Kathmandu by Motorbike

The basis behind why I was even in Nepal was for a veterinary externship, which lasted for three of my four weeks there. My dad says that it sounded like a “boondoggle” to him, which is apparently a real word that means “work of little or no value done merely to keep or look busy.” Basically meaning that to him, it seemed like my time over there was actually a vacation disguised as work—fair enough. Really though…Rachel, Pauline, and I worked in the Mobile Veterinary Hospital in the city.

Getting to the clinic required quite the hefty commute in the morning—about 45 minutes by bus plus 30 minutes walking time. Public transportation in Nepal is not the nice comfy ride I came to know in Dublin, where my biggest fear was stumbling down the stairs that lead to the second floor. Our faithful yellow bus was actually more of a van. It had the seating capacity for about 20 people… but the Nepali people managed to about triple that every single time. My balance has improved significantly from my time riding the bus, and I was able to hold onto the overhead bar with one hand by the time I left! As you can imagine, there is no air-conditioning on the yellow bus. In fact, on days we weren’t lucky enough to get a seat and were standing, Rachel and I probably got the hottest air of all since we (and especially Rachel) are taller than the average Nepali person. Rachel one day knocked a ceiling light off the bus with her head because she is so tall. People on the bus always seemed to be worried about us though. We had several different people ask us if we were lost and were legitimately concerned as to why we were on a bus headed out to a random rural suburb of Kathmandu. The primary issue is that they were never comforted when we told them that yes we knew where we were going, but didn’t know how to tell them where we were going. We basically knew directionally how to get there… names of places was a different thing. We definitely did not blend in on those buses. One little girl tapped my legs and started speaking to me in Nepali. Everyone on the bus started giggling, and finally a man told us that she was asking why my hair was colored.  I did get the chance to sit next to a chicken on one of my rides home… he blended in more than Rachel and I did. It was the most well behaved chicken I have ever seen! Unfortunately I never got to ride with a goat, but we did see people shoving a few into the trunk of a different bus.

To highlight a few of the most exciting public transport incidences I faced while in Nepal… Pauline and I were riding the bus into work one day, when the driver pulled over and started airing up his tires. All of a sudden there was a loud bang, that about nearly gave me a heart attack because it sounded quite like a gunshot. Turns out the tire blew. All of the Nepali people filed off the bus… I told Pauline that the one thing I have learned from my travels is follow the crowd when in doubt. They usually lead you to where you need to be, or at least somewhere interesting. We narrowed in on a few different groups of people that we had recognized from our bus and followed them like creeps until they reached a corner. A bunch of buses came and went. They would pull up with an attendant hanging outside the bus shouting something loudly in Nepali, but our people were not boarding. Finally, one came that they all quickly ran and hopped on. So we though, “here goes!” and scurried to hop on as the bus was pulling away. This bus was actually really nice… everyone had their own seats! As an added bonus, it took us to the right bus stop we needed to finish walking to the clinic! The other eventful bus ride came when we arrived at the bus stop right before our bus was headed out. It was already packed well beyond capacity, but it was getting late so we didn’t want to wait around for another. I just got onto the step as the bus was pulling away… meaning that I was practically hanging out the door as we drove on towards Kirtipur. A few other people hopped on at some other stops, so I did get somewhat of a buffer between me and the pavement. I did tell Rachel that I was pretty sure this was the one bus ride where we absolutely could not squeeze anyone else in. She said, “Nah! I think they will get about five more.” Four. Four more people. At that point I didn’t actually have to do any balancing on the bus because we were squeezed in so tightly that no one was going anywhere.

People everywhere tried offering us taxis because we are white and in Kathmandu, which isn’t quite the tourist hotspot of Nepal. A few times we took the taxi home when it was too late after the buses stopped running… or when we were sick. There was one time that we walked to the bus stop and the bus was packed full because it was raining. We decided to try our luck at just getting a taxi home so we didn’t suffocate, as windows are usually shut in the van when it’s raining with still no air conditioning. At this point we had been there long enough to know what rate we should be getting to get to Kirtipur. But as to be expected, the taxi driver was asking for way, way to much. So we finally just said, “We will go ride the bus!” I don’t think that he thought we would… but we did. As we were walking away, his daughters that were standing by his taxi were yelling “Fine! Fine!” at us trying to get us to come back, but we just kept walking.


