A Day in the Life by Nicole Ruffalo
The bus ride to Chanaute was a long and bumpy one- 5+ hours of dodging large potholes and rocks that were placed on the dirt roads in attempt to even out the holes. The winding roads can comfortably fit maybe 1.5 average sized cars, but the drivers here somehow manage to fit two large buses or construction type trucks without falling off the edge of the cliffs. This caused me some anxiety during my first couple bus rides but I very quickly learned to let go and enjoy the ride. There are no designated bus stops so you’ll see many people on the side of the roads waiting for their bus to come by while a man hangs out the bus door yelling out names of villages or towns we’re headed to. I realized early on that Nepali natives are very helpful to foreigners- understanding that I did not yet know the language, the man yelling out bus stops and the woman next to me knew my destination and made sure I got off at the right stop. My bus mate was even nice enough to share her snack with me, which was their version of uncooked ramen noodles- spicy and delicious!
Upon my arrival in Chanaute, I was greeted with what seemed like half the village. Bina, Mina and Coplia took me back to the clinic where I soon began discarding expired herbal formulas and replaced them with supplies I had brought with me. Hasta, the chairman of the village, stopped by to greet me and show me around. I was introduced to many families who all insisted on having me over for milk tea and showing me their homes. I immediately felt welcomed and safe J
Days flew by in the village. I worked six days a week: Sunday-Friday, 9am-4pm; although sometimes people would come in around 8am and later anywhere between 5 and 6pm. Typically they would be traveling hours to reach the clinic, as this was the only hospital for hours, so it wouldn’t be right to turn them away. Work was busy for the most part. Some days were slow- treating only around 5 patients, while other days I’d see 25+ patients! There is no schedule in place so people would just come in when they could which usually meant larger groups at once and people waiting in line to be treated. I learned very quickly to let go of any expectations. Every day presented with a different challenge and I found it necessary to go with the flow and work with whatever hand I was dealt.
There wasn’t a translator during my stay in Chanaute, which presented with its own challenges but I got by just fine and found that this improved my Nepali language skills (at least the clinically relevant words/phrases). Most patients were coming in with pain- knees, shoulders, low back, spinal, and neck. The Nepalese work such long hours doing hard manual labor- they have no farming or building machinery so everything is done by hand. If they don’t own a motorbike or a wheelbarrow, they are forced to transport heavy loads on their heads from village to village which results in headaches and pain in their necks and backs with radiating pain and numbness down their arms. I treated this a lot. Other patients would come in with gastritis and acid reflux usually resulting from the spice level of their food and how quickly they eat as well as the lack of regular water intake. Other ailments I treated were paralysis, intestinal worms, rashes, and jaundice.
Some patients were extremely grateful, giving me many thanks and bringing me fruit from their farms each time they’d come in for treatments and others would walk out without making eye contact- it is not typical in Nepal to thank someone for doing their job, so I was not offended by this but it definitely was something I needed to adjust to.
Other than life in the clinic, I got into a routine that felt good to me. Mornings would start early- waking up to the sound of bells at dawn which meant someone was praying at the Hindu temple across the clinic, or the sound of birds chirping a very particular sound that I don’t think I’ll ever forget no matter how hard I try. Breakfast food isn’t really a thing in Nepal so Bina would make fried rice and leftover curry from the day before or we would snack on malpa, fried ball of bread with a little sugar, from the hotel across the river. Copila called us for lunch anywhere between 11 and 1. Typically patients were on the table while we ate, so we ate fast and quickly got back to work. Lunch was the same meal everyday- dal bhat tarkari (lentils, rice, and vegetable curry). It took me a couple weeks to get used to eating the same meal for lunch every day, but after some time, I began craving it. After work, Sita would invite Bina and I over for milk tea and curry and I’d sit and listen to them talk in Nepali while we’d people watch. We then walked across the river to our local produce stand and pick up vegetables for dinner and lunch the next day. Dinner would either be spent at Sita’s, where Bina and Sita would team up and cook together while I’d help the kids with homework or they’d teach me Nepalese dances and quiz me on my Nepali language skills, or at home where Bina and I would ask each other questions about our different cultures and make DIY face masks- she loved this! We’d head to bed after dinner and rest-up for the next day.
Chanaute is located in the valley of many surrounding mountains that are filled with neon green rice fields and pockets of banana trees and massive ferns in the distance. Taking hikes in the area was one of my favorite things to do. I had the habit of going for walks with the purpose of getting lost and then finding my way back to better orient myself with the area and it made for better exploring! While on walks, the locals would stare at me with a confused look and say “Namaste”, and ask what I was doing in Nepal. In my very, very broken Nepali, I would tell them I was the volunteer acupuncture doctor in Chanaute and they’d immediately smile, invite me in for tea and show me where they were having pain. I believe I brought in many patients this way.
Overall, my time spent in Chanuate was a memorable and humbling one. The people of the village welcomed me with open arms and made me feel very safe and loved. I learned to let go of expectations and go with the flow in ways I didn’t know I could and to live simply and in harmony with nature. A little dirt never killed anyone, right? ;)