At 4:45 we set off for the mountains.
Outside it was dark as Kathmandu started to wake up with the first signs of motorbikes coming and going. Four of us went downstairs with our luggage to meet the others who were already in the jeep. I met the driver, the clinical psychologist, the country representative and the psychiatric nurse. All Nepali. We organised the sitting plan and I was very happy I was given the front seat as I tend to be travel sick. I took the tablet and hoped all would be ok.
In a hour we started climbing up the mountains leaving the dusty view of Kathmandu behind us. Even though I was still uncertain whether I would enjoy the hard trip ahead I was able to enjoy the beauty of the scenery and the exciting sense of going off on a Summer holiday. The road was not as bad as I imagined it would be but despite a million bends left and right.
I felt guilty thinking how uncomfortable it must be for the three people sitting in the very back of the jeep but I was sure I’d find it very difficult to cope with the long trip sitting elsewhere. The music was on a bit too loudly but I didn’t feel I had the rights to complain from what felt like my royal seat! The driver kept looking at me as if he understood how I was feeling. I am sure he knew what a beginner I was in this type of mission. He was very kind and aware. Even though we couldn’t speak much we were able to make a connection through eye contact.
After two hours we made our first stop at a very basic place where people had coffees and sandwiches. I didn’t feel like having anything. The toilet was in a little house on a hill where you have to squat down –not unfamiliar to me as when I was a child in rural areas of Brazil this was common. To our great excitement we found marijuana growing wildly in the fields. We took pictures with the plants and put it in our hair like rebellious and excited teenagers.
We continued driving through the mountains and following a stream of water which was becoming bigger and bigger. The sun was shining in the water creating a painterly masterpiece. We kept taking pictures of the mountains getting higher and higher. The beauty was impressively intimidating. I felt very small in comparison to its grandiosity. After listening to Indian and English music it was time to listen to some Brazilian. I found myself feeling emotional and amazingly closed to home in such a distant part of the world. I was lost in my thoughts realising how different and similar we can all be in our humanity.
We reached our highest point and the end of our days travel at about 9pm. The next day we left very early to Ilan Bazar the capital of a region called Ilan, one of the poorest places in Nepal, situated in the very middle of the mountain south of Kathmandu. It was time to deliver a workshop on mental health to health assistants in the region.
Health Assistants are paid by the government. Not a great salary but it gives them a status of superiority. I was curious to why there were only men doing the job and which take they had on mental health issues. Later I learnt that the best jobs in Nepal are in fact taken by men because there is a general assumption they are more skilled to do it. I felt angry and lost in my thoughts imagining whether one day the women would rebel and overturn this very male dominated society. Women get the worse and hardest jobs. For example, they are the ones who carry stones to help the men with building and the majority of tea leaf pickers are women. They carry a basket on their head that almost becomes another limb in their body. Unsurprisingly, many women have terrible problems in their spine for being in that position too long.
We had two days of workshop. It was a time for us to understand their work placements and try to understand their deepest needs…
See my next post for details of our workshops with the Health Assistants…