The most exciting thing about the walk between the clinic and the bus stop, besides the cows that would just lay on the sidewalks blocking our path, was the street corn woman. I admired her every day. She was there consistently at the same time at the same place, except for when it was raining because she needed to be able to light her fire to grill the corn. I creepily took pictures of her, and then decided that my immune system had had enough time to adjust so that I could eat street food. I wasn’t sure whether I paid the right price for the corn because there was no understandable English spoken. She seemed so joyful on the sidewalk at the same bend in the road, which also happened to be a popular place for garbage dumping on the street. The corn, while not Indiana sweet corn, was delicious—probably mostly because I loved that woman!

As far as our time in the clinic—this was where I found my second Nepali family. I love the doctors and technicians that we worked with each day. They shared their food with us, and we talked about life and laughed, drank tea, and then they shared more food with us. There are definitely differences between the way that medicine is practiced in Nepal and the United States. However, I loved their eagerness to learn. Even though their bandage scissors by our standards were dull and their gloves ripped easily, they said that the most important thing we could send them would be textbooks. I also came to appreciate Dr.Ray’s ability to remain calm in what could easily be considered high-stress situations. He had some pretty incredible surgery room dance moves to show us as he got the job done. We came to love girl talks with Dr.Sajana Thapa, and will for sure be back to Nepal to be bridesmaids whenever she gets married.

It was times in the clinic where we learned a lot about culture in Nepal, as we had time to talk over tea. The pace of life is much slower there, so while they work longer hours from 7 am to 8 pm, there is time during the day between cases to relax at least in the month we were there. The unfortunate part for them is that they work every single day of the week, and can’t take off days easily. Case-wise we saw primarily dogs and cows. While I did see maybe three cats during my three weeks in the clinic–apparently many people in Nepal are afraid or superstitious about cats. Sajana told us that there are even some people who will wait to cross the street until someone else does, if they had just seen a cat go across. We saw one bird and one rabbit come in as pets, but most are dogs. The majority of dogs are kept exclusively outdoors, and occasionally we would have people just bring in street dogs for treatment because there are so many strays. Cows are sacred in Nepal, and we were told that you can serve jail time if you kill one—so ummm no pressure there as a veterinarian hahaha. They said that some of the most prevalent cases during this time of year are funguses and maggots because of the rainy weather. A maggot case was one of my favorite that I got to help out with! The technician Krishna was really great about having us get hands-on and do what we could, so he had me do some fishing out of maggots and bandaging on this case.

For a veterinary externship in Nepal, this clinic had the best set-up. Since it was mobile, the doctors rode motorbikes out to many of the cases. They would take one of us out on the back of the motorbike each time. In my mind I couldn’t help but sing, “Hey now, hey now.. this is what dreams are made of…” because I pretty much felt like Lizzie McGuire in the movie where she goes to Italy and rides on the motorbike with Paulo. Weaving in and out of traffic on the back of a motorbike is exhilarating. It is one of the most popular modes of transportation in the city, and with its efficiency, I can see why! We always set out with sunglasses and bandana to limit the dust intake from the streets, especially if it hadn’t rained in a few days. When it did rain, I had to hope I had grabbed my rain jacket before heading out, or that I was on the motorbike equipped with a tandem poncho. Whenever we would arrive at the home, we would inevitably at some point get offered tea and maybe even a snack. It also didn’t seem to matter whether your answer was no or yes, because food or drink came anyway. One time, I was given a whole plate of cookies, even though I told her I was fine and didn’t need anything. I asked Dr.Ray if we had to eat them all, and he smiled and said, “Eat fast!” He also joked that he was jealous because the people of Nepal love us foreigners and are always offering us everything.

