As I arrived at Kathmandu Airport, I couldn’t help but wonder — if the airport was already this chaotic and loud, what would Kathmandu City be like?
I had only been in Kathmandu for three hours, but my new roommates and I visited to Pashupatinath temple, just outside of Kathmandu.
It was overwhelming, at first, seeing so many people from a different culture who believed in a religion I knew little of.
At Pashupatinath, near the holy river, I saw my first Hindu cremation.
I remember thinking that the attendees didn’t seem unhappy. And it occurred to me that in the western world we’re raised to fear death.
The people preparing the cremation near the river seemed almost in celebration. The Hindu belief is that the dead loved are reincarnated.
I knew at that moment, I would learn a lot during my stay in Kathmandu.
We travelled back to the Work the World house, and the catering team had prepared us a lovely welcome dinner. My roommates, the staff and I spent time getting to know each other a little better.
The next morning, a member of the team showed us around Kathmandu. She showed us where to find the shops we’d need, and where to go out for drinks or food. We visited some sacred sites and tried local cuisine too.
I got the feeling I was really going to like Kathmandu.
The reason I travelled to Nepal was because I wanted to have my eyes opened to its culture. I wanted to experience the authenticity of local people I’d heard so much about, and to experience life in a mountain village. But more on the latter, later.
And my eyes really were opened. I was immediately taken in by the local way of life — the drive to work hard all day everyday.
When I got to Kathmandu, I had just received my medical degree and was in the middle of travelling through Asia.
I had relatively little experience alongside doctors, and had seen very few patients, let alone experiencing Nepal’s healthcare system. But I was determined to gain experience by throwing myself into the experience.
I jumped in from the very beginning.
Work the World prepared me well with MyTrip — their online placement planner — and all the information they gave me during calls before my trip.
This meant I knew that the healthcare system was seriously lacking.
So, before travelling, I decided to sell some things from my wardrobe in an event with all my friends. I wanted to raise some extra money for something (or someone) who needed it more than me.
I did not know at the time that I’d collected roughly one third of the average salary of a Nepalese citizen.
As the first days passed by, and Kathmandu started to feel a lot more like home, I got to know the hospital staff.
I was in OBG for two weeks, rotating with my appointed team from the delivery room, to operating theatre, to the OPD.
I got to witness lots and lots of births there, and saw hundreds of patients coming into the OPD in the space of only a few hours.
I was in Emergency for the second two weeks, and I saw all sorts of cases.
One in particular sticks with me. A husband arrived at the hospital in a taxi with his wife in the back. She wasn’t breathing.
As she was being signed in, the doctors performed an ECG. We all could see was pale and how limp her body was. A minute later one of the doctors told the husband that his wife had died.
I hadn’t seen anyone cry in this hospital before this, and the husband’s emotional response hit me hard.
I had learned at Pashupatinath Temple that death was something Nepali people acknowledged as part of life.
I had been blindsided by loved ones exhibiting stoicism when their family members were injured or dying.
Another thing that struck me was the way doctors and patients interacted with one other.
The western world — especially the Netherlands — is known for mutuality in doctor-patient relationships.
In Nepal things are different.
The doctors are the authority, and because they are well educated, every patient trusts their doctor immediately.
Patients don’t argue their doctor’s decisions and there’s no such thing as informed consent.
This difference in culture and approach to care made quite the impression on me. It taught me great patience and to be more open-minded towards different ways of life.
I learnt to withhold judgement, letting go of preconceived ideas before forming an opinion.
I’ve also learned to be more assertive. This came from walking around the hospital, asking other doctors from my department whether I could be of help, or if they could teach me something.
These skills I gained from my time in the hospital, I used to my advantage during my Village Healthcare Experience.
During the week I spent in the village, I got to do so much — I felt the people of the village really trusted me.
I was invited into their homes, went to a wedding of a couple living in the village, and was asked to speak at an event on International Women’s Day.
The way Nepali people live in the Himalayan mountains is not something you’ve seen before.
That’s when I decided what to do with the money I’d raised. I wanted the people of the village to benefit from what I’d collected.
Together with my guide, I made a shopping list for when I got back to Kathmandu. A few weeks later I received photos from the doctors using the equipment I’d bought. I couldn’t have been happier.
The Work the World house was in Kathmandu valley, just a 15 minute walk from our placement hospital, and a 10-minute taxi ride to Thamel — the centre of Kathmandu.
I had lots of great food (and gained an extra kilo) thanks to the house catering team. We had dinner at the house every night, and never missed the weekly BBQ-night.
We had lots of fun outside of the house too. We texted each other during hospital hours to arrange to meet for lunch together. We had Tibetan dumplings called ‘momos’ nearly every day.
After dinner we’d go for drinks in Thamel, or out to local pubs and clubs.
At the weekends, we sought adventure. We hiked trails just outside Kathmandu Valley and spent long weekends in Pokhara.
But the most exciting trip was a visit to Chitwan National Park in the South of Nepal.
We arrived after an eight-hour bus ride, and were welcomed into a beautiful resort next to the river.
The river was the border of the national park, and at sunset, deer came out of the jungle to drink from it.
We saw hippo and crocodiles in the water next to them.
I’d never seen nature like this, and it was such a surreal thing to watch. We watched them all night.
We even saw a hippo pass by our bedroom in the middle of the night.
Early the next morning, we went on a bird walk, rode canoes on the river, visited a crocodile breach center, went on a safari to spot Nepal’s Big 5. We also visited the local people in their village, and watched some local people perform a traditional Nepali dance.
And so my time with Work the World came to an end. But my time in Nepal was far from up.
As I was travelling Asia without plans, I didn’t know what my next move was going to be.
Little did I know that in a few weeks, I would take on the challenge of hiking to the Everest Base Camp, tackling Chola Pass on the way.
I loved every minute of my time in Kathmandu.
Seeing things for the first time — like a child being born — are moments nobody can take away from you.
Overcome your fears, and keep your mind open to everything in front of you.
Take every chance you get — my Work the World experience in Kathmandu was that chance for me.
My eyes are open, and I learned uncountable lessons. I will cherish my stay in Kathmandu for the rest of my life.