It is amazing how quickly one’s perspective of the world can change. It doesn’t take much. It can be a glance from a stranger, something witnessed out of a car window, or a day spent walking in someone else’s shoes. My time visiting the Tamang women in their village was one such perspective-changing experience. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tamang_people)
Kanshi Maya Tamang’s house.
Kanshi Maya, Phul Maya and Maile Maya Tamang.
I knew, thanks to magazine articles and documentary films, that people live differently in the Third World, and I was arrogant enough to believe that I actually understood it; that I had some idea how people lived here. Even in my first weeks in Nepal, seeing patients treated in the clinic and seeing their homes fly by on motorbike, I believed that I comprehended it. It wasn’t until I took the trip into their homes that I realized I had no idea.
The three Tamang women that come to the clinic are Phul Maya Tamang, Kanshi Maya Tamang, and Maile Maya Tamang (All Tamang people have their race tagged at the end of their name). They live two valleys over, so two giant ridges lie between their village and the clinic. Their native language is not Nepali, so they can chat amongst themselves and our interpreters will be baffled. The three women distill rakshi, the Nepali equivalent of moonshine, and sell it in plastic bottles when they come into town.
The livestock live on the first floor of their houses and the women do all their cooking on an open fire. There are no chimneys in their homes, so the entire building fills up with smoke and particulate. It’s no surprise the majority of women here have breathing problems.
The bus ride they take into the clinic is long and bumpy. I rode on top with them into the clinic this morning. Teenage conductors climbed around the bus like monkeys and collected fare.
26 people were on the top of the bus and this was because the inside was packed to capacity (much more than 26 were inside). However, riding on the top is a blessing because you can avoid motion sickness on the windy roads and get a view of the valleys far below.
Riding this bus for over 2 hours was an exhilarating and exhausting experience and these women do it every week. Could you imagine doing this to see your doctor?
The fact that the women make this long trip to the clinic shows what it means to them. It’s the only health care regularly available to them and it is fixing their problems, ranging from knee pain to painful menstruation. The time they get in the clinic helps them get relief and function for the rest of the week and it makes the 4-5 hours on top of a bus, precariously maneuvering around landslides, worth it.
I mentioned at the beginning of this blog that my time out in the village changed my perspective, but not in the way you may think. Yes, experiencing these women’s daily trials and living conditions humbled me (clean water, chimneys, seatbelts and trash collection are comforts ingrained in my First World DNA). And many things I have experienced here have saddened me so much that I couldn’t bring myself to point a camera at them; a leper with no feet crawling up a hill with her hands and a man with a stroke-damaged brain seizing while his wife held him down, for example. Moments like these have affected me in a way that I cannot put into words.
However, my experience here has not been all grim. There was a beauty in that Tamang village that I have not experienced elsewhere. Many people have mythisized these so-called “primitive” lifestyles, so I will not beat the idea in too much, but just know that amongst the women, their families and their village I found an extremely strong sense of community. Everyone in the village works together and their love for one another was so obvious that I, as a complete outsider, was heated by it, campfire style, from a distance.
It was so beautiful, and this love, more than any other part of my trip, has affected me the most.
That’s all I can say about it.
I am still trying to raise funds to finish this documentary, please check out my kickstarter page at http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1460094743/compassion-connects-acupuncture-and-primary-care-i if you are interested in ARP and this film.