Despite the differences between medicine in Nepal and in the United States, there are still some fundamental similarities that exist in practice even though in Nepal we saw them as more extreme examples. There was still the struggle with owners not being able to pay or not wanting to pay, but you as a professional needing payment for work. There was still the struggle of owners not giving preventative or waiting until it is nearly too late for us to help the animal. My time in the clinic was a major cultural learning experience for sure! I am incredibly grateful to the staff at the Mobile Veterinary Clinic for being another family in Nepal, and making my trip closer to a “boondoggle” if that’s what you care to call it.13765906_1046398845438630_5237660489506827263_o


Home Sweet Home–Nepal

During the externship, Rachel and I stayed with a host family, who quickly adopted us in as one of their own. It was actually comforting to know that there was someone in Nepal worried about you, waiting anxiously for your return home each evening. That return home was always coupled with some variety of tea and plate of food. Milk tea along with a plate of popcorn, made from an ear of corn fresh out of the garden, was a favorite of mine.
The family would wake-up with the sun and go to bed well after it was dark (which I guess doesn’t necessarily mean much since it got dark there right at 7 pm–but really though they were up and going for many hours a day). Family is definitely a huge part of their culture. There seemed to always be various extended family members stopping in to say hello or getting fed a meal by Bhabana.


Family Member Spotlight!

  • Krishna– A man who wore many hats (figuratively). During our time in Nepal, he acted as both host dad and trekking guide. However, his primary role at his workplace, the volunteer organization that our experience was arranged by, is auditing. He always greeted us with the biggest smile on his face and had a contagious laugh. Rachel and I would affectionately refer to him as Papa Krishna.13876318_10210168310950334_9075549730526741001_n
  • Bhabana—The real-life Super woman, whom Rachel and I would refer to as Mama Bhabana. This woman was feeding an army for multiple meals a day, washing dishes, cleaning the house, changing our bed sheets ALL THE TIME even though she didn’t need to, hand-washing clothes, running errands in town, hosting multiple different groups of incoming students, tending to her garden, etc. Yet… she claimed that she was not tired every time we would ask! Incredible! She was feeding roughly 14 people anywhere from 3-5 meals a day with only two burners. She optimized the art of conduction with metal plates, for sure, to make sure that our food was always served warm. Our plates always started with what appeared to be a really good sized portion as it was, but miraculously multiplied as we would eat. Bhabana would come over with her dishes full of rice and curry and lentils and would say, “Little More?” The answer to that question is never “yes”! Not because it is culturally offensive to accept seconds… but because if you say the word “yes,” it unleashes a tidal wave of food. It took us a while to figure out how to stop the food from coming—it was all delicious, yes, but I felt like I was being stuffed like a Thanksgiving turkey every single meal. We started with emphasizing LITTLE, when she would come over with the food. Soon enough, that stopped working. You would turn your head for a second and when you looked back, your plate had completely refilled. One of the first Nepali words we had to learn was “pugyo,” which means “Enough.” By the end of our time staying with Bhabana, we were practically having to throw ourselves over our plates in order for the food to stop coming. However, the last couple of days, I just let the food come because I knew it was my last few times to have the privilege of being stuffed full by Bhabana.


  • Benju—The sophisticated 12-year-old. Benju was our expert teacher, helping us assimilate into the Nepali culture. From her we learned Nepali words and phrases, how to eat with our hands, and hair-styling tips. She loved arranging us all for photo-shoots when we were wearing our Nepali attire (even though the power was out). My favorite was when she posed us and then stood back to take our picture and exclaimed, “Act Natural!” Rachel and I died laughing because nothing about what we were doing or wearing was natural for us—and I don’t know about Rachel, but I have never been Miss. Photogenic. Benju is a very competitive game player. We had a pretty good assortment of games like UNO, that were either provided by other students in the house or by Rachel’s awesome mom, who shipped a package with games for the girls. You always had to keep an eye on Benju though, because she would do whatever it took to win— maybe even sneaking a little cheat here and there 😉
  • Barsha—A sassy, but hilarious 6-year-old. The mom told us day one that she was a “naughty” girl, and it didn’t take us long to see that. She honestly reminds me of those Sour Patch Kids commercials—first they’re sour, then they’re sweet. She was a sneaky little girl, but so entertaining, and we loved her a lot. Barsha loved the cup in the kitchen that said Baby Dolls, the color pink, and scrolling through pictures and videos on Rachel and I’s electronic devices. She was quite the picky eater, insisting that she only likes noodles, but her mom still made her eat what was made. Her school uniform may be the cutest little outfit I have ever seen.
  • Rabbit—A human, not a family pet. Rabbit was the baby cousin who lived just up the hill. Her name is Udita, but we didn’t learn that until the last few days we were there. Rachel named her Rabbit after seeing a SnapChat that Barsha had sent out of baby cousin with a caption that just said “Rabbit.” She was a frequent presence in the house, yet maintained her distance from Rachel and me. We were probably terrifying to her as we are both very white and tall. We were able to get closer to her on the very last day without the sheer look of terror coming into her eyes.
  • Pauline—our French friend. We didn’t know until we were picked up from the airport that we were going to have an additional person, besides Rachel and myself, working at the clinic. In no time, it seemed as though we had known Pauline all of our lives. When it was time for Rachel and I to leave on the trek, and Pauline stayed behind to work another week before going back to France, it was hard to imagine that she wasn’t coming back to Purdue with us. She was an incredible, well-cultured person—fluent in French, Spanish, and English (if not more… that’s all we knew of). A typical Pauline phrase, was “Mamma Mia!” that although is Italian in origin, would sometimes come out “Madre Mia!” presumably influenced by her time in Spain. She spent her last year studying in Spain, went home for a couple of days to see her family, and then hopped on a plane for Nepal! She was always eager to get going to the vet clinic, and would set off many times before Rachel and I were done with “first breakfast.” She was a joy to spend time with! I have never been to France, so it was really neat to learn more about that culture as well, because the three of us spent practically all of our time together. One of my favorite things was finding out all of the words that Americans incorporate the word “French” into the name of, but to Pauline was called something else.

