Nicola Whatley - Medicine & Healthcare, Physiotherapy in Nepal
Whilst getting caught up in all the fundraising and preparation before my trip to Nepal, it had never really crossed my mind how I would feel when I actually got there. When everybody talks about ‘culture shock’- they’re right! Arriving in Thamel, the ‘tourist centre’ of Kathmandu, is like nothing else I’d ever experienced: cows on the road, beeping cars, people selling things everywhere: it can be pretty overwhelming at first, and I wasn’t sure how I was going to adjust to it all. But after a few days of walking along the streets in Thamel, dodging the traffic was just a normal thing to do at the weekends.
During the week, I got away from the craziness of Thamel to Mharajgung, another part of Kathmandu. This was where I lived with my host family, and what a great experience it was. Sashi, my host mum, was a fantastic cook and always so helpful- she was great at the bartering when taking us Sari shopping, teaching us to cook her amazing recipe for Dal Bhatt (a Nepali staple!), and with the help of her young sons Dipta and Divas, I got taught (and tested on!) a lot of the Nepali language. Living with a family really gave me an insight into Nepali culture that I would otherwise never have been able to experience.
During my seven weeks in Nepal, I volunteered at two placements. The first one was Sahara Care Home, a physiotherapy and rehabilitation hospital. The services there were basic, and it was fascinating to compare it to the recent physiotherapy placements I had completed for my course in the UK. The patients I saw there were mainly neurological cases and I learned a lot, but also felt that I could really help out. The staff and patients were all so friendly and welcoming, and I really enjoyed learning their different techniques, and how they made the most of the limited resources they had.
My second placement was at Snowlands school. This placement really made my time in Nepal! The kids at the school were all from the mountain villages of Nepal, nearer the Tibetan border. The kids all came from poor families and most had not seen or had any contact with their parents in years. The conditions weren’t the best, but they are the happiest little kids I have ever met! Arriving at the school every morning, you would here ‘Namaste miss!!’ being shouted from the gates, and the rest of the days were filled with art classes, sports days, dancing and just general fun! They were a delight to work with, and they loved to sit and tell us about their culture, whilst learning about each of ours. I’ll never forget the laughs we had when attempting to teach them Scottish Country dancing and the Hokey Kokey!
In between all the voluntary work, the other Projects Abroad volunteers and I got away each weekend to other areas of Nepal, and I managed to see a lot of the country whilst I was out there. It’s such a diverse country, from the crazy city life in Kathmandu, to the Himalayas and then the jungle areas in the Terai region. In Pokhara, we paraglided and saw some fantastic views of the Annapurnas (even though we were there in monsoon season!); at Chitwan National Park, we stayed in the middle of the jungle and a trip to Nagarkot saw us nearer the Himalayas again.
Even just general nights in and out in Thamel were great. Projects Abroad Nepal are a really close team, and always made sure you were ok, and were at the end of a phone if you ever needed them. Being part of a volunteer team meant we met a lot of different people from all over the world - I remember when a group of seven of us were away one weekend, we realised that each one of us was from a different country! I’ve come back having made friends now living all over the world.
All in all, my seven weeks in Nepal were fantastic, I could talk about it all day.. I’m already planning my trip back next year; the amazing people, the fascinating culture and the great food. I don’t think I’ll be able to stay away for long.