26 February 2009

The Question

I ask why a lot. You know this. It’s a bad question in Nepal. Cos no one knows the answer.

Load shedding fun fact #2: They don't seem to need a schedule anymore, they just give it to you when it suits them, which was not for 36 hours the other day.

23 February 2009

Distant Closeness

I'm sitting in the peaceful hills of Nargarkot (or I was yesterday when I wrote this).  A gruelling 10km uphill slog followed by a restful dinner and a bout of people watching as I sat in silence, enjoying my surroundings. 
Just after my arrival I watched the sunset over the Kathmandu Valley.  You couldn't see the Kathmandu that I knew was there for all the smokey haze.  As the sun got lower it made it even worse.  It was quite nice to know that I was far away from the hustle and bustle.  I got more than 12 hours sleep as there were no Hindu bells, no dogs and no shouting neighbours screeching away at the well by my bedroom window.
Eventually convincing myself to leave the room and grab some breakfast I got to see the Himalayan views that have been eluding me for so long.  I'm staying at the Hotel at the End of the Universe, a funny throwback to the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.  I tried to explain that to the waiters, but I think the idea was lost. 
As I sat chomping on my breakfast, I stared out the open window to look at Langtang, which was looking, quite strangely straight across probably a hundred kilometres of wilderness back at me.  It felt almost personal, even though there are a million places it could have been looking, a million other stories for it to watch today.  The hawks, always so glorious and discerning, fly endless circles above the restaurant every now and again whipping into the trees to emerge on the other side.   They are closer than I have ever seen them before, enjoying the warm of the sun and the thermal updrafts it creates.  My two recently departed grandparents were such avid bird-watchers, they would have loved this.
As the day progresses the mountains are getting harder to see.  For now, I can still make them out, they are so close I feel like I could just run up them but so far away they seem impossible to reach or touch.
Last night in my self-induced silence I started go back through my diary entries.  To look at my first few days in Nepal, to look at my days on the way to the Annapurna Sanctuary. Back in the times where I was deathly sick with a chest infection and an overwhelming desire to go home and to my work successes and frustrations.
"19 July 2008 - Day Three - Today we went to visit the town of Bhaktapur.  Lovely town with no vehicles allowed. I picked up a 'sticky' local whose name was Shailama,I think.  The others madde fun of me because I kept talking to him although he was really only keen to sellme some of his paintings."  How times have changed..
"26 July 2008 - Day Ten - After staying the night I returned to my flat.  It had been an awful sleep.  They have no curtains and @ 5 we were woken by the Hindu bells, which in turn woke the dogs and the children."
"10 August 2008 - Day Twenty-Five - What are you even doing here???"
"12 August 2008 - Day Twenty Seven - OOOOOOOOOHHHHHHHH the pain! GASTRO!"
"1 September 2008 - Day Forty Eight - The first day of Autumn, before I even realised what day it was I was remarking in the change outside."
"3 October 2008 - Day Eighty - MADE IT TO ABC!"
"7 November 2008 - Day One hundred and Fifteen - That was a truly bizarre experience.  They were singing songs and talking about the historic-ness of it all.  The American accents were everywhere as were the flags.  There was a life size cut out of Obama up the front and an amazing excitement in the air."

21 February 2009

AlooRob! [dat da da daaaa]

Po, your friendly DNA mutating seamonkey, has been gracious enough to regularly visit (and even COMMENTS! please contact her if you are struggling with the phenomenon).  But she wanted to actually know something about me.  So I present, Pos' interview questions for PotatoRob!

So, um, what is it EXACTLY that you do?
Good question.  At the moment I am a Research Officer at an Eye Hospital in the Nepal.  Meaning I do just about anything but research.  Unless we are talking about the research I do for myself on the internet when I'm supposed to be 'researching'.  In real life, I'm a Health Information Manager.  I could talk about it for hours, but let's just say I translate the geek speak for the doctors and the med speak for the nerds.

