ACG Governor for Eastern Pennsylvania
Imagine walking at dawn on a brisk, windswept, mountainous hillside to the smell of freshly brewed coffee and the chatter of cooks preparing your breakfast. As you step out further, you see one of the most amazing sites on our planet: clear blue skies surrounding the awesome, snow-capped mountains of the Himalayas. At more than 29,000 feet, strong winds are constantly blowing the snow, giving the impression of white flags flying from the peaks of three or four of the tallest mountains on earth. The bellows of a water buffalo pulling his wooden plow through the mud in a nearby rice paddy interrupts this awe-inspiring moment. A farmer and his family are planting rice on one of thousands of terraces that cover every hillside.
He skillfully guides the massive creature as he has year after year, carefully avoiding roots of the few trees that hold the hillside together. In the next terrace stands a peach tree bursting with pink blossoms. In the distance, bright yellow flowers of a new crop of mustard greens cover the hill. Suddenly, the farmer pulls the buffalo to an abrupt stop and reaches into his traditional Nepali skirt-pants that are typical of this region, and pulls out a cell phone. It’s a poignant reminder of how rapidly this culture is changing.
I turn to attend to efforts to maintain hygiene by heading down a path to find water, only to be greeted by the cutest little girl you have ever seen. She stops her skillful hopping down the treacherous hill, bouncing up to the side of the path as she does daily, being careful to avoid falling into the mud of the flooded rice patties. Her journey’s interruption is just long enough to ponder the strange white man in her village and to say a hasty “Namaste” before she leaps down and skips off to get ready for school.
My short walk gives me other opportunities to share the heart-filled, traditional Namaste greeting with each of the Nepali people I encounter. I soon reach my destination—an incredibly beautiful, crystal clear river rushing down the mountainside. To my right, a young boy fishes a throw net to catch his family’s dinner, and perhaps enough to sell at the local market. Up river, younger boys take a few minutes before school to jump in and out of the river, “au naturel,” as if they don’t have a care in the world.
Less than an hour later, I will have inhaled the delicious breakfast prepared for my co-workers and me before heading to the local school. Its mud-floored rooms have become the medical clinics, the ultrasound suite, a physical therapist training area and a free pharmacy.
This is the site of the most excitement this village has seen in years, as 400 to 500 of its residents begin to stream down from the mountains to get free care. If they are one of the fortunate ones, a lab test will become a treasure, or if they are pregnant, they will leave with memories of the “video ultrasound” of their next family member.
We have no running water, but many bottles of alcohol disinfectant are available for use between patients. The patients are seen by several physician-nurse teams who provide a variety of care: internal medicine, pediatrics, orthopedics, obstetric and gynecology, or physical therapy for their aches or injuries.
The days are long and the work hard. But breaks include intermittent opportunities to step into the school playground and peer up to the majestic peaks long enough to remember that I am there at the pleasure of the Creator of these incredible vistas. That makes it all very much worth whatever it takes to be a blessing to them.
It’s an experience I have seen repeated more than 40 times in six trips to Nepal over the past 11 years…READ MORE and SEE PHOTOS
Photos courtesy of David Alexander, used with permission.