Lydia Cattell - Physical Therapy in Nepal
“What now?”…was the question I was asking myself having just qualified as a physical therapist from University. I was restless to find something different to do before joining the rat race especially because of how the job situation stood at the time. It took me a while to work out what that something should be though. I wanted to combine travel with something worthwhile, something I felt I could do to help make a difference. And I also really wanted to ride an elephant…
Nepal was an easy choice in the end. It was an obscure enough place, I’d never planned to go to and promised the cultural differences I was looking for and the experiences I was after.
First thoughts of Nepal
However the first night I was there I was wondering “What have I done?! I can’t spend six weeks here!” The drive just from the airport to Thamel had really hammered home the fact that Nepal is a third world country. The roads were crowded, the streets were dirty and the driving was mental! Not to mention the cow in the middle of the road everyone was trying to avoid!
I’m not fussed by change and I can handle a bit of dirt but I was wishing that I hadn’t come out on my own after all and the prospect of six lonely weeks in a strange new country scared me. However, the next day I met two other volunteers who had also just arrived and we spent our first day sightseeing around Kathmandu and walking up to the Monkey Temple. After that I didn’t feel so alone anymore and was so excited for getting out to my placement and meeting more people.
Meeting my host family and the other volunteers
I was placed in Banepa working in a rehabilitation hospital for disabled children. It was conveniently placed on top of a huge hill! My host father, Damu, was the most friendly and cheerful man I’ve ever met! He was always free for a chat or advice and always smiling. In the evenings it was nice to spend time with him and the other volunteers just learning about each other. His wife had just had a baby and so was staying with her parents but he took us to meet them and on some more sightseeing trips around Banepa.
I was staying with several other volunteers and immediately became friends with them. It was amazing meeting all the other volunteers from so many different countries. It was such a special opportunity to spend time with people from even more different cultures over in Nepal looking for the same experiences I was, and without a doubt, without them my time in Nepal wouldn’t have been so fulfilling and fun.
Working at the hospital
At the hospital I was able to spend time with the doctors in the outpatient clinic. They were always willing to teach and explain as they went along. It was such a different atmosphere to back home. There’s a lot less interest in patients’ privacy and there were just so many children and their families, the majority of which had trekked up the hill and from across the country to get to the hospital.
The physical therapists I had the pleasure to meet and work with there were amazing and equally keen to teach us and learn from us. The same familiar treatments of exercise and gait re-education were a huge part of my day, though with a few differences such as the bamboo walking frames! The children were inspirational. I saw many different conditions and deformities that aren’t so common in England.
The children were vigilant at doing their exercises and almost all that I met were so smiley and welcoming despite whatever they were in hospital for. They loved just to chat with us and play games, or hear about our countries. I was so impressed with some of the older kids’ English and they patiently tried to teach us some Nepali!
The poverty of the country and its people was evident almost everywhere I looked. From the places they lived, the clothes they wore, the food they ate. Not the mention the infrequent hot water and the sporadic electricity which we learnt to love…! But the people I met were always so friendly and happy. It was such a humbling experience to be welcomed in such a way by these people who had so little.
Not all work and no play…
The country itself was beautiful. I was so lucky I got to do my touristy traveling bit at the weekends. I went to Chitwan National Park where I got to and we saw crocodiles and a rhino. Pokhara was a beautiful place to visit too for several days and relax in. I did paragliding there and the views were sensational. We got up for sunrise one morning and the views of the mountains were absolutely breathtaking, definitely worth the early morning!
We also took a trip to the Tibet border where we went white water rafting and canyoning and some of my crazy brave new friends went bungee jumping. Other weekends were spent relaxing and socializing in Thamel with the other volunteers and a whole lot of souvenir shopping!
I’m so glad I took the opportunity to go to Nepal. I’ve met some amazing people and had some fantastic experiences. Nepal is such a beautiful and welcoming country and it really opened my eyes to a whole different world. It’s a trip I’ll never forget.