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Monday, January 30, 2012

Thimphu Hospital and Angels

A couple of days ago three of our teachers got sick.  Reidi and Sara were vomiting for a whole day and Tim had a bad case of travelers’ diarrhea.  When I came back from a long hike, I was shocked to find that Reidi was in worse shape than I had previously left her.  I was really worried about her because she was moaning in pain from her stomach, crunched in a ball and dry heaving.  She could barely walk and I feared that she needed medical care.  So I called our coordinators to get advice for taking them to the emergency room in Thimphu.  Shortly after my phone call, our coordinator called the hotel owner to take them to the hospital nearby.  Terra, Ashley and I volunteered to go with them to make sure everything was going to be ok.  I have to admit that I was on the edge going to a location where a bunch of sick people were gathered and could easily spread their illnesses to me, but I wanted to go for support.  I would also hope that someone would do the same for me if I were ill.  Good Karma!

As we arrived outside the hospital, the first thing I saw were two men trying to lift an unconscious, fragile male onto another man’s back to carry him into the hospital.  His body was like a noodle and his neck couldn’t support his floppy head.  My first thought was I wonder if he has bird flu because we were very close to a bird flu infected area, which I had been in earlier that day (that’s another blog).  The sight of the limp man struck an awful feeling in my stomach that stayed with me for hours.  

Once we were in the hospital, the staff immediately took the three sick teachers in a small room to record their symptoms and write them prescriptions.  I felt like we were going to be well taken care of.  Terra went in the room with them while Ashley and I stayed in a cold, metal, dingy waiting room.  I was glad that Terra went because she had a motherly warm aura around her that was very calming to be around.  I felt as though she held the group together in a cohesive way.  The hospital had an eerie feel and I was out of my comfort zone.  I could see how awful Reidi looked through the cracked open door and I felt horrible for her because I knew that she wanted her family.

Anybody who knows me well knows that I am a very empathetic person and sometimes too sensitive where my heart swells with compassion for those who are in discomfort physically, mentally or emotionally.  As a child, I would cry when others were in pain and as an adult it still hurts me to hear of others misfortunes.  Sometimes I can even feel the emotions of others.  A spiritual teacher once told me that I want to heal everyone as well as the world and not to exhaust myself trying, which caused me to change the way I offer healing.   When I perceive someone in discomfort, I say a silent prayer for them as well as send them my angels.  Thus, going to a hospital in a less innovative country than the U.S. for the first time was emotionally difficult for me and sparked a series of prayers.

As a result, I started to feel a little ball in my throat and began to tear up in the waiting room.  Ashley told me to STOP as well as gave me this look like “hell nooo, don’t you dare start crying on me”.  So I took a few deep breaths and said to myself that crying would make it worse and the only thing that I could do is offer a healing prayer.  I prayed silently to myself so no one could tell that I was praying, not even Ashley.  I said something along the lines… “Dear God, please send my beautiful healing angels to heal Reidi, Sara and Tim.  Please surround them with white healing light.  Let them be healthy, whole and at peace.  Take away all their pains and protect them…” Then when I looked up, I saw that the line of sick people was growing and I extended my prayer to everyone in the hospital and as far as it could reach throughout the country. 
I'm trying to tighten my scarf.

After the sick teachers got their symptoms recorded, it was time to get their vitals checked.  We all walked down a cold, white hallway and entered a room filled with about eight patients lying on simple hospital beds surrounded by their family members. Everyone stared at us foreigners entering and I felt very uncomfortable like I was suffocating.  Maybe it was my bounded beanie on my head or my scarf that was suffocating me since I had tightly strangled it around my nose and mouth trying to prevent getting an airborne illness.  Ashley also had her fleece yanked up over her mouth and nose.  We were the only two who were clearly paranoid and the doctor looked at me like “are you serious?”  And yes we were!   

Ashley's Mask
I was relieved when a nurse quickly took us into a bare room with no other patients.  It was outdated, maybe from the 60s or 70s.  The beds were small compared to the massive electric hospital beds in the states.  They had a tattered divider screen in the room that was older than my grandma (no offense grams, your wise and I love you).  The beds had green sheets on them, which were flared on the edges from overuse, stained and holey.  There was no medical equipment anywhere.  The walls were painted white, so I could see all the splattered blood stains.  One stain in particular haunted me.  Near one bed there was a large bloodstain the size of a grapefruit almost at the top of the wall and you could see where the blood had poured down all the way to the floor.  I kept wondering what caused this stain and if the owner of this stain was still alive.  I kept imagining some large organ landing on that wall and sticking as the blood slowly ran down like a waterfall in slow motion.  Ewe it was scary looking!  It seemed like everywhere you looked you could find some kind of body fluid that had been sprung out of a patient and crusted over as it dried.  So of course Ashley and I also had our hands jammed up our sweater sleeves so we couldn’t touch anything.  People were staring at us and even though I didn’t want to offend anyone, I left my homemade protective suit on because it felt comforting with just my eyes peering out.
Mother Theresa AKA Me

As I stood next to Reidi’s bed, a cute little boy around the age of eight was leaning in our doorway looking at me probably because I looked ridiculous.  I will never forget his face, especially his somber eyes.  His clothes were covered in filth and his face was dirty too.  I don’t think that his clothes had been washed in months.  As we looked into each others eyes, I could sense that his thoughts where in a vortex of worry for someone dear to him.  I wanted to comfort him as well as bathe him.  I later saw him pacing back and forth around the hospital.  Finally, the most touching moment came when I witnessed him assisting his extremely elderly grandpa out of the hospital, which I believe this is who he was in distress over.  Although the boy was tiny, he wanted so desperately to help his grandpa walk.  His grandpa was as stiff as a board and the boy was reaching up with fully extended arms to support his grandpa’s rigid body as they literally inched their way out.  It made me feel so grateful to be limber and “young” at this moment.  Not surprisingly, I once again turned into Mother Theresa minus the protective suit…”Dear God bless these two…”  
Can you see some bodily fluid?

Furthermore, Reidi was offered an injection to stop her vomiting, but she refused it.  The good thing about the hospital was that we were given immediate care, got prescriptions fairly quickly, got free treatment by being in the country and we weren't bombarded with paperwork or insurance nonsense like in the states.  Reidi and Tim were cleared to leave.  Unfortunately, Sara needed a couple of IVs and had to stay longer.  I’m happy to say that shortly after we left the hospital, our three teachers got better.  I like to think that the angels assisted them along with the medication 
Reidi not vomiting...


I felt a huge relief to leave the hospital  and I couldn’t wait to return to the hotel to scrub down.  When I got to the hotel, I took out my Lysol and cleaned everywhere I thought that Reidi might have touched since we share a room for now.  Ha!  This experience made me think about how fortunate we are in the states to have sterile hospitals filled with massive volumes of innovation.  As Reidi and I went to sleep in our side by side twin beds, I thanked her for letting me go with her to the hospital and sharing this experience with me because it broaden my perspective of the world.  She laughed that I thanked her and insisted on apologizing, but I was serious about the gratitude.  Even if we don’t have the best health care system in America, our hospitals look vastly different from the one in Thimphu and that makes me a little sad.  I want the Bhutanese to have what we have and not have to go to India for better healthcare, which I “had” to buy health insurance to cover me in India in case I need a major operation while in Bhutan.

Overall, in one instant I have a new respect for technology, laws, standards, and the basic cleanliness/sterilization for the hospitals in the U.S.  I don’t know how to express it anymore other then we are dam lucky for innovative medical technology in the world.  My dad and Oprah have said that we are lucky to live in the states for all kinds of reasons and now I saw first hand one of the reasons why.  I know that one day Bhutan hospitals will also have up to date technology readily available to all their patients and that it’s only a matter of time.  Everyone deserves to be healthy and have cutting edge medical treatment.  The Bhutanese are intelligent, driven and caring people, especially for the welfare of others.  They already have started the foundation for a great healthcare system: every Bhutanese citizen gets free healthcare unlike those in America.  I hope to return to this blog in several years and update it with pleasant news about an innovative hospital in Thimphu.  Until then please say a prayer for those in need in the Thimphu hospital, the stiff grandpa of the sad eyed boy, and don’t forget to extend your prayer around the world…

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Friday, January 27, 2012

Gangster Dogs of Bhutan

They own the sidewalks

I have been waiting to write this particular blog since the moment I got here.  Before I begin, I have to say that I absolutely love dogs as well as all animals and have grown up with dogs my entire life.  However, I am terrified of these mangy, scroungy, flea infested, rabies, street dogs that roam everywhere.  When I say everywhere, I mean every ten feet.  Instead of homeless people in the capital, they have homeless dogs.  For the most part they just chill and lay down where they please or toddle in out of traffic/crowds, but there are a few gangster dogs here, which I will explain.  

My first observation of the dogs was when Reidi, Ashley and I went for a walk and one dog joined us until he came to another dog’s territory and was chased away.  The dogs will go crazy if another dog even looks like he is thinking of crossing a boarder line that is not his.  The dogs are very territorial of their block, which reminds me of gangsters in their hood.  I didn’t like the dog strolling with us on our walk because there is a chance that it might have rabies and who wants to be bitten?  My second experience occurred when I was outside eating toast and didn’t realize that there were five dogs sunbathing a few feet away.  They saw my toast and all jumped up at once toward me.  I thought they were going to attack me for my toast, so out of pure panic I screamed and threw my toast at poor Reidi.  Oh my, it was so embarrassing to do this in front of several other teachers and I’m a horrible friend.  Fortunately, the dogs didn’t attack her as she caught my toast being thrown at her head without any warning.  She calmly hid it behind her back.  Luckily, Reidi likes these dogs and didn’t mind me throwing the toast at her.  Once I realized what I had done and that dogs were peaceful, I took my toast, put it in my jacket for later, and of course apologized to Reidi as well as had a good laugh at myself. 

Kujo II with his shoe moments before the incident
My latest incident with Bhutanese dogs was scary.  Four teachers and I went for a walk through the Chinese market and we met the head gangster dog of Thimphu.  I will call him Kujo II.  It all started when I saw a dog steal someone’s shoe and I thought it was cute.  So of course being the tourist we are, Simon and I took a picture of the dog with the shoe.  This was a huge mistake because apparently we didn’t have the dog’s permission to take his picture.  I think that the flash set his “rabies” off because as we walked away looking at our super cute picture, I heard a ferocious Kujo bark following us.  I turned around to see this mean pissed off dog telling us off.  Kujo the second started calling (barking) for his gangster brothers and I could see them one by one coming out of all these nooks and crannies in the street rushing to his aid.  Before I knew it, we had about six angry dogs circling us.  We continued walking trying to ignore them and I wouldn’t dare make eye contact with them for more than a second, but at one point we stopped because it was getting too intense.  Sara and I didn’t know what to do and we were filled with fear.  My heart was pounding like a drum and I was even starting to shake.  I thought about running into a near store, but I knew if I ran they might chase and bite me.  So I just tried to remain calm and I found my arms embracing myself.  Finally, Simon yelled at the dogs to go, but they don’t understand English, only Dzongkha so that didn’t work.  The leader of the pack, the head gangster Kujo came up to Sara’s leg and sniffed it.  I thought for sure her leg was a goner, but he just stood there aggressively barking at her as if he was daring her to make a run for it.   We slowly inched forward until we left their neighborhood.  Once we were out of their territory they let us go in peace and it took several minutes for my heart to stop pounding. 

Although I heard a few Bhutanese say shew to the dogs as they passed by, I was surprised that the locals didn’t help us more.  Instead most looked at us like “what did you guys do to these dogs to get them so riled up.”  If we couldn’t stand out enough already, having a mob of dogs chase you out of their neighborhood were a sight for sore eyes.  

The dogs also bark all night long and for some reason I find it comforting.  I think that it reminds me of my childhood boxer dogs or maybe even my dog, Frog.  However, I know those who disagree with me and want to scream, “SHUT-UP” at top of their lungs when the dogs wake them up at four in the morning.  Some people even wear earplugs to sleep because the dogs seem more active at night.  It sounds as though they form large packs at night running around looking for trouble.  It’s like there is a football team of stray dogs barking in sync.  I wouldn’t dare go out at night with a pack of alley dogs lurking around.

They sleep all day, bark all night
Bhutan is well aware of their problem with the overcrowding of dogs probably from complaining tourist like me.  They are trying to vaccinate and neuter/spay 50,000 dogs before 2013 to decrease the number of dogs in the future.  The stray dogs are not considered pets by the locals and are not petted.  I learned that they survive on handouts from the locals who seem to live with them in harmony.  The Bhutanese are Buddhist, so by nature they are against creating dog pounds for strays to be euthanized.  They had opened up a dog pound in 2009 for a short-term solution, but quickly closed it because they didn’t think it was humane.  They also believe that people can come back as an animal in their next life, so they treat them kindly and it’s good karma.  This is totally opposite in the states.  If you see a matted dog running loose, you call the dog pound asap especially if it’s aggressive. 

You have to walk around them
I asked one of our directors what should we do heaven forbid I find myself face to face with a Kujo dog and she said to pretend to throw rocks at them or actually throw a rock at them, which will scare them off.  So maybe they aren’t so gangster after all.  I can’t wait until the day comes when I feel like seeing dogs everywhere is normal.  I’m consciously trying to look at them in a different light like the Bhutanese and find that cute soft puppy side to them.  For now I’m just glad that I got my rabies vaccination because some of these dogs are straight up “gangster dogs.”

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Altitude Sickness, Jet Lag, and Diarrhea CHA CHA CHA

Trying to sleep on the plane
Picture of our first 12 hour destination to Seoul

Knowing I wouldn't see my family for a year made it extremely difficult to leave them.  The longest I have ever been away from them even while living in San Diego the last ten years was about three months.  I'm so close to them and love them dearly.  I cried as soon as we got out of the car at the SF airport and sporadically all the way to the check in counter.  As I said goodbye at the security check my face scrunched up like a prune and tears washed my cheeks.  I was a little embarrassed as strangers were staring at me, but I couldn't hold back the loud uncontrollable sniffles.  It was a very sad sight.  

After I got through security, I went to the bathroom and composed myself to meet Tim, the other Bhutan Canada Foundation (BCF) teacher.  Tim and I made our twelve-hour flight to Seoul and met 2 other American BCF teachers.  We had a three-hour lay over.  From Seoul we took a five-hour flight to Bangkok, which felt like an eternity.  Then we had a seven-hour lay over and met five other BCF teachers (three from Canada, one from Australia, and one from the UK).  Finally, we boarded our three-hour Drukair flight to Bhutan, but of course not without making a stop in India to pick up the prince and princess of Bhutan (the King’s brother).  As they boarded, a red carpet was rolled out for them.  It was awesome! 
Himalayan Moutains

I made it to Bhutan.  Hurray!
The flight into Bhutan was breathtaking and I will never forget it as long as I live.   There are only 8 pilots in the world who are certified to fly into Bhutan and it has one of the smallest runways. There are no nighttime flights because it is that dangerous to weave around 18,000 ft tall mountain peaks.  Looking out the window I was surprised at how close we were to these gigantic Himalayan Mountains and I could see every detail of the mountains.  They were right in your face and it felt surreal to swerve through them.  We even flew very close to the roofs of people’s houses on the side of the mountains and I got to film it all.  I was extremely nervous to get on the plane because I've heard people describe the plane ride as a terrifying roller coaster ride, but to me it felt like the plane was gently cradling us as it swayed back and forth.  We didn’t have any strong winds so maybe that’s why there were no passengers screaming and crying for their life.  Landing in Bhutan was one of the greatest moments of my life and I felt like I was adding another home to my list.  Reidi and I kept looking at each other like is this really happening and Tim kissed the ground.

However, the first and second day I had a small case of altitude sickness.  I had a massive headache and was extremely dizzy.  At one point I thought that I was going to fall over because it felt like I was on a ship at sea and the room was spinning a 100 mph.  I had to immediately sit down on the floor so I wouldn't fall flat on my face.  Reidi sat down on the floor with me and held my hands while we did some deep breathing, which helped a lot.  

I also got travelers diarrhea for one night lol.  I had rinsed my toothbrush out in the sink without thinking and used it later.  Whoops! I'm quickly trