Although there is SO much to write about here in Nepal, the reason we are coming here is to compare our health back home to the health care here in the East so its about time I demote some attention to the subject. Today one of the places we visited was the Chhatraphati Free Clinic. Aside from providing free medical services (dental, cardiac, pediatric, ENT, and much more) to those who cannot afford it, this clinic is also one of the most technologically advanced and the cleanest. That being said, by our standards we would consider it very modest and in terms of the dentistry chair.. maybe a little frightening. Health standards in Nepal are just unimaginable if you have never experienced it here or someplace similar. Driving down the roads there are piles of unorganized trash littering the sides of the streets. Today we were crossing a bridge and below there was a murky brown river lined on both sides by garbage. When I looked to the other side of the bridge I saw people swimming in the water below. The crazy traffic of Kathmandu and the many dusty roads also make for a lot of air pollution. Aside from these health differences much of Nepal is below the poverty line so malnutrition is also prevalent. Due in part to the paternalistic society and culture here, sexually transmitted diseases are far from uncommon. The problem of sex trafficking further perpetuates the spread of diseases like HIV/AIDs and because of stigmas many go untreated or are shunned by their communities and families. Mental health care here in Nepal is very limited, there are something like 58 psychologists and 1 child psychologist for the entire population of 26 million. And to put the icing on top of the cake, much of the Nepalese population lives in rural areas where any modern health care reaches then on a very limited basis, or not at all.
But there are two sides to every coin. Even with all of these national health issues, the people here in Nepal have a beautiful way about them and their lives. We hiked yesterday through a rural village and were greeted warmly by all that we passed. A group of teens showed us their break dancing moves (Sydney joined in with a back flip of her own), three little boys hanging out of a window happily blew us kisses and told us we were beautiful, and an older woman with a yard full of animals allowed us to hold and visit with her baby goats. My favorite moment was sharing a photo I took of an older woman carrying a heavy wicker basket with her after the fact. Her heartfelt smile and kindness was radiant. Although there is so much sadness and poverty, these people have unearthed a happiness that many of us Americans don’t even know exists. They have a patience and peace about them. One image that keeps resonating in my mind is that of a very old Brahmin we encountered at the Temple of Lord Shiva yesterday. Looking into his dark brown eyes I felt like he had a wisdom and understanding that looked right into my soul. I’ve gotten this feeling from many of the older people here whose gazes I have met as we have driven or walked by them fleetingly. It’s like these people have discovered some buried treasure that we don’t even know of.
I promised myself I would keep this post short but once again there are so many thoughts and experiences I want to share. Being here in Nepal makes me want to come back to this country or another developing country and somehow volunteer to better the struggling health care system. Yes, there is a lot that we Easterners can offer to them, but there is so much that they can teach us as well about a quality of life that is not measured by materialism or technology. It is a knowledge that cannot be accessed on the internet or in one of our privileged universities back home, but instead has to come from being here. I know what I’ve witnessed in the past few days just barely scratches the surface but I feel like my eyes have been opened already and I can’t wait to share with friends and family in greater detail when we come back home 🙂