Into Nepal

A Journey of Gratitude

In April 2015, a magnitude-7.8 earthquake struck Nepal.  Kathmandu, its capital city, was hit especially hard, toppling multi-story buildings, and creating landslides and avalanches in the Himalayan mountain range.  It was the deadliest earthquake in the seismically active region in 81 years. Kathmandu is a city with a rich 2000-year history and many areas of the city hold 52,000 people per square mile.  Following the quake, many organizations established programs and foundations to assist in the rebuilding and support of Nepal in Kathmandu and its surrounding regions.  One of these organizations is the Mount Everest Foundation for Sustainable Development (http://www.summitclimb.com).  Through this organization, I and my friends Cindy Jones, an RN from the greater Milwaukee area, and Juan Pablo Murphy, an engineer from South Carolina, traveled to Nepal via the Remote Service Trek program of the Foundation.  The program’s goal is to serve the health needs of remote villages that cannot be accessed by vehicle and create sustainability by helping to teach the local nurses in those villages. Following is a chronological synopsis of our journey.

June 13.  After approximately 30 hours of travel time, Cindy and I arrived in Kathmandu and settled into our hotel.  Shortly thereafter, we connected with Juan Pablo, who had flown the opposite way around the globe.  We then met our team leaders: Mr. Deha Shrestha, CEO of Everest Parivar Expeditions Pvt., Ltd., who coordinated the overall trip itinerary; Mr. Kaji Tamang, a seasoned Sherpa, who served as our trekking and expedition logistics coordinator, and Mr. Pranoj Rajkarnikar, a local businessman, who was our in-country liaison and served as our translator and guide in Kathmandu.

June 14.  The city is quite a bustling place. 

We did some sightseeing and shopped for last-minute needs. We visited the Gorkahana restaurant in the Thamel district of Kathmandu where we enjoyed traditional Nepali dances and songs, complete with a yak and a yeti.

June 15.  At 5:00 a.m., some of our extended Sherpa team members arrived to load us into a jeep-type vehicle for an eight-hour ride to the small village of Dhap, the starting point of our trek.  It takes a while to navigate through Kathmandu. Traffic is quite congested because the government chose to give the electricity to the city’s residents rather than use it for traffic lights.  Once outside Kathmandu, the roads are rough and slow but quite passable during early June before the monsoon season is in full-swing. 

June 16.  In Dhap, our full Sherpa team assembled and loaded our gear onto themselves for the first leg of our trek, a six-hour hike.  We met Dorje, our Sherpa cook, who would be preparing beverages and meals for us until our return to Dhap.  We said good-bye to the local people we met. We were now officially “off-the-grid,” except for the use of the Sherpas’ cell phones or radios for emergency purposes.  The scenery was spectacular—prairies, mist-covered hills, mountains, valleys. Except for an occasional work vehicle, such as a tractor, there was a complete absence of motor vehicles.  Along the way, we stopped at a “teahouse” for a break and enjoyed a delightful lunch prepared by Dorje. After slipping on the mud, Cindy’s knee began to bother her, but she kept going strong, albeit a bit more slowly! A bit later, Juan Pablo lost his footing and was quickly grabbed and put back on his feet by our Sherpa team.  We were exceedingly grateful that this occurred in an area of terraced corn fields, rather than at the edge of one of many thousand-foot drops!

We arrived in the village of Jhapre in the early afternoon, and checked into our “5-star hotel.”  We were thrilled that it had an indoor bathroom and a hot shower! 

June 17.  We began our day with a visit to a local Buddhist temple and stupa built by one of the village residents.  We then began our second day, another six-hour hike. Along the way, we stopped into a Nepali family’s humble but well-kempt home to have a break consisting of milk tea and cookies.  Our trekking was on very rough roads, impassable by motor vehicles, and through densely wooded areas. Thank goodness the Sherpas know these trails well! We stopped in another family’s quite large, two-story home and enjoyed another round of milk tea and a fabulous lunch prepared by Dorje.  Following lunch, we traveled steeply up and steeply down to cross the sacred Molang Khola river. After the river, it was up, up, up to the health post in Daurkharka. Once at the post, we familiarized ourselves with the very sparse, simple clinic, and organized the medications and supplies that our Sherpa team had brought from Kathmandu.  

June 18.  Juan Pablo and I hiked a short way to a local monastery and stupa.  Cindy stayed at the clinic to rest her knee and took advantage of the time to organize the clinic room so it would be ready for patients.  After the hike, we began our day of seeing patients. Patients arrived from various nearby villages, some hiking several hours to get to the clinic.  They waited outdoors until they could be received. We saw 42 patients spanning all ages. Their complaints were eye irritation (from cooking over fires in their homes with no chimneys); muscle aches and pains (from the hard labor of field work and portering loads); skin burns and problems; and various other concerns.  Pranoj translated while Juan Pablo recorded the patient’s story; I saw the patients and determined a course of action; Cindy filled medication orders; explained the medications to the patients, and handled other activities such as wound care, and eye irrigations. We received kjatas (silk scarves) from several patients.  Kaji took care of us by ensuring that we took an occasional break for milk tea, and ate some lunch. Later that evening, we marveled at the night sky which clearly displayed a host of stars, the Milky Way and Mars. We went to bed early and slept very well!

June 19.  We had another full clinic day, seeing 58 patients.  Cindy handled the wound care for a very brave two year-old girl who had sustained serious burns on her lower legs from a pot of boiling water.  We were so grateful that we were able to meet the needs of everyone who came.

June 20.  On this morning we packed to depart and the Sherpas prepared the loads.  We then visited the school in Daurkharka and presented gifts to the teachers and school children, passing a herd of water buffalo on our path.  We said good-bye to our local hosts to start the first six-hour hike back to Dhap.  En route, we stopped at a tea house for lunch. 

June 21.  We hiked back to Dhap arriving in only five hours!  We relaxed, took a short walk in the village, had a simple but nourishing meal, and headed to bed.  In the middle of the night, there was a great commotion. A local woman was missing and a search party was being organized.  The next morning we learned that she was found safe-and-sound.

June 22.  We rose early and our Sherpa-team packed the jeep-like vehicle for the ride back to Kathmandu.  There were nine of us snugged into the vehicle (capacity), and although we were hot and “fragrant,” everyone was patient.  Although we arrived in Kathmandu in eight hours, it took another three hours to arrive at our hotel due to stand-still traffic and other obstacles.  

June 23, 24, 25.  Because the trekking time to the health post had been condensed from the original itinerary, we were able to enjoy three days in Kathmandu.  Our Sherpa leader, Kaji, was the definition of hospitality. We enjoyed a lunch and a supper with him and his family. He and Pranoj, our in-country liaison, took us to a temple (Swayambhu Mahachaitya, the “monkey temple”) and taught us much about the site.  We enjoyed a session of gym-type rock climbing, during which Cindy and I taught Juan Pablo and Pranoj about the sport.  We visited the Great Boudha Stupa, a holy site where many cremations are performed, and learned much, much more.  

June 26.  We visited a school in Kathmandu for underprivileged children.  The school works hard to provide education for those who would otherwise have no education.  I addressed the student body thanking them for the opportunity to visit them and encouraging them to stay in school. 

We returned to our hotel, walked about the Thamel district of Kathmandu and purchased gifts for those at home.  Cindy and I said good-by to Juan Pablo whose flight was in the afternoon. Pranoj then took us to Durbar Square—a holy area, which had been hit hard by the earthquake and was undergoing repairs.  We said good-bye to Pranoj and Kaji.

June 27.  Cindy and I said good-bye to Kathmandu and headed to the airport.  We were fortunate to catch a glimpse of Mount Everest from the plane.  

All three of us believe the journey was a great success.  We are exceedingly grateful to have had the opportunity to provide service to the people of Daurkharka and its surrounding villages.  We have a renewed appreciation for financial resources, indoor plumbing, electricity that is consistent; public electrical wires that do not resemble spaghetti, air conditioning—especially in vehicles, and garbage control.  

On the other hand, the three of us acknowledge that we will never be the same, having learned much about the country of Nepal and having been deeply touched by the gentleness and hospitality of the people we met or served, and those who took such good care of us—our coordinator, Deha; our liaison, Pranoj; our Sherpa leader, Kaji; our Sherpa cook, Dorje; and the others who comprised our Sherpa team.  I am also very grateful for the exceptional clinic coverage provided by Dr. Kumar who cared for my patients during my absence. Without this, the journey would not have been possible. 

August 2018 – Genevie Kocourek, M.D. is Board Certified in Family Medicine and practices at The Ommani Center. She is the founder of Trinity Integrative Family Medicine and focuses her practice on integrative care and prevention of disease for the entire family.  Schedule an appointment by calling 262.695.5311