Most notable discoveries:
French toast is actually a thing in France, it’s just called “lost bread” (More to come on this one)
Minor confusion resulted when talking about a dog that came into a clinic. To the Americans it was a “French Bulldog,” but to her that is just “the Bulldog.”
Pauline pointed out “French Fries” in a picture she saw and said, “I miss those potato things…”
When I asked her about the ways they prepare coffee in France, after listing off the other methods, her response ended with something along the lines of, “Oh, and there is the one with the filter that you press down.” French press.

  • Miscellaneous Chinese Students—an entertaining bunch to observe each time. Every week a different group of 2-4 Chinese students came and stayed with the host family. They would spend their week volunteering in schools in Kathmandu before moving on. The first bunch of girls seemed to really be enjoying themselves! Everything went downhill quickly with the second group that came in. Day one the girl got attacked by a monkey and had to go to the hospital because it bit her hand. The guy also fell down at some point that day while sight-seeing and scraped his knees. Rachel swooped in with her first aid kit and cleaned him up with alcohol wipes and Band-Aids, but rumor has it he cried because of the burn of the alcohol after we left the room. The second and third group also made it known that they were not entirely fond of the saltiness of the food, which Rachel and I didn’t even notice! The third group additionally seemed completely caught off guard by the rain and subsequent muddiness of their path to school—not entirely sure what they were expecting with it being monsoon season. This was also the group that pretty much staked claims to the single bathroom of the house, which was difficult considering they were only a third of the people vying for bathroom time.

The home that we stayed in was so quaint and peaceful, in a valley surrounded by rice fields. The place they are now is in the suburb called Kirtipur, but the older girl was telling us they had to move out of the city after the Earthquake. It is unreal to actually interact with people who were differently affected. They are definitely the type of people who are very content with what they have, and make the most of situations. We asked Benju if she could have any gift, what would it be? She couldn’t tell us even one thing. That was incredible to me because I am sure that there are children in the United States that have already started their mile-long Christmas lists.

The host family was just all together a blast! However, the most impactful moment of my time in the home came one night after I had returned from the clinic. It had been a rainy couple of days so when I got back to the house, my feet were absolutely covered in mud. Bhabana saw this and immediately ran to get a pitcher of water without me even asking. She took me into the bathroom, knelt down, and washed my feet… like really washed my feet (between the toes and all). This was such a neat experience for me because that is a huge gestures of servitude in Christian Culture, and here she was, a Hindu women, who was honestly doing it out of love for me, not for the cleanliness of her house. I went back to the room and told Rachel that the most amazing thing had happened to me, but I didn’t even know how to express that to Bhabana, especially since English is not her first language. The next day came, and this time Rachel got to have her feet washed. So at dinnertime that night, we tried our best to explain why washing of the feet is such a huge deal to Christians! We explained a bit of the context from the Bible and told her that it is seen as such a generous, caring thing to do for someone. It is actually quite a challenging concept to explain considering that outside of Christianity the word servant is a derogatory term.

The day that we left, there were lots of tears throughout the day. I am not typically a crier, so I held it together. Considering that Rachel is a sympathetic crier, she did extremely well! Barsha was crying and refused to go to school, because I think she was afraid that we were going to be gone before she got back. The only way that Krishna could convince her to get dressed and go to school was by telling her we weren’t leaving for another day. After we went and visited the people in the clinic one last time, we met up with Bhabana who helped us run errands and find a few last souvenirs for me to take home (including a stool that was my carry-on item, and a broom that was at some point confiscated out of my checked luggage by airline security). At home, Bhabana insisted on feeding us again and after our last milk tea, she gave us each our tikka marks and orange silk scarf as blessings for safe travel. This was followed by hugs, and tearful goodbyes as we loaded into the taxi and were off to the airport.

With that, I left part of my family behind in Nepal. However, I know that no matter where life takes me, I have a home in Nepal. And when I return, Bhabana and the family will be waiting for me, with milk tea and a platter of popcorn.


Taking on Nepal with Four Pairs of Pants and an Iphone Camera

Now that I am back to campus in my usual coffee shop… it’s time to blog! I would have loved to have blogged while in Nepal, but my wifi access was quite limited. Instead, I maintained a journal during my month there and am going to summarize my experiences in a series (so stay tuned for more 🙂 ).

To start out with… this blog is dedicated to my overall thoughts on Nepal and the people I met. Nepal is definitely not for the faint-hearted, and not somewhere you should go to on a whim without prior planning. But for all of the adventurous spirits… this is your place! There were several times along the way as I was lying sick with an unidentifiable stomach bug, whizzing down the busy streets on the back of a motor-bike, or having giant rocks hit the side of my bus that I thought, “Nepal, surely this is where I will die.” But… I would do it all again.

Many Americans know Nepal as the place with Mount Everest or the place that had a devastating Earthquake last year. But there is much more to Nepal than that… While yes, the views are beyond words.. the people that inhabit this country are even more so. The Nepali people are collectively the most beautiful group of people I have ever met.
We were greeted with smiles and “Namaste!” pretty much everywhere we went while in Nepal. Their generous and hospitable nature is evident in everything they do. They love to feed you, and will run errands for you on a moments notice if you so much as ask where you can find something. They are content with so little, a characteristic that I have admired my entire life and ties into my fascination with the Amish community. The Nepali people don’t complain, even when situations seem unfair.

Hinduism is the most prevalent religion in Nepal, and while it is intricate and I will never fully understand everything there is to it, it is incredibly beautiful to watch. Compared to the average modern-day Christian in the United States, their religion is more deeply ingrained in day-to-day life. Just walking down a street, you would see people worshiping– burning incense, blessing various spots (or animals), performing rituals, etc. Hindus are very open to other religions, and the people we met were eager to learn about what it is we believed.

To travel to Nepal, the most important thing to bring is the ability to laugh at yourself. Rachel and I had several moments that could have been miserable had we not brought along our sense of humor. I enjoyed every minute– the pleasant and not-so-pleasant– and learned so much more than just how veterinary medicine is practiced in Nepal. I feel like it’s also important to be able to see beauty in the rubble. While Nepal is a beautiful country, not everything is glamorous. It’s dusty in Kathmandu, sure, but yet there is so much color. Seeing ruin left by the earthquake is depressing, but yet the people are determined and their ingenuity is incredible.

The main question that we were asked– beating out “Which state are you from?” and “Who are you voting for in the upcoming election?”– was “When are you coming back?” I absolutely intend on coming back, and hopefully soon! I was told by many people that I needed to stay, find a Nepali man to marry, and live there. Considering that the ratio of women to men is 3:1, the odds were for sure against me on that one. I was also offered homes to stay in for my next journey back, so I think that’s what I will have to do instead. To the Nepali people I interacted with the most, I am called “sister,” but beyond that I truly feel like family. When I think of Nepal now, I don’t initially picture mountains… I picture the people: wearing bold colors and patterns, sitting on their stools, using their hand brooms, enjoying life. Because of that, it was so hard to leave and I identify completely with the Miriam Adeney quote:

“You will never be completely at home again, because part of your heart will always be elsewhere. That is the price you pay for the richness of loving and knowing people in more than one place.”