I can’t believe it, but I’m going back to the hills of Dhankuta

6/30

Luckily, this time I am able to say that I am going because I chose to and not because I’m in an taxi that’s already halfway there. We are leaving for the hills tomorrow, so today we hauled ourselves to Itahari for last-minute supplies, a non-dal, bhat, tarkari meal and Internet access. Because we were gone in the afternoon, we went for outreach early in the morning. On our way back, we saw the beautiful pregnant woman whose photo I posted a while ago (when I think of her, I think of someone saying in that movie What to Expect When You’re Expecting, “She’s like a magical pregnancy unicorn!” because of how glow-y and happy and active she was). She is the mother of the baby who was sent home with a cannula still in his arm, Rupesh. The nurses wanted to check on him because he was also battling an eye infection that is still slightly visible on his right eye.

The bus ride was full of surprises, as always. First, Laxmi chose to stand in the front of the bus and was giggling and chatting with some strange man. We thought she was flirting until she told us that he was her cousin. The next surprise was when the bus hit its breaks kind of quickly, and the seat cushion in the seat next to me fell out of place! I swear to god, I think these buses are the cast-offs from India (will try to confirm this suspicion). Before we left, Alaka and Yamuna brought us a bowl of jackfruit to try. Jackfruit has a kind of strong, pungent odor that remains in your mouth after you’ve finished eating it. It’s kind of yellow in color and a little stringy, and there’s a big brown seed in the middle. It’s pretty sweet, too, so I couldn’t eat more than a couple pieces.

Lunch was delicious and uneventful, and we stopped at Unique bakery to get more rasmalai. It was just as good as the first time! Then it was time to head back and pack up for four days in Jorpati.

Ps. See if you can spot the one volunteer in the back of the bus! It’s like a Chisang Clinic volunteer version of Where’s Waldo.

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Ilam and Nepal’s famous tea gardens

6/29

Today we took two vans to the tea gardens in Ilam. It was pretty far up in the hills and it took a couple hours to get there, but it was totally worth it. We had a big group because Alaka, Yamuna and Nakul came with all of us volunteers and Debendra.

The van I rode in had some major incense burning going on when we got in, making me wish I’d brought my inhaler. The van I didn’t ride in had an amazing sticker on the back: “Searching for New Girlfriend.” Don’t know if if he actually had a girlfriend or not, but I’d love to hear her opinion about the sticker… There was a brief hold up on the way to the bottom of the hillside because of some bridge construction, and an unspoken game of leapfrog occurred between our side of the road and the oncoming traffic.

The first thing we did was stop at what I think is call Sano Pathibara temple where we had to climb up 1000+ steps to get to the top. I didn’t take any photos, because despite being here for a month, I am still unsure what is socially acceptable to photograph when it comes to religious places and artifacts. However, when you google “sano pathivara temple” the second photo that comes up is from the inside of the temple. I purchased two bangles there that say Pathibhara on them in Nepali, and some string that more superstitious Hindus tie around their wrist or neck after visiting a very holy temple. Instead of taking the stairs down, we hiked down the muddy backside of the temple.

Then we headed to the tea farms! The fields were beautiful, almost reminiscent of the hedges in the center of the pond thing at the Getty museum. Everything was beautiful until the mist started coming in, but I was able to get a few photos in. We also saw some of the local women eating together on their lunch break which was really cool. Also, on our way to the middle of a field, we passed a huge pile of empty alcohol bottles. Up in the hills, it seems like almost every other shop sells beer and hard alcohols. It’s unclear if people drink so much because it is cold, or they do not have easy access to safe drinking water, or if it’s spurred by alcoholism, but even the aunties up here love their booze.

For lunch we went to Ilam bazaar (where the main shops are located) for lunch and spied some huuuuge cucs on the way! I had egg chowmin (chowmein) for lunch. It’s always a treat to get an egg as part of a meal so I usually go for things like egg fried rice over momos unless I’m really in the mood for dumplings. The bazaar is also where we picked up big bags of black and green tea, and sampled some small cubes of hard, smoky yak cheese that I did not like. It was seriously funky stuff. Once we finished our shopping and meal, we piled back into the vans to visit a cheese factory. I think this is the only cheese they make in Nepal because it has a very distinct smell and taste and it seems to be the only cheese they use for items like pizza and mac n cheese. The smell at the factory was also seriously funky, as Nakul’s pose demonstrates.

Our final destination was a a quick pop across the border into Darjeeling, India for a photo op. we were lucky the guards let us through because Ashley was the only one with an Indian visa. With that, we concluded our very busy day trip! The ride back was especially hilarious because Nakul was all hopped up on sugar from the biscuits we’d bought in India and the backseat had a major dance party. It was so cute to see him dance because boys have this funny, floppy-yet-controlled way of moving their bodies and he broke out some awesome moves!

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Aloo gobi

6/28

I’m not sure what happened between 6/27 and 6/29 because I have conflicting information in my journal, but I think we had roasted corn that day because I have a photo of corn. I also learned how to make aloo gobi sometime between these two dates, which is an Indian dish and happens to be my favorite veg curry.

Aloo gobi is pretty easy to make but the tricky part is getting the cauliflower (gobi, or cauli in Nepali) cooked well. The trick is that the more cauli you have, the more oil you should use. The picture of the gold cap containing little seed-looking things are in fact fenugreek seeds. You start making the dish the same way you make most Nepali curries: heat some mustard oil in a wok-like pan and add the fenugreek seeds until they change color and turn dark brown. This removes the bitterness from the seeds, which you can smell in the odor coming from the wok. It is a good idea to prep all your veggies before, because you don’t want the seeds to blacken. Try to get all the veg pieces the same size so they cook evenly. Fun fact: apparently it is a sign of your cooking prowess if you can keep part of the stem on your small cauliflower pieces; as you can tell, Laxmi is literally a pro. Next you add some onion and a small scoop of turmeric to the oil and swish it around a bit, then add the cauliflower and potatoes to the oil and sprinkle a small spoonful of meat masala (the brown spice in the jar with the green lid) over it. The whole deal starts to smell a lot better after this. While this is cooking, you can prepare a paste of chilies, garlic and ginger for the tomato pickle. This tomato pickle was prepared with some parsley tonight, which made it taste super fresh and yummy. Then cut half a tomato and add it to the vegetables. You cook this uncovered for a few minutes, then cover it with a clean steel plate and let it simmer, stirring occasionally. So. Yummy.

By the way, the corn is not your Monsanto every-kernel-is-identical corn, but kind of chewy, not sweet, yellow corn that is awesome with chili salt. It’s generally roasted in the yard over a flame or cooked in the pressure cooker. I prefer the pressure cooker method because the flame burns some parts to the point of being carcinogenic.

Without further ado, here is said corn and aloo gobi:

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Somehow I managed to do some shopping during outreach, go figure

6/27

I helped make breakfast this morning with Ellen and Laxmi. Laxmi made the suji haluwa, which is like dry cream of wheat, and Ellen and I cooked some apples with sugar and cinnamon to put on top. The apples here are really bland and flavorless, and they would’ve benefitted from some lemon juice but we didn’t have any on hand. We went for outreach early today, just after lunch, and passed the school while it was in session. The kids all came rushing out to say hi and pose for photos in their adorable uniforms. We also passed by a man with some hand-made baskets and fans loaded on his bike, so naturally we bought some! Emma had seen one a while back and was looking for them every time we went into town but they basically just fell right into her lap. At the patient’s house, they gave everyone mangos including a cute little girl who left a sticky handprint on my back, which Ellen discovered on the way back. We had some new volunteers, Amy and Diana, come down from the clinic in Jorpati with Debendra after lunch.

In the afternoon we all went to the far Thursday market, accompanied by Nakul. We tried some aloo chop, a bold move because it was street food of questionable quality, but Birat made sure they took the little pancakes right from the oil and put them on a fresh piece of paper instead of the greasy sheet they’d been using all day. Miraculously, everybody who tried it was fine! On our way back, Nakul showed us his family’s rice field and we ran into our drunkard friend from a previous trip to the Sunday market. The best moment was when Ellen saw him and let out an exasperated, “Oh, come on!” He managed to follow us pretty far given the condition he was in. We also tried these very small, tart berries that Emma dubbed gin berries because they taste exactly like gin (don’t ask me how I know).

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Personal space!

6/26

Today was a sleepy day and I chose to stay back and help cook instead of going for outreach, but Laxmi decided she wanted to go today so she left me in charge of preparing the vegetables. After she left, I realized that it was the first time since my trip started that I was completely alone without anyone else in the building. I’m a homebody, and I really value personal space and privacy which are luxuries we rarely get here. I took advantage of the peace and quiet to start a new book, the first of the Song of Ice and Fire series, so I could really get into the book and not be interrupted every 5 minutes. While I really enjoy the company of everyone at the clinic, it was really refreshing to be alone, if only for an hour.

The smells of Bhaunne are pungent

6/25

My journal indicates that not much happened today and I was probably in an irritable mood, since all I wrote was “can smell incense or toilet from balcony.” I think I meant that there are a wide range of smells here that can come from as close as downstairs (the toilet) or a neighbor’s house (the incense). However, after consulting my photo journal, a couple things happened today. We had mangoes for breakfast, and then Laxmi threaded everyone’s eyebrows! The mangoes were awesome, the threading not so much. I was surprised that while I didn’t enjoy it, I liked the process and results more than waxing or plucking. Laxmi also showed us how to do it so Liv, if you’re reading this – you’re going to be my first client!

I didn’t go to outreach today, choosing instead to stay at the clinic and help cook. Shisir came over in the afternoon to read, got bored after a few pages, and decided he wanted to take photos instead. His mom also came over just before it was time for him to leave and helped us peel the fuzzy, skin-irritating outer layer off the munta (pumpkin greens). The greens are really tasty so look up a recipe and scope our your local pumpkin patch/farmer’s market this fall!

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Tomato achar

6/24

This post is going to be a bit out of chronological order because tomato achar is awesome. It’s like Nepali salsa and it goes with EVERYTHING. Today Laxmi showed me how to make it: char a tomato over a fire (could also roast it in the oven), then mash up a paste of garlic, ginger, a whole chili, and a spoonful of salt on your big slab of rock using the accompanying mortar stone. Then you mush the tomato into the paste, work it all together for about a minute, then use your hand to gather it all up in the middle and quickly swipe it into a bowl. See? Easy! We had the achar with roti for a light dinner. The roti, however, are kind of time-consuming and tedious to make if you don’t do it often. After you leave it on the pan for a bit to dry out the dough, you have to take something like a kitchen towel and press it down over certain areas, turning constantly until the whole thing puffs up. If the roti doesn’t puff up, it’ll be crunchy which is still delicious but not as good a vessel for funneling tomato achar into your mouth…

I woke up at 6am today, later than the normal waking hour for most of Bhaunne, to claim the laundry buckets before anyone else started using them. When you only have one pair of clean underwear left and no clean bras because you’ve been wearing the same four bras all week, these are the kinds of things you have to do. I started soaking my clothes and decided to shower after because between the wash and the humidity, I was already sweaty. It turns out that showering in the morning left me feeling fresh all day! For breakfast, we had chiya and these awful pineapple cream biscuits that Laxmi keeps buying for us. Ashley doesn’t like them much so she’s been stockpiling them in our room just in case she gets really hungry one day, and Emma opens the sandwich up and eats the half without the bright yellow, toxic pineapple filling because she hates them so much. We had a really nice treat for lunch, Laxmi made us egg curry! We rarely have eggs so it was exciting to have something familiar but different.

After lunch, Birat and Laxmi went to Itahari; I was going to go with them but I wanted to get my laundry hung up to dry before it got too late in the afternoon. I’m glad I didn’t go because a kid from one of the local schools came in with an abscess in his knee from a cut that didn’t heal well. His knee was the size of a tennis ball and so painful that he winced and flinched every time Alaka touched it. Alaka decided to drain the abscess and force all the fluid out of the knee area, so she had to take the tip of a syringe to open it up then force out the goo. It was seriously gross so take caution when looking at the photos if you’re squeamish! When he left, we went through the cabinets and reorganized everything, discarding the expired medications and non-sterile equipment.

Next a patient came it with some nasty scrapes from a motorbike accident, followed by a grandpa and grandpa who had just rushed their new grandson from the hospital with an IV still in his arm. The baby was supposed to receive antibiotics twice daily but the family couldn’t keep him at the hospital so they brought him home. The problem with antibiotics is that they are really hard on veins, and the problem with putting an IV in a baby is that babies move a lot and the cannula can be dislodged easily. Emma and Ellen both tried to place a new cannula but it didn’t work, so they planned to visit the baby’s house when Birat got back so he could try.

We had a snack of mangoes, I hung my laundry up, and enjoyed the cold juice I had stashed in the fridge because we had consistent power and I figured I might as well take advantage of it! Birat and Laxmi came back bearing gifts of rasmalai and potato chips from a nice bakery in Itahari. Rasmalai is little balls of cream cheese that is textured kind of like dough, soaked in a sweet milk mixture with pistachios. It was really unusual at first, but by the end everyone was scraping the bottom of the little clay pots it came in. Because of our big lunch and early evening snack, we decided on the light dinner or roti and tomato achar.

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