of villagers

Three generations living together and looking after each other.

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Nepal Part 2: No concept of time

Majority of patients in the village have no transport, they walk anywhere from 10 mins to over 4 hours to get to the ARP clinic over rocky paths and hills. Many don’t have a concept of time, some don’t even know how old they are or how to read a clock. There was one woman who when asked her age, said she’s between 70 and 80 years old.  And another young man said he could be anywhere between 29 to 33 years old. Patients don’t come to the clinic by an appointment basis, they either come in the morning or afternoon and hang around with other villagers, sometimes for hours, chatting and enjoying each other’s company as they wait. Because they have no concept of time, unlike us who have 100 things going on in our minds, they are always in the moment and genuinely listening. One heart, one mind, one thing at a time. They master the art of ‘being’ which many of us in the first world have lost and are desperately seeking. How many of us look at the time every now and then at work to check when the day ends so we can go home? When was the last time we sat down quietly just to enjoy our meals, without having our TVs on or checking our phones at the same time?

A photo of Rachel and an old man

This patient walked over 4 hours to see us.

A photo of patients waiting outside the clinic

Patients interacting whilst waiting outside the clinic to be seen.

A photo of Rachel applying scalp acupuncture

Applying scalp acupuncture.

Photo of a boy chasing and balancing a hoop with a stick

A boy chasing and balancing a hoop with a stick. Children in the village have no technology to play with, but back to basics, playing outdoors and in the fields.


Photo of view from rooftop of clinic

The view from the rooftop of the clinic in Bajra Barahi.


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Nepal Part 1: My volunteer experience in a rural village

Photo of Rachel with 2 Nepalese Women

Sharing love in Nepal

For 2 months from January to March this year, I volunteered with the Acupuncture Relief Project (ARP) and provided primary healthcare to a rural village 3 hours South of Kathmandu, Nepal where there is no access to medical care.

Nepal remains one of the poorest countries on the planet. As we all know, on April 25th last year, the big earthquake had taken the lives of many and left many homeless. It has been a year since and I still saw many living in half collapsed homes and in temporarily built tents. And there is a high infantile death rate, mainly from lack of hygiene.

We saw on average 100-120 patients a day. We treated patients suffering from poverty and aftermath of earthquake. For the majority who has no money to pay for medicine, seeking hospital care may mean they lose their farm and home. Common conditions include digestive issues from dirty water and lack of food, respiratory problems, musculoskeletal and skin diseases, stroke rehab, recovery from tuberculosis, typhoid fever, hypertension and diabetes.

I was part of a team which consisted of 5 health practitioners and 2 team leaders. We all come from different parts of the world. Including the local coordinators and cook, there were 10 of us in total living in the same building. Basically for 2 months, I learnt to share a bathroom with 10 people and a room with 3 other women. It was in the middle of winter, temperatures can drop down to -3 degrees at night with no heating available. Squat toilets and no toilet paper. Perhaps a tepid shower once a week, twice if lucky. Frequent electricity blackouts. We ate whatever our cook made for us as food choices were limited and mainly vegetarian.

That having said, volunteering with ARP in poverty and disaster stricken Nepal is one of the most rewarding experiences I have ever had.  Not only had I got to meet and work with an incredible team of practitioners and locals, I was also able to gain firsthand experience of using acupuncture and herbal medicine to treat acute/third world diseases. And the invaluable lessons I have learnt from the way of life of the Nepalese villagers, have deeply changed my life and my practice of medicine. As a healthcare practitioner, this experience has strengthened my lifelong determination to support the wellbeing of people so they can work to their full potential to contribute to society in their own ways.  In the following weeks, I will upload a series of posts on my experiences and realisations volunteering in Nepal.

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