Michael & Sheila’s Nepali adventures

March 1, 2011 —

Sheila and Michael at 10,500 feet in the Himalayas

Sheila and Michael at 10,500 feet in the Himalayas

Namaste! I’m writing this post after just having spoken to my wife from the other side of the world, in Kathmandu, Nepal. On February 21, DMU posted on Facebook about the Global Health program, and how students have the ability to choose rotations in an international setting. I won’t go into that because I don’t know all the particulars, but I’ll tell you it’s possible. In fact, my wife Sheila was instrumental in securing Nepal as an acceptable rotation site, as she had many contacts there from her time spent doing research for her master’s degree in nutrition in 2000.

Our Nepali family dinner, with Jayendra, Ama and Bua

Our Nepali family dinner, with Jayendra, Ama and Bua

If you’d like to know more about international clinical rotations, please contact the Global Health department. But I’m an significant other (SO), so really this post is from that perspective.

If you ever have the chance to go with your SO on an international trip, I would highly recommend it. I traveled with Sheila to Nepal in the summer of 2009 (this was vacation, not clinical rotation). Having spent all of my life in the U.S., only traveling to other developed countries on vacation, this really opened my eyes to the rest of the world. It’s hard to describe the socio-economic state of Nepal. Yes there is internet service and cellphones there, but there is also very often garbage in the streets and lepers begging for help. It really is a very poor country, partly exacerbated by the political unrest of the past 20 years, and partly by the simple fact that geography has made it a landlocked country high in the Himalayas. Running water and basic sanitation are not givens here. Labor strikes are common, especially in the transportation industry, and you can often be left wondering if you’ll ever be able to get to your destination.

Hindu holy men at the Pashupatinath Temple

Hindu holy men at the Pashupatinath Temple

Power outages are also common and the roads are terrible or non-existent. Kathmandu is a busy, noisy, dirty city that will shock the senses of most westerners. The villages are poor and life is hard. But there is such a charm and peace about the country and the people that once you get past these inconveniences, you will absolutely fall in love with Nepal. The biggest adjustment for me was the fact that time has absolutely no meaning there. “The bus leaves at 9 a.m.” could mean 9, 9:15, 9:30 or 10. Once you get to your destination though, it is easy to get immersed in the culture. Nepal is primarily Hindu, but Buddhism is also prevalent, and you’ll see many Tibetans here. We traveled to Lumbini, which is the birthplace of Buddha, and has been transformed into a beautiful location where Buddhist temples from many countries now adorn the landscape. We traveled to the Chitwan, where the wildlife reserve has tigers, rhinoceros, leopards, and elephants. If Kathmandu is sensory overload, then Pokhara is the salve. This is the town that many trekkers begin their hike on the Annapurna trail.

Sheila and I hiked the Ghorepani trail to Poon Hill, a three-day trek to 10,531 ft. The Himalayas are breathtaking, and from this spot you can see at least a couple of the highest peaks in the world. The Nepalis living along the trail are the kindest, gentlest people I have ever met, which is striking considering the hard life they must have there. We thought we were keeping a good hiking pace until a man passed us on the trail while carrying a refrigerator on his head (I am not kidding, I have the pictures). Because of the many trekkers, Nepalis are extremely friendly to tourists and many speak English. We passed the time on our hike by teaching our guide more English while he taught us Nepali.

Sheila was befriended by a Nepali woman, Parvati, when she first visited. We have since become so close to her family that we call them our Nepali Ama and Bua (mom and dad). They have taken us into our home, and made sure we were safe on our many adventures. This is not the exception but the norm. Some things in Nepal will frighten you (like a family of 4 on a motorcycle), and some things will humble you (like the holy man who gives up all worldly possessions to pray every day). They have an expression there: “Ke Garne”that literally translates as “What to do?” but figuratively means “relax, have no worries.” That is the peace and serenity that one finds there. I hope that the other SOs will be as lucky to travel with their med student as I was.


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