The field coordinator and I started the week off with assessments while the medical team took a day off to rest. The goal of these assessments was to survey different locations in Dhading district to discover areas that have not yet received the help they require. The first place we visited was an area named Sertung. This area is located near our previous mobile medical unit site of Tipling- so it is also a high mountain region with peaceful mountain views in the morning and cold winds at night. While the region has many health workers, those health workers have been working around the clock to manage the diarrheal outbreak that began shortly after the earthquake. They are exhausted and short on supplies.
Another region we visited sits just opposite the mountainside of Sertung. The region is very remote- almost completely inaccessible by helicopter with the only footpath having been destroyed by a landslide. After circling the village a number of times to find a plausible area to land, we were met by villagers begging for food, medical care and shelter. Almost every region we visited had a similar story- a story of destruction, need, loved ones lost, and fear of the coming rains and/or snows.
After a day of assessments, the mobile medical unit headed back out to another mountain village. This time we went into the neighboring district of Gorkha to a region called Ripchet. This region, by far, is the highest the team has gone thus far. It sits in a dusty mountain basin between 8,000 and 9,000 feet. Running the clinic was a little like working in the middle of a desert- every tent, every item of clothing, every box of medical supplies and every food container was saturated with a layer of dust within minutes. After the clinic, we hiked about an hour up the mountain to a monastery that has been serenely nestled in the trees for over a hundred years.
When we reached the monastery, an elderly man came out to greet us. Through a translator, we learned that he has been living at the monastery since he was very young- he is 88 years old and is now the only permanent resident and caretaker of the monastery. From the outside, the monastery building looks cold and dark and it shares the same earthquake damage as the village below. As the elderly lama opened the building and light began to filter in, a very different story began to unfold. A number of massive golden statues pose in the middle of the room while every surrounding wall is covered in elaborately beautiful paintings. As we silently tried to take it all in, the man prostrated himself on the floor and began to pray- first a prayer of thanksgiving for visiting his monastery and secondly, he prayed a prayer of blessing for the work we had done for his village. Before heading back down the mountain, we gave him a pack of Oreos- the only thing we had on us- and asked to take a picture with him. After taking the picture, I turned the camera around to show him the image. He was speechless- he had never seen himself in a mirror, let alone a photo. His speechlessness quickly turned into astonishment and we spent another twenty minutes repeatedly showing him the picture before heading back to the village. It was a culturally beautiful and humanly enriching way to end our clinic in Ripchet.
The following day we headed to another region in the district of Gorkha- a region named Laprak. This region is essentially part of the epicenter of the first earthquake and is one of the most decimated villages I have visited. Almost no semblance of regular life remains. It is a high-risk area for landslides due to the soft soil and very steep terrain. Most of the population has moved up the mountain to one of four different camps supported by the Nepalese military. Those who were unable to move up the mountain to the camps- the elderly- now mainly inhabit what remains of Laprak. For this reason, the mobile medical unit decided to set up clinic in the very heart of the destroyed village.
As the medical team assessed and treated patients next to the unrecognizable health post, with bright orange tarps protecting them from the wind and pouring rain, myself and another nurse headed into the maze of collapsed buildings to find the many elderly who were sick and homebound. It was a slow process, climbing over slick piles of stone and wood and navigating tight alleyways- all while the rain attempted to wrap its cold fingers around our determination and physical strength. We found a number of patients unable to make it up to the mountain camps or to our clinic. Though many times there wasn’t much we could do, we treated them with the few resources we had and left them hopeful, cheerful and grateful. I am tempted to be disappointed and frustrated with how little we can do at times, but the beaming smiles and respectful bows always remind me that many times the human person simply needs to know that another human being cares. The power of that knowledge alone is often more powerful than any physical care we can offer. It heals on a much deeper, much more meaningful level.
Being only a few weeks away from my time of departure from Nepal, I find myself already anticipating the sentiments that time will bring. With every relief trip, I find it a little more difficult to go home and Nepal will be no exception to that rule. I have learned so much from the people of Nepal about the beauty of a simple life, the value of contentment, the power of kindness and the importance fortitude. I opened my heart to them and they returned that kindness tenfold- they have become family and for that my heart will willing pay the price when it comes time to leave.