Helen Kovacs - Medicine & Healthcare, Nursing in Nepal
As part of my mental health nursing training at Staffordshire University in the UK, I decided to spend a placement in a developing country. After much research, Nepal seemed the perfect choice and proved not to disappoint. I have spent a fair bit of time travelling in the Far and Middle East, but nothing prepared me for the overwhelming culture shock that awaited me as I left the baggage reclaim hall of Tribhuvan International airport in Kathmandu.
I was met with a sea of taxi drivers and people coming from various hotels and guesthouses, who approached me offering cheap taxis and places to stay. At this point I felt like a rabbit in the head lights and as a lone female traveller, I felt cautious and slightly exposed. This feeling quickly subsided as a Projects Abroad representative promptly met me and transferred me to my hotel in the tourist district of Kathmandu, Thamel.
The driver welcomed me to his country and gave me a Kata. The offering of a Kata or white scarf is a well-known Nepali custom. In the Buddhist practice, the Kata is an auspicious symbol which lends a positive note to the start of any journey or relationship and indicates the good intentions of the person offering it. This made me feel very welcome and at ease and is a fantastic memento to remember the start of my Nepali adventure!
My First Impressions of Nepal
The driver made me laugh as I scrambled around his van for the seatbelt that did not exist. He cheerfully informed me "there is no need in my country; we do not drive fast like in your country". Indeed, the old van did not look like it could exceed 30mph, and as we left the airport road I quickly realised that it was not possible to exceed 30mph on the roads as we dodged pedestrians, cars, motorbikes, rickshaws, dogs, goats and cows!
My first glimpse of Nepali life fascinated me, as we meandered round the narrow streets where communities were living their lives, washing, cooking, herding their livestock…there is just so much to look at in that short journey from the airport alone. I felt a sense of freedom and of pride that I had made it there alone, and of anticipation and excitement of what lay ahead.
Thamel reminded me of a compact version of Khao San Road in Bangkok, the roads were narrow and maze-like, teaming with cool little shops, bars and restaurants. Although I was eager and excited to explore, I felt sure that I would get lost if I ventured out alone, so I had dinner at the hotel and had an early night in an attempt to minimise the jet lag!
An Introduction to the Country
The next day a Projects Abroad representative met me at the hotel to give me an induction and town tour. When she left me I felt ready to explore the local area by myself, and armed with my lonely planet guide, I headed off in a (what I thought was) southerly direction! I quickly got used to the lack of pavements and weaving in and out of the fore mentioned people, cars, motorbikes, rickshaws, dogs, goats and cows! I soon realised that I was lost, however I felt surprisingly safe and comfortable, although street vendors and local guides did approach me, they were not overly pushy and I did not feel afraid or intimidated.
I knew that if I couldn’t find my way I could simply jump in a taxi or rickshaw to return to my hotel. I visited some of the local tourist sites; Swayambhunath, also known as the monkey temple as it is home to hundreds of friendly rhesus macaques. It is an ancient religious sight at the top of a hill in Kathmandu with beautiful views over the valley and, on a clear day, the snow-capped mountains of the Himalayas. I also visited the awesome Durbar Square, where I decided to hire an official guide to show me around and tell me the fascinating history of this world heritage site.
My Placement and life in Nepal
After 2 days of being a tourist and recovering from the long journey to Nepal, I was ready to move in with my host family and visit my placement at the Life Development Centre in Sankhu. I cannot express how lovely my host family were. I was a bit apprehensive about living with a local family at first, however I quickly settled in as they made me feel so welcome and at home. Due to the load shedding in Nepal, we spent long periods of time without electricity. This gave us time to get to know each other and we would all sit on the rooftop by candlelight and talk, laugh, sing and learn about each other’s cultures.
I spent my month long placement at the Life Development Centre in Sankhu. The centre is a residential home and school for children and adults with learning disabilities and is about an hour’s bus ride out of the city. It was a pleasant change to leave the bustle and pollution of Kathmandu, and come to the peaceful and beautiful countryside every day. As a volunteer at the centre I was able to get involved in the teaching of English, play, dance and also took small groups of children out of the centre for walks and ball games. This was a fantastic way to see the Nepal countryside and also to get to know the children on an individual basis.
The people I met during my short time in Nepal, from my host family and other volunteers to the residents and staff at the LDC, gave me a truly inspirational and unforgettable experience with memories to last a lifetime!