On our last full day, we visited the Ayurveda Health Home, and were honored to have the Medical Director, Dr. R. R. Koirala M.D. (Ay), speak to us about Ayurvedic medicine, an ancient health practice that strives to achieve health through harmony and balance. He explained that our bodies are in a constant state of transformation, so health is also a dynamic process. I believe this to be true even from a scientific aspect, since we are constantly exposed to antigens that stimulate our immune system in an effort to protect us.
Where Ayurvedic medicine and biomedicine differ, however, is in their goals. Dr. Koirala stressed that the goal of biomedicine is to avoid death, and when someone is ill, the symptoms are treated with surgery or through prescription drugs. Ayurvedic medicine attempts to find the root of what causes the symptoms, which is often linked to the patient’s psychological state. For example, someone who has high blood pressure can be prescribed drugs to reduce his blood pressure. An Ayurvedic doctor will attempt to find the source of the stress that is causing the rise in blood pressure so that it can be reduced. Massage is a large part of the healing process used at this facility.
Now that I’m home, I’ve had time to reflect about my experiences in Nepal. Being there made me appreciate the comforts of home, such as having hot water, drinkable water from the tap, real toilets instead of grated holes in the floor, and the availability of toilet paper. I found Nepal to be a country of gentle people. I only saw one act of violence, on our drive to Pokhara when a man threatened another man with a wooden club. Even the beeping car horns that I first attributed to road rage were really just a way to let other drivers know that the car intended to pass them. I also had the opportunity to compare Nepal’s collectivistic society to our individualistic society in the U.S. This was especially apparent in the rural areas of Nepal, where family members worked together. I saw children carrying buckets of water up a steep hill to their home. In a society such as this, everyone knows their place and what is expected of them. This creates a cohesiveness that makes ‘we’ the priority, and not of ‘me’ like in the U.S.
However, the penalties for not adhering to this can be extreme. Women who become pregnant before marriage can be sold by their fathers into the sex trade, where they not only may service 5-25 men daily, but may also have their organs removed and sold. We saw women at Maiti Nepal who had been rescued from situations such as this. Even though this is a small part of the Nepali culture, I have a hard time justifying that it’s acceptable in any culture. In my opinion, it isn’t really any different than the slave trade in the South that was a major component of the Civil War. As U.S. residents, we have laws that protect us from crimes against humanity and I now realize that this is the major benefit of our society. I have the freedom to set my own goals. So, both types of societies have pros and cons. Finding harmony between the two can make each one better.