On Tansen, Trekking and Telephones

Several days ago I returned from a week-long visit to Tansen, the town where I’ll be living and working come December 5. It was wonderful (and surreal) to be there, finally seeing in person the place I have thought about so much over the past few years. We were greeted by a sign above the hospital gate that reads “We Serve, Jesus Heals.” It was completely unnerving to realize that in one month’s time, I will need to walk through that gate knowing enough Nepali (and medicine!) to being seeing patients…! I’m feeling pretty nervous about it. They see a high volume of patients, many with diseases I’ve never treated – entirely in Nepali. It’s one thing to know about those challenges cognitively, but they hit at a whole new level when you actually experience that intense reality in person. Yet I have to trust that in calling me here, God will also equip me to fulfill this task faithfully. It helps to know that everyone once began where I am now – and no one yet, it seems, has had to give up because the language was too tough to master. (That said, my language study, already fairly intense, has renewed in earnest!)

Before our group’s Tansen visit, I spent a week trekking with some friends in the Helambu region north of Kathmandu. Perhaps I’m bad luck when it comes to good views of these gleaming, snow-capped peaks, but (yet again) it rained steadily the entire week. But really, what beats putting your cold…soggy…smelly…hiking gear back on, morning after morning? The pictures below are from our last day, when we enjoyed (reasonably) good weather before catching a public bus back to Kathmandu. That bus trip was an adventure in itself. Imagine five hours with just enough legroom to crunch your knees into the metal-framed seat in front of you; then crush into the isle enough humans to fill a small banquet hall. At one point I had someone’s crying infant in my arms, a nauseated seven year old in my lap, and four women leaning over my seat as they sought air from a nearby window. After that, Greyhound feels like a luxury. (If you’ve ever seen photos of public transit in this region, like the one below, you can begin to imagine the experience.)

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In anticipation of the country’s upcoming elections, a ten-day nationwide strike began today, and will continue intermittently until next Tuesday. This means that most vehicles are prohibited on the roads, all shops are to remain closed, and there’s been an increase in the armed-police presence on the streets. The rationale behind all these measures is way beyond me, but has something to do with certain political parties seeking to have their interests heard. Daily life has gone on per usual, though, and I stocked up on a little extra food over the weekend. Please do keep Nepal in your prayers — that during this time of political unrest peace would reign, her people would be kept safe, and godly wisdom be given to our leaders and elected officials.

And now a random note on cell phones:

Before coming here, I’d heard of SIM cards, but (believe it or not) had never actually seen one. The whole thing was a huge mystery to me. (Of course, thanks to a saavy marketing decision by Verizon, my iPhone 4 wouldn’t have allowed me to see one anyway…)  Happily, both a SIM card and the mobile phone in which to put it were readily available — and cheap (50 cents and $14.99, respectively). To actually purchase one, though, involves a surprising number of hurdles. In case you’re ever in the market yourself, be aware that you’ll need to provide:

–       a passport-size photo
–       your passport
–       a photocopy of your passport
–       both thumb prints
–       your grandfather’s name

Despite the effort involved, however, cell phones are widely used here. This statistic is rather telling: In 2011, more people had their own mobile 
phone (65%) than their own toilet (62%).  That seems to sum up this juxtaposition of worlds  —  developed and still-developing  —  pretty well. But the best part is I can call the States for a mere 2 cents per minute!  (The only thing better is Skype, which is free.)  What a different world this is from the one encountered by Nepal’s first missionaries after its borders opened a half-century ago…

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