How do you spend an "average" day, if there is such a thing?
When in a negative frame of mind, I would say my average day consists of arguing pointlessly for something that might make things better around here.  That, and adding or removing articles from research papers written by staff at the hospital.  "The Nepal" is the most frustrating mistake I come across.  Normal expressions are somehow used inexplicably in the wrong context, or over-used ad nauseum.  Including, but are not limited to "til date", "nowadays", "developing countries like Nepal".  That one is particularly annoying, because I am sure they cannot quite possibly mean to exclude developing countries that are unlike Nepal.  I mean, how many countries are landlocked between the two thundercats of the early 21st century, China and India?  With altitudes ranging from 60 metres above sea level to 8848 metres at the top of Everest, does Fiji really compete?  What developing country IS 'like Nepal'?
But an average day involvs providing advice on data collection for research, explaining the information output to the managers, and playing refereee to the arguments unleashed in the office between Nhukesh 

and Raju

It's easier to be referee when you don't speak the language.  That way you can actually differentiate which one is being childish, even without understanding.

What are your plans for the next few years?
I get back to Australia in July.  At which point I fully intend to spend an annoying amount of time with my girlfriend, Lauren, who has been incredibly tolerant with my now 7 month long disappearance.  I'm talking about the amount of time that would normally encourage friends to whinge and bitch.  I'm hoping to pick up some work with a health IT software company as a Business Analyst and find some time to start and potentially complete a Masters in Business Administration.  And get a dog who will be a Rotty named Nuffy and love me more than chew toys and be gloriously slobbery (and chase DJ's cat Snickers).

What would you like to change or improve about yourself?
I argue with people.  I don't know when to stop.  I argue with my girlfriend, friends, with my mother and I refuse to accept other points of view as if no one but me could be right.  I try to make everyone agree with me.  But even when they do agree with me I'm not happy about it.  Why?  Because, if everyone agrees, what kind of boring world are we living in?  It's not a good habit, its caused a lot of tear but I'd like to be more accepting of alternative points of view, and know when to keep my gigantic mouth shut.

What are your weaknesses?
As above.  But also I don't concentrate on one task for very long.  Like a goldfish that got stood on by an elephant.  FOr someone that organises and understands information for a living I have no concept of how to keep a diary or avoid papers cluttering up my office, car and even on some occaisions, my bed (when you run out of room everywhere else it doesn't seem so strange...)

What are you really afraid of?
Settling. In all its forms.

What sports do you like to play?
My brother and I used to play an incredibly active game of cowboys and indians.  We would spend 1-2 hours setting up little plastic cowboys and indians around the room and then start throwing stuff at each others 'troops'.  Classic entertainment.  Kids just don't seem to get that excited about it these days.
Actually I love watching the Aussie Rules, Rugby and Cricket, but play touch footy, and mixed netball.  

when you were a kid, what do you want to be?
I went through a lot of phases.  A Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle (and in all honesty, who didn't?), Monkey Magic, a farmer (I don't know where that one came from), a scientist (just like my hero Po!) and a physio.  I didn't make any of those, but I did dress up as Donatello once though...

What really aggravates or annoys you in other people?
I thought long and hard about this one.  I wanted to say 'ignorance', but I realised that ignorance can be OK.  No one knows everything about everything, and many people have different opportunities to develop their knowledge of the world.  I'm like to say 'intolerance', but I'm probably one of the most intolerant people I know.  

I think I have to say 'indifference'.  People who give up taking control of their own lives or situations, believing nothing they do has any value or point.  The idea that you can have no impact on your surroundings, the people you see everyday.  That you cannot change anything.  You might not be able to change the world, but you can change your world.  Very Ghandi.

13 February 2009

OMG @ the OMEC

The first time I saw surgery I was almost physically ill. The skin peeled back, a chisel pulled out and some bone chipped away. I’ve seen videos of cataract and other eye surgeries being performed as part of my assignment that I would liken to a game of billiards. But in Banepa, a small trading town on the road to Tibet, in a makeshift operating theatre inside a school classroom, Dr Ruit made cataract surgery look like an art form – 67 times.

Last weekend, I departed at 7am Saturday morning for my very first surgical camp (Outreach Microsurgical Eye Camp). We didn't actually travel far for this one. At an OMEC there are a lot of activities, all of which I sort of helped out with, sort of interfered with, all the while trying to keep my jaw from dragging along the ground. I could go on for hours about all the different parts of it. Most of that I am going to save for an article I am writing for our magazine, but I'll give you the main ingredients:

Departure and unloading - leaving Tilganga at 7 sharp we travelled the relatively short distance (as far as OMECs go) to the town of Banepa (somewhere Mike and I passed through on our Tibetan adventure), we unloaded all the makings for an anaesthetic room and an operating theatre and ate breakfast...mmmmmmm curried soybeans and oily deep fried bread! Sorry, I accidentally deleted the photos!
Screening camp - much like the trip I have already written about, I travelled on with a few of the boys to Dolalghat,

a nice little getaway another 40-50km or so on from Banepa. Many Kathmandu families go here for picnics and the area is famous for its fresh water fish (yuck). Here we screened more than 300 patients, 22 of whom needed cataract surgery.

I was in the counselling room "explaining" about their surgery and what was going to happen. In all honesty, I was writing down their details, while Ripon's brother (with no training qualifications or understanding of what, in fact, a cataract is) told the patients that we would be taking them to Banepa to "clean" their eyes.

[one of my favourite photos]

Apparently, mentioning the word surgery causes a kind of mass exodus that doesn't look good on our statistics.

Or to our donors.

I took a photo of one lady before stupidly trying to show it to her. She politely pointed out that she was effectively blind, and couldn't see the photo I was showing her.

I am constantly amazed at the ability of 80 and 90 year old Nepalis to wait patiently in this position for hours.

We returned on Saturday evening to finish preparing the "operating room", which was actually a classroom, and do final tests on the 22 cataract patients we identified and the other 30 or 40 the other screening camp group found.

Surgery Day 1 - Sunday was the start of surgery. From 8am Suha-daai started anaesthetising patients. Dr Ruit and two American doctors, Matt and Paul showed up and got straight into it!

One of the most amazing stories was an elderly mute man with bilateral "hand motion" visual acuity. Meaning, he could effectively only see you waving a hand in his face and not much more. Constantly frustrated in waiting around for he knew not what he often yelled out angrily, banging his stick on the ground.

[waiting for anaesthetic for surgery 1]

The surgeons got through about 60 patients on the day and we didn't get back for dinner until about 8pm.

[surgery 1]

I popped over to the hall where the patients were staying. That was it, a hall. With blankets and pillows.

[post surgery 1, not a happy camper]

Food, Cards and Good Company - As last time I found the field trip to be a great friend building experience. People I had previously only seen around the hospital were now joking around and making fun of my lack of Nepali. The girls would say stuff to me and then giggle hysterically. Pemba-daai gave me a new nickname. "Aloo Rob". Apparently "rob" also means "plant" in Nepali, I asked "what? like a potato (aloo)?" This caused a huge burst of laughter from the girls and solidified my new name. Pemba still thinks its funny a week later.

Surgery Day 2 - The second day of surgery, all the bilaterally blind patients (first eye operated on the day before) went back for their other eye to be done, following a post-op inspection. The eye-patch put on following surgery the day before is lifted and the ophthalmic assistants check the position of their new lens. It was a very special moment when my special guy's patch was lifted. His son stood at the top of the stairs and held up two fingers. He held up two in response and yelled excited nothings. I don’t know that there are many points in life where you feel the way I did in that single moment. I could not help but giggle as a wave of welcome happiness rushed through my entire body.

[post-op from surgery 1, yelling and pointing at his son]

Surgeries continued as did the screening downstairs. The patients had to wait calmly as each of them had their turn 'inside the room'.

Last Day - It was the last day, we had to finish up our post-ops, pack up and get back to Kathmandu. The patients needed instructions for any problems they might experience and we checked their visual acuity so we can analyse the camp for its level of success later.

[post-op surgery 2, laughing while everyone pointed at me and said "white man"]

The camp was such an amazing experience. I'll have to do another post to tell more of the special stories.

[the man in the beanie was a gorgeous gentleman that always gave me the thumbs up when he caught my eye, he was so happy to be able to see again {massive understatement}]

I was quite amazed to see people the DAY AFTER SURGERY with unaided visual acuity better than mine! Lucky buggers.

[one cool cat]

In total, we did 110 eyes and screened more than 700 patients. Less than 4 days work. That still amazes me. I'll put some links up soon for those of you that want to be able to contribute to this amazing phenomenon. For as little as $25 you can give one of these people their sight back. ;)

05 February 2009

Charpi and Disappearance

I used to be funny, I don't know what happened.  I've been very dour and miserable in my posts of late. 

In light of that, I thought today I would revisit two longtime friends, Danesh and Charpi.

You guys haven't heard about Danesh in a while.  It seems as if the man fell off the face of the earth.  Perhaps he did, aside from bizarre little appearances he makes along the main street, saying "how are you" in a very disarming way (ie, without a question mark) and thereby using up his arsenal of English before disappearing on his bike or back into the crowd.  Tonight, after having put it off for 2 days, I headed off to get a new bottle of mineral water.  It was getting close to 9 and I knew I was pushing my luck for making it to the cute little store run by the sahuni who always looks for me to say hi in the morning while I'm on my way to work.  

She was in fact closed when I arrived but insisted on reopening just to get me my 20L bottle of water.  As she circumnavigated two gas bottles and a wardrobe to get my water only after somehow working out how to get back into her shop that appeared to be locked from the inside, Danesh did his magic trick and appeared before my eyes.  

I'm quite proud of the fact that I can now  at least get my point accross in Nepali and generally understand the meaning of whatever the guy in front of me is saying.  The only thing that amazes me more than Danesh's magic tricks is the fact that I can carry on a conversation with complete strangers in Nepali, but as soon as someone that lives within 100 metres of my house appears, all words seem to become potting mix, the useless kind that just smells off.

He asked as usual, "how are you" (still sans question mark) before commenting, I think, that I appeared to be buying water.  "Water" was all I could seem to fathom in response.  "AHHHH! Water, yes yes."  Then he started waving at the bottle and saying what I interpreted to be either "rain" or "water taking".  He said it again, and completely at a loss, a certain part of my brain set aside for special events such as this stepped up to the plate and inserted a completely random word that might hope to make the rest of the exchange make sense.  That word in this case was "house".  Putting two and two together, I came to the conclusion that he was offering to carry my water home.  

Having already suffered the pains of trying to refuse help I consented and was shocked to see him do the disappearing trick again.  Picking up my bottle of water and briefly contemplating the fact that two and two never really ever do equal four anyway, I trotted home.  Seconds later he whizzed passed me on his bike.  I saw him run up to the gate, open it and disappear again.  Turns out that the words I had interpreted as "I carry water to your door" actually were "you carry water, I open door".  An easy mistake....

Its actually quite the coincidence that Danesh should re-enter my life just as Charpi has started acting up again. Poor Charpi is leaking all over the floor and the worst part is I have absolutely no idea where it is coming from.  The water has a nasty yellow kind of colour to it.  I'm quite sure that its rust from something, but to the casual observer, one sees yellow coloured liquid on the floor next to a toilet and there are only so many conclusions you can come to.  I should probably get something done about it, but as long as he is hanging on the wall, not exploding and otherwise behaving himself I can't really kick up a fuss.

I have one more thing to add:
Load Shedding Fun Fact # 1. - do not leave anything that is likely to disagree with being douched by the self-defrosting freezer on the bottom shelf of the fridge, specifically loaves of bread and milk cartons.

04 February 2009

Gutful, an Absolute Gutful

For those of you expecting me to deliver another dreary, nasty and negative post about Nepal's political situation, you are half right.  This might be dreary nasty and negative, but its certainly not about Nepal.  Not this time.  Hey, my last post was more upbeat, and I don't think there were any references to Human Rights abuses at all!

This post is targeted at those ingrate tweens, twenty-somethings and even possibly thirty somethings (as I get closer I begin to realise that I need to be more inclusive).  The ones that have stupid political comments on their facebook, myspace, twitter and Hi5 profiles such as "I don't care", "politicians are all lying idiots anyway" or "meh".

To understand that simply having the freedom to make a comment like that should be enough to encourage you never to do so.  If you are even able to read this post then you are better off that a great number of people in the world.  You can read it (or I'm assuming that you can) because you got to go to a school.  A school that had a curriculum, put together by some kind of government agency or organisation.  If you are Australian, then you probably enjoy the benefits of Medicare, the Pharmaceutical Benefits scheme, Centrelink, having a road to drive to work on and you probably know people that got to have a high quality free university education.  You are protected from thousands of the world's diseases by the sometimes "over-protective" Australian Customs, and even if they did open all of my Christmas mail home, I understand why.  You are living in a society with an incredibly low unemployment rate.  It's pretty amazing when you can be in a country where people start getting worried when the unemployment rate starts to get above 5%.  You have power, because the electricity company has the infrastructure and appropriate political environment to actually carry out its job.

Do you people understand how lucky you are that you can not give two flips about what the politicians are up to on a day-to-day basis?  Can you not understand that you can only not care because at the heart of it you can decently expect those same lying cheating mongrels not to take your apathy, run a million miles with it before using it for their own financial advantage, twisting it, crunching it and manipulating it before wiping themselves off with it and flinging it off the end of the earth.  

You don't need to live in fear that Kevin Rudd will physically threaten Malcolm Turnbull and end up taking Julia Gillard and Wayne Swan on the war path to solidify their positions of power.

Please, wake up to how lucky you are and at least be interested in the action of your elected representatives.  In the processes of government that allow you to assume the garbage will be collected next week.  That you will have power when you flick the light switch, that members of your family won't go missing.  That your taxes are being spent on what people say they are spending them on.  Enjoy the freedom you have to politician bash, but do it for a reason, not because you are apathetic.

OK, so it turned out that it was about Nepal.  Only indirectly though.  I'm just sick of people being so blind to what is happening aroudn them when I can see the consequences of it.  A few images to get your head in the right place:

02 February 2009

Bats, 'Rents and a Busy Week!

It's about time that I made a comeback on the blog. It has been an
incredibly busy week, not only having Mum and Dad here, but preparing for
their arrival.

Firstly my house needed to be cleaned. Like really cleaned. Fortunately my
efforts did not go unnoticed. UNfortunately, my mother was shocked and
appaled that I had survived 6 months without a grater, 4 weeks without a
peeler and had no plates on which to serve meals. "I mean, how do you cook
things without a grater?" It seemed as if I had a grater it could have done
all the work for me, so long as a peeler and serving plates were also nearby
to take up their portion of the workload.

It didn't occur to me to say it at the time, but I think that I came to a
conclusion long ago that using a grater only forces you to have to wash it
later. A similar conclusion is obvious for the peeler but also stands for
serving plates. Washing up is already a tireless and strenuous activity
without having to throw in the complicated step of working out how exactly
to get a grater clean without cutting yourself or leaving chunks of sponge
embedded in the grater to be enjoyed next time it comes out. The peeler is
similar in that I can never get bits out of the little corners, tires me out
just thinking of it.

As I live alone, I see no problem with eating directly from a steaming hot
saucepan except for the obvious dangers of skin or tongue vs burning hot
metal (I do like to lick the bowl when finished to ensure I get all my
nutrients). I therefore have no need for fancying up a meal by putting it
on a seperate plate simply for the purpose of serving it to myself (and
therefore creating more washing up).

On top of that, I can buy samosa's for 8 rupees, momo's for 20, puri sabji
for 30 or a beautiful green salad with amazing dressing for 60. You have to
really enjoy cooking to give up on action like that!

I took Mum and Dad to Pokhara for a nice relaxing weekend in the middle of
the week. The trip there is not that relaxing, rather an incredibly
uncomfortable 7 hour bus ride with inexplicable stops. Dad quite rightly
pointed out that there were a few potholes on the other side of the road he
thinks the driver missed, and suggested we might go back to pick them up.

We went wandering through a bat cave, briefly contemplating not paying to
hire a torch for some reason thinking that perhaps there might be light
inside a bat cave [damn you Bat Man]. Luckily common sense won out and we
shelled out 30 rupes for a torch. Inside, there are thousands and thousands
of bats along with a rather treacherous route around and through rocks and
stalagmites. My 61 year old mother tried to squeeze through the gap to the
outside world at the end of the cave and quite nearly got stuck rather than
admit it would be both more comfortable and less muddy to go back the way we
came. The 15 or so male 20 somethings egging her on and pushing here and
there and giving advice did absolutely nothing to discourage her.

I was really keen to go to the World Peace Pagoda (a buddhist stupa) at the
top of a hill overlooking the lake that Pokhara has grown up near.
Unfortunately, we thought we had chosen the 10 minute route. In fact it was
a 75 minute route almost straight up. I was worried I would give one of
them a heart attack. We did eventually make it to the top for one of the
best views I have yet enjoyed in Nepal. It would have been better were we
able to see the Himalayas, but the view of the lake made up for it. It was
truly the first time I have felt at peace for at least a month with all of
the stressors I have been feeling back in the Du.

Their departure yesterday left me with a whelming (neither over or under,
just a smack bang) feeling of isolation and loneliness and I went about my
business alone on Sunday afternoon. I am more than 6 months through this
assignment however, and my next big thing to look forward to is the arrival
of the new AYADs in Feb and then the arrival of my 'wife' and friends in
March! YIPPEE Everest here we come!