For a simple mapping research project, Nepal has transformed it into a maze of unforeseen obstacles and a challenge to finish in 3 weeks. My plan to accompany the community health workers to each oral health camp, walk the surrounding neighborhoods while collecting my food source coordinates and data and return back in time to help apply fluoride seemed easy enough. Even after getting here and observing the never ending lines of small shops selling lollipops, chocolate, packaged noodles and chips along so many streets gave me even more confidence in the many GPS coordinates I could easily collect. However, after a three hour walk – in the monsoon and the mud – we arrived at the school to find every surrounding shop closed up. This is because most shops in Nepal have irregular hours, opening and closing when they feel like it. Small shops that rely on business from school children often close all day, while school is in session. Since the oral health camps are coordinated with the schools, they are always planned to occur during the school day. Seeing the streets of closed shops made my heart sink as I looked down at my mud soaked shoes and pants and realized the little work that could be done that day. Most shops in Kathmandu are a single room at the base of a building that can be completely covered and locked by a garage door, making it impossible to obtain any information about what it might sell.
The most difficult part of planning anything in Nepal, especially during the monsoon season, is the craziness of transportation. Many streets are unpaved, becoming mud-mountains and deep ponds after it rains, that cars and buses still attempt to drive on, splashing any nearby pedestrians. Since walking can be so unpleasant, even with an umbrella, buses are uncomfortably full and they continue packing in riders until seats and aisles have at least 3 times as many people as they are meant for. This has been the biggest challenge of having to return to the many camp sites in Kathmandu, trying out different times of the day in order to get at least an idea of the types of food sold and accessible.
We have just returned from a small hospital in Bhotechaur, a rural village outside of Kathamndu. The other half of the oral health camp sites are in the schools surrounding this hospital, where we stayed. I knew things in the rural areas would be just as difficult when our taxi driver could not go on after a series of steep mud-mountains, roads turned into water falls, and a portion of the upper hill that had slid down, completely blocking the road. We grabbed our things – bags of fluoride, tooth brushes and food – and continued by foot, about 3 hours. It poured non-stop for the first few days there. We couldn’t go to any of the camps we had planned to because the dirt roads were impossible to walk on. Finally two nights ago Aparna came into my room and told me that we would not be able to visit any of the sites for me to collect my data due to the monsoons. They could come back another time for the camps, but I would not be able to complete this part (which is half) of my project. I barely slept that night, feeling like a failure and that just the Kathmandu portion of my project without a comparison between maps of the urban and rural areas was not worth a Liveit! Fund. I woke up the next morning to a clear sky. We left at 6am to visit as many schools as we could before the rain started. There was a blue sky all day….. we walked for about 10 hours straight through the hills of Bhotechaur and visited every campsite. I am so grateful for Aparna’s dedication to my project, she is almost 60 and was the one motivating me to keep going when I was exhausted and ready to go home before getting all of my data. Though I can’t feel my legs today, if we hadn’t done everything yesterday, my project would have been incomplete because the monsoon started up again today.
Right now I have a mess of GPS points that I have been able to import and save onto google earth. My next step is to go through and label them before I return to Macalester in mid-August to make the final maps. My time here has gone by fast and I have learned so much about the importance of persevering and a positive attitude when trying to complete a project during conditions like monsoon season in Nepal. I cannot thank Aparna enough for her hospitality, translations and most of all when something went wrong, laughing and saying “you’re in Nepal, it’s an adventure, girl!!!”.