Thursday, March 27, 2014

Day 13: The Way Home

Today our team continued to do the clinic while the kids and I held down the fort to keep anything from mysteriously walking away. I now know what a zoo animal must feel like, eyes peering over the wall at you all day and analyzing your every move. Pure curiosity about these strange white people who brought their children to this place where none have been in probably 30 years. We did have some laughs though. First, the curious onlookers kept trying to communicate the few English words they knew to me, as they don't speak the national language that I can understand. They kept saying something that sounded like, "Ice!," then smiling and running away. No idea what they were actually trying to communicate, but it provided some comic relief to the whole zoo situation.

Second, we ran out of water this morning, and since the team along with our mule and horse guys were all away, I locked the kids in our "upper room" and went to the river myself to get the water. It was all of about 5 minutes, grandparents. As I carefully maneuvered across rocks into the river, I bent down to hold the jug in the water when I noticed an enormous yak in the water, about 30 feet in front of me. He looked straight into my eyes and grunted a bunch of times. He would not break eye contact so I froze. I thought, "If I just stand here very still, I won't get stampeded by a yak who is freaked out by a white lady." He continued to grunt as I played statue for what seemed like an eternity before he lost interest and moved on without goring me. Whew!

On a more sombre note, the horse guy told me today, "I don't want to go back the way we came. It's too dangerous. Big people get hurt this way so we can't take your kids there again." Knowing that is our planned exit route did not give me much confidence in the safety of our return.

Day 12: Where Am I?

Just to prepare you, the posts from these days are not the most pleasant. It was one of the hardest places I had ever been in, especially as we continued to get hammered with rain and sleet off and on.

Today I walked with the team to the location of the clinic. The people are wonderful, appearing somewhat rough, but actually very kind. In the full sunlight, I got to see more of what this village really looks like, and it's grim. The school did not receive foreign sponsorship for the year so it has been closed. You can see here first hand what good a school can do and what harm its absence can do. The children are so dirty, and I'm not saying that in a judgmental way. If you could hear me, you would hear the voice of a mom who wants to hug those little babies and clean them up so they'll not get sick, not one who is judging them. When the focus is survival here, things like brushing hair and teeth or washing hands are just not on the list of priorities. As previously mentioned, the few toilets here let straight down into the roaring river below. Everyone else just uses the bathroom wherever they see fit. Trash is everywhere. When you walk down the narrow lanes, you walk through a mixture of animal waste (to be expected in the presence of massive herds), animal parts like legs, ripped cloth, random old shoes, thousands of empty drink cans, etc. There is very little actual mud under the road to be seen through all this stuff on top. I have never seen anything like it.

Day 11: A Fresh Start

We woke up today feeling refreshed after having spent our first night inside. Top that off with some sunshine this morning, and we are feeling great. Today we will not start any activities for the clinic, which means we got to do laundry in the river, and have a somewhat relaxing day. We've washed some clothes along the way, but we were in need of some clean clothes and sunshine lest we have no more socks. Yes, this is the same river that people slaughter animals in, drop waste from the few outhouses there are, and get their drinking water, but it was freezing and fast flowing so it did the trick. It also cost me my favorite sock liner as the water was just too fast to get it back. Ugh! After a morning of freshening up and having enough sun to just about dry everything, the clouds rolled in...again, and sprinkles of rain came. From this village, you can see bad, snowy weather in the mountains all around. This does not bode well for our further travel. Top it all off with the case of the missing thermal shirt...yes, the kind that you need to stay warm during a trip like this, and yes, the kind I only brought 2 of. I just keep trying to tell myself whoever took it needs it more than I do.

This was my headquarters in this village. The kids and I usually hung out in this dungeon, AKA camp kitchen, during the clinic hours. It was warm and protected from the wind, a perfect place to enjoy some flat bread with peanut butter and a cup of tea.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

True Roughing It

Before you think this post is about how much "roughing it" we've done, stop that train of thought because it's not. Now, admittedly the trip we made and that P.J. makes multiple times a year is not for the faint of heart. It is crazy hard in a way I could never comprehend before doing it. But these are some of the things we have access to that make a trip survivable:
  • Down sleeping bags rated for -18 degree temperatures
  • A four seasons tent that is warmer inside than outside
  • Sleeping pads that insulate our bodies from the cold ground
  • High quality thermal under layers
  • Warm wool socks
  • Quality waterproof hiking boots
  • Comfortable backpacks
  • Water bottles
  • Camp stove and light food
You get the picture, right? It is physically demanding and cold, but we have good equipment. Let me introduce you to this couple.

They made the same trip we did. We met them on the way down from the second pass. As I staggered on my way down from the dizzying height, I was amazed at how this elderly couple was moving as fast as they were. They camped at the same camp as we did and went on the next day to the same village we did, even waiting for us so they would know the way in the dark. Only here's the thing. They did not have a tent, sleeping bags, or sleeping pads. They did not have a shelter. Period. They did not have state of the art warming clothing or shoes. They had everyday clothing. Honestly, I have no idea how they survived what we had come through. Their clothes smelled of smoke and wetness, and the woman had an awful cough that our doctor said was likely tuberculosis. I think someone at the camp lent them a teapot so they could have warm drinks, especially after having slept outdoors on a night that turned out to drop snow. 

That first village felt like a real treat to me after 6 days, but to them, I would imagine it was like having found gold.

Day 10: The Big Push

When we woke the morning after crossing the passes, the camp had a nice dusting of snow. Absolutely breathtaking, but as you might imagine, frigid because you can't really escape anywhere to get away from the cold. It was an interesting camp though, a gathering place where many locals camp on their way to and from villages, a place with large stone corrals for holding herds of animals that pass through. Our partner was excited as we had finally begun to see the faces of the people we were coming to see. As the warm sun came out and we set off, we were told the journey would be about 4 hours to our first indoor destination--well for us, maybe 6, they said. Our guides had been there before, but their recollection of how long it would actually take turned out to be pretty fuzzy.

The last few hours of the walk, we walked in cold, wet, freezing rain. When we reached a field of grazing yaks, our guides confidently told us, "It's just another 30 minutes. We can make it by dinner." The doctor with us, by that point, was having a day much like many of mine: too little strength and too much discouragement. We convinced her that rather than setting up camp in the rain again, we should just make this last 30 minute push to the village. I have never walked so quickly uphill in all my life! An hour and a half into the "30 minute" walk, it started to get quite dark so I hung behind to make sure our doctor was not left alone walking in the dark. Piles of mani stones along the trail made it clear that we were getting close to people. Although it was a terribly rainy, cold walk, we finally entered our first village after 6 solid days of walking.

What a delight to be indoors though the rain poured outside, to have a warm fire to sit around, surrounded by warm friendly faces. A simple dinner of butter tea, potatoes, lentils, and rice never tasted so good. A few brave souls around the fire even cracked into some pickled chicken feet to celebrate! On top of that, we got to sleep inside a building that night. Yes, on the floor as usual, but so nice to be indoors and to have a toilet with a door, even if it was just a squatty.