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.