As soon as I graduated from medical school I took the decision that I want to volunteer in a foreign country and help those in need. – In Nepal.
After an intense online research and checking different hospitals and organizations, I found out about the Chaurjahari Hospital, a Christian missionary hospital that is located in the mid-west remote Rukum district of Nepal. I immediately read all the information that I could find about it online. The hospital is located in a very remote area, the population around it is primarily impoverished (it is not uncommon to see that a whole family has to live on one dollar a day) and sometimes people have to walk for days before reaching the hospital since they come from far away and there are no roads.
All these facts made it very interesting for me and I immediately contacted the hospital administration to ask for a volunteer position. After some time I got a positive response from them and was very excited about that. I started to imagine how it will be to be there right now, how the people are, the landscape, the team etc. Although, because of one or the other reason, I had to postpone my trip to Nepal multiple times, until the extend that I thought I would never be able to go there … When I was thinking about the hospital back home, I imagined it to be at a high altitude, in the mountains and a place where it is quite chilly – but I would find out that my conception was totally wrong.
After having completed my trek to Everest Base Camp, I reach Kathmandu and prepare my bags to travel to Chaurjahari the following day. There are two ways how to reach the Hospital: either a 24 hour bus ride and a half hour hike, or a flight but air travel is limited. I choose the bus ride since one of the doctors and another volunteer from the USA are also traveling by bus the same day. Around 3 pm Dr. R. and Kristal come to pick me up at my guesthouse in Kathmandu and together we drive to the local bus station.
Soon it is time to start our real journey and a feeling of excitement starts to raise in me.
The bus is much better than I have imagined: some Hindi or Nepali music is played in the background, everybody gets their own seat (they are quite comfortable) and there is even a TV but no air conditioning or toilet.
Leaving the city is the hardest task, since the traffic jam in Kathmandu is just crazy. The sun is shining through the window and sweat is dripping off my face, leaving me in a drowsy state. At every stop there are many people coming inside the bus or shouting from outside, desperately trying to sell whatever your heart desires: cold water, fizzy drinks, coconut, chips, clothes etc. After some hours we finally manage to leave the city with its dusty clouds behind us and are able to breath the fresh air from the countryside. We stop at a very local place for dinner where I have some Dal Bhat (rice & lentils soup along with vegetables; a traditional Nepalese meal).
After dinner I listen to music and try to read something until we stop again since there is a big traffic jam ahead of us: a landslide has blocked the road. Everybody leaves the bus and is just standing outside, waiting impatiently. There is such a big queue in front of us that I can’t even see the end of it. After maybe 1.5 hours I hear the driver screaming that we should access the bus since we are about to reassume our journey. I finally manage to fall asleep.
Around 6-7 am, I get woken up by the strong sunlight touching my face and as well because of the many police checkpoints where we have to stop. The bus ride continues and I enjoy watching outside the window and observe the life in the villages, cities and on the countryside. We stop for lunch and Dr. R. says that we are very close to our final destination: Jajarkot.
As soon as we get back on the bus I fall asleep again and before I know it, at around 2.30 pm, we have to get off: Our final destination has arrived. I am quite relieved that the bus ride did not take more than 24 hours, since sometimes the road can be blocked for up to 2 days due to landslides. There are about 5 people standing in front of the bus, welcoming us with a very pretty flower neckless, given to us as a sign of respect. I am still quite drowsy, because I just woke up and I am not used to this heat, so it takes me a moment to understand what is happening. From this moment on, the street ends and we have to walk to the hospital for about half an hour. The five men help us with our luggage and we cross various rice fields and a suspension bridge, before the trail leads us on a steep uphill walk towards the village of Chaurjahari.
Immediately, as we reach the top of the hill, we go to our accommodation. As we enter the gate I see a big football field and a lot of mango and pomegranate trees but unfortunately monkeys have already eaten all the fruits.
We go inside and everyone welcomes us, offering us water and coffee. We meet other four volunteer ladies from Japan, two medical students and two nurses as well as the house-bird “Momo”. The team seems extremely funny and nice, creating a very positive atmosphere all around. Since I am exhausted from the bus ride I just want to lay down for a while and so I do. The house is divided in two parts and offers various individual sleeping options two kitchens, two living rooms and a great view towards the river.
I get my own room downstairs, very simply equipped with a double bed, chair and a table but unfortunately no fan or air conditioning. I see two geckos running around on the windows, they are very big but seem quite peaceful so I am not bothered by them. Even though it is extremely hot, around 37 C° and it is difficult for me to breathe, I fall in a coma deep sleep without even unpacking.
When I wake up it is already dark outside. I go to take a cold and refreshing shower and afterwards join the dinner table where the whole staff comes together. We enjoy some nice Dal Bhat (of course, what else?) and get to know each other. The staff tells us that we should be careful in the night since there are poisonous snakes and scorpions around. In the past there have even been incidents that they entered in the room. After dinner we read a verse in the bible and pray all together, since this is a Christian missionary hospital.
At around 9 pm, before going to bed, we go for a hospital round. The hospital is located exactly opposite to our accommodation but we still use our flash lights since there are no lights outside. As we go from patient to patient, we check their files, examine and auscultate them. Since I don’t understand Nepali, the other doctors have to translate for me. Everyone seems stable so we go back home and say goodnight. I go to my room and start unpacking, regretting the fact that I brought warm clothes to this extremely hot place. Before going to sleep, first thing I do, is checking my bed for any insects and putting the mosquito net to avoid getting bitten by anything nasty in the middle of the night.
I am very happy I finally managed to reach here, now it is not just and idea or a dream anymore but I made it become reality, and I am excited for the first day which lies ahead of me.