Sunday, March 06, 2005

hooray - it works

don't know what i've done to get this to work, but here are my updates:

…Sorry about that, time ran out at the internet café and I had to dash. I shall carry on from
where I left off, more or less…

As I walk out into the sunshine, I am glad I stuck to the guidebook and kept on my shorts.
Despite getting funny looks boarding the plane at 03:30 in shorts and a t-shirt (though the stains
of where I dribbled free-springroll-juice may be drawing the looks, I admit), I was adamant that
Nepal's climate is often in the mid 20s at this time of year. And leaving the airport, my research
proved correct – blazing sunshine and at least 20, despite only being 10:00. ?

Gavin (the mountaineer and head honcho of the charity ad trekking company who organised my
trip) promised I would be collected from the airport by Ang Rita Sherpa, his head Sherpa of
many years, and that I would recognise him by the sign he was carrying. I must admit, I was
chuffed to be collected from the airport with a sign – just like in the movies – but I couldn't
imagine for a moment how it would actually happen:

I finally see my sign among the sea of others: Nick Foster, in large, bold, laser-printed text, with
Gavin Bates' name emblazoned beneath and then "medical student" – great, announce to
everyone my lowliness! After brief introductions (turns out Ang Rita sent someone else), I am
festooned with one of those flower necklaces you see on the telly and have my luggage trolley
snatched from me, while being frogmarched away from the crowds… At this point I feel like
royalty, and obviously the porter who pushed my trolley to the car must have thought I was: in
his demanding of a tip, he showed me a £20 (GBP) note and said, "like this". I gave him a fiver
and thought even that was generous for the 3-second walk to the car and lifting bag into boot!
Am I stingy?!

So, a little dazed that I have managed to meet the people I am supposed to meet in the right
country and I didn't screw anything up, off to Kathmandu we go.

I am staying in Ang Rita's house in Thamel, north Kathmandu, described in my Lonely Planet as
"the budget tourist accommodation and restaurant ghetto 15 or 20mins walk from central

I thought the traffic and manner that people negotiated it in Dubai was bad enough – mirror,
signal, and manoeuvre my arse! Random lane changing, flamboyant overuse of the horn and
ridiculous numbers of vehicles is just a start. In Kathmandu, this was combined with numerous
randomly meandering pedestrians, potholed roads and a total absence of signals, rights of way or
signage. And nobody wears a seatbelt – I am amazed the death- or at least injury- toll is not
through the roof. I certainly wouldn't drive here - or in Dubai for that matter!

We pass numerous dilapidated-looking buildings and shop fronts and kids in school uniform
walking four and five abreast (it is a Sunday – why were these kids in school?!). Eventually we
pull up outside a posh looking, polished red brick 4 story building amidst the squalor, and I'm
embarrassed to feel relieved it looks so "normal" – far more "western" than my Dubai hotel

Brief tour of the building, followed by a coke (is there nowhere the evil has not permeated?) and
I am left to settle in, with the promise that in a couple of hours we'd go to the hospital so I can
learn the taxi route! It seems I have a floor to myself, comprising bedroom, sitting room, kitchen
(with another bed) and bathroom), all very cool and shady with stone floors (?marble). and a
huge south-facing balcony! As you would expect, there are beautiful views in 360 degrees with
mountains peeking through the haze and multicoloured buildings everywhere, some surrounded
by lush greed fields of wheat.

In every internal doorway hangs an embroidered sheet, which, while rather pretty, does take
some getting used to, especially when carrying cups of tea around…! (don't worry mother – I
didn't make a mess!)

It seems from tomorrow I may be sharing my room (and, I suppose, the rest of the floor) as there
is another elective student coming. I sneaked a peep at his documents and he is from St. Georges
(London) – booo!

Transport, food and accommodation is supposed to be included in the price I have already paid
for the elective and Ang Rita says I won't have to pay for the cabs. He has, however me given
me 200USD in cash so that I can sort my own eating arrangements. I was a little disappointed as
I was expecting to be fed with the rest of the family, and while this does not afford one any
fussiness, it would have been a rare privilege and insight into Nepali (or more specifically:
Sherpa) culture and lifestyle – though I don't suppose I would have understood anything!

Having unpacked my bags (cleaned up chemical leak from an exploded instant-coolpak in my
first aid bag), and finally had a shave (sorry Sarah – it just wasn't looking Bonnington enough,
more vagabond wino!), I lay down with my book…

5 hours later, Ang Rita woke me up to take me to the hospital – I am sure he had been by earlier
but decided to leave me be. I hadn't slept at all the night before, what with flying at silly time in
the morning so was a little out of whack. We drove the 6km to the hospital on his motorbike –
one of millions in the city; the journey being infinitely more scary than the ride from the airport
with a metal box to protect us. That said, Ang Rita is a very conservative driver, and he only
rides a piddly 125 – and with two up it was barely moving!

We arrive safely at a hospital – admittedly not the one I was expecting, but a large(ish) teaching
hospital nonetheless – and I am introduced to someone who will "sort out the paperwork". Little
beknown to me, I actually have to apply for this placement (thought I had done all that through
the agency already…), including submitting a form, a current CV and 2 passport photographs
along with a letter of good standing from my college. This being the first I knew of any of this,
there was a brief panic while I wondered just how the hell I was gonna manage all the
documentation on the spot, but it turns out Ang Rita has a copy of the letter from the college I
sent to the agency. He also says – though I'm not sure he really understood properly – that if I
couldn't get my CV quickly, he doubted they cost very much!

On my trip into Thamel to get passport photos (8 cost me 125 rupees – exchange rate being
1GBP to 132NPR!) I realised I may have a copy of my CV on my key ring USB pendrive, and
failing that I had saved a copy, though a little out of date by now, onto an accessible page on the
intrameweb a few months back for precisely this kind of reason. (brief stop at internet café in
Thamel, hence previous quick post)

The people at the hospital looked blankly at me when I showed them the pendrive and had a
conversation between themselves for about 10 mins (I did hear mentioned the phrase "USB
pendrive"), resulting in a brief explanation that Nepal is a little behind on the technology front.
Eventually managed to get the copy off the web, and they were all very impressed.

We got chatting about my research and presentations on patient satisfaction, and they made the
point that there is no such thing here in Nepal! It turns our care here is very much more
paternalistic than back in the UK, with success measured purely on the recovery of the patient
and satisfaction of the doctor. Not surprising really, but an interesting discussion nonetheless!

The doctor at the medical education centre (barely more than a dishevelled, 3-story mud hut)
who completed my application documentation then started rabbitting on about some fantastic
new cure-all herb called "red-mushroom" – anyone heard of it? Apparently it can be used to
treat/cure (depending who you talk to) anything from asthma and allergies to sterility and cancer.
I couldn't really get much of a sensible answer about its mechanism of action either, just
something wishy-washy about storing oxygen and releasing it to the body – oh yeah and
antioxidant properties and full of essential vitamins. It is apparently available in about 20
different preparations from tablets to tea/coffee and even soap and shampoo. All seems a little to
unrealistic, but perhaps I am just a pessimist? Perhaps someone out there with the
time/inclination could look it up and post back to inform the rest of us? Ta.

After all the paperwork was complete, I was told I would be informed in a couple of days
whether or not my application was successful (this could all go horribly wrong yet, seeing as I
cannot qualify without completing an elective…), Ang Rita took me to the "supermarket" where
I am supposed to do all my shopping. Not knowing how to cook the local cuisine, it seems my
diet will be considerably more western than I had perhaps hoped. Bought some bare essentials,
though couldn't find any fresh fruit or vegetables (I'm glad I brought my multivitamins – must
dig them out at some point!). Ang assured me that I could get fresh milk in the tiny shop
opposite the house in the morning. What he didn't tell me was that it comes in a BAG - a square,
sealed plastic bag! I got into it by biting the corner off (no mother, I don't know where its been,
but needs must!) and squeezing the required amount onto my bran flakes and dried fruit. The
packet, with "BOIL BEFORE USE" emblazoned across the side (sod that!), is now balanced
precariously in the fridge!


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