Thursday, March 10, 2016

Midwest US meets Canadian/Nepalese:

As a Michigan gal, I came into this trip not knowing a single person from TWECS. I had also never been to Asia. My goals were to challenge myself, to learn something, to help someone, and to walk away with at least one new friendship. During the 27 hour trip from Detroit to Nepal, I stumbled upon a Michigan State University student who happened to be from Kathmandu. He calmed my nerves as I made my way through the visa process and the chaos of baggage claim, and he shared a few facts about his home. I felt as though I had made a Nepalese friend without even trying!
Next, I wandered outside into a sea of unfamiliar faces shouting and trying to offer me taxi rides. Amidst the confusion, I anxiously scanned the scene and rather quickly found my connection, David. We swiftly and easily made our way from the airport to the hotel. He offered me a much needed beer and I couldn't help but think that the universe seemed to be on my side; this mission was for the greater good and hence things were falling neatly into place.  
Exploring Thamel with some of the team.

With the introduction of each team member over those first 24 hours, I felt more at ease. But the true test of coalescing comes while working together under more stressful circumstances. That seemed to happen right away too, proven at our first make-shift clinic. That first "taste" of serving the Nepalese people came at the top of a mountain where the earthquake had devastated a two story school. Mostly school children were lined up to be seen and at the end of clinic, my eyes teared up and I was overcome with emotion. How unfair that these kids who already face the challenges of remote living lost their school? 

Over the next few days in Dhulikhel, the teammate bonding continued. Everyone was more than willing to help each other out whether it be lending rupees or sharing optometry equipment.  We were also able to continue to get to know each other better by shopping and eating together and through conversation. Some of us visited the world's tallest Shiva on the day of the festival of Shivaratri. Dr. Annu explained the meanings of symbols and rituals of this Hindu holiday and I was thrilled to be a part of it. 

World's largest Shiva

The next 3 days of clinic in Lalitpur allowed for yet another chance to learn and grow. All of us volunteers had Nepalese teenagers as our translators. They worked side by side with us in cramped rooms throughout each long day. They quickly learned what we needed from them and I never heard any of them complain about anything we asked of them. They dealt with our occasional frustrations with grace: patiently re-explaining or re-phrasing whatever was being misunderstood. And perhaps most importantly, their youth and energy brought a positivity to the atmosphere. They made the long, repetitive task of examining hundreds of patients more manageable. I was able to get to know a few of them quite well and I was very impressed. I feel fortunate for not only helping the Nepalese on an eye care level but for also being able to work side by side with them as essential members of our team. 
Some of our fun and energetic translators

All in all thus far, I've had numerous unforgettable experiences and moments. I've had patients who have touched my heart and I've definitely checked off my list of goals (with 5 days to spare!). 
This mission has further instilled two things: no matter where you come from, we are all far more alike than different. And, this, summarized perfectly by a quote: 
"Those whom bring sunshine into the lives of others cannot keep it from themselves." -J.M. Barrie
Dr. Rita Messing

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