Travelling by bicycle means that changes in the landscape and culture tend to evolve gradually. So when when we flew into Nepal, even though it is only 1500km from Kyrgyzstan as the crow flies, it felt like entering another world!
Many things about Kathmandu were exactly as I remembered; the bright colours, the smell of incense mingling with sewage, and the sound of conches and drums and bells ringing at 5.30am when the city starts to wake up. It is dustier and more polluted than it was 12 years ago, and evidence of the terrible 2015 earthquake is everywhere; many houses are still building sites, and condemned buildings are fenced off. Durbar square is a sad sight with many of the historic temples in ruins. But the colourful mixture of people, animals, gods and goddesses in every manifestation and incarnation still gives Kathmandu it’s undeniable magic.
We spent about five days soaking up the atmosphere, exploring some of the sights and enjoying the amazing variety of food on offer (like kids in a sweet shop after three months in Central Asia!) We also arranged two days of intensive Nepali language classes so that we could at least introduce ourselves and have some idea of how to go about learning more. Then we went to meet our contacts in PHASE, the organisation we will both be working with for the next two months.
PHASE is a small organisation made up of entirely Nepali staff, that works in some of the most remote and disadvantaged parts of Nepal. Their aim is to provide practical support to help communities improve key areas including health, education and livelihood opportunities. In the health sector, they select project areas in partnership with the government, identifying areas with the poorest health indicators. They also support government healthposts which are poorly stocked or struggle to retain staff. PHASE usually employ young women who have completed an 18 month standard training programme to work as Auxiliary Nurse Midwives (ANMs). They have a wide remit, which includes providing a full range of primary care services for their local population, responsibility for management of the healthpost (maintaining the building, stocking of medicines, disposing of waste) and delivering health education to school children, women’s groups etc. My role will be as a mentor to these healthworkers, building confidence in their clinical skills, discussing difficult cases and teaching primary care topics. My visit is not a one-off; PHASE have established a rolling programme of GP volunteers and provide guidelines to ensure that our teaching is consistent.
So although I am going to miss the bike, my body needs a rest and I’m ready to start exercising the mind. I’m really looking forward to having an opportunity to go a bit deeper into a fascinating local culture and hopefully be able to offer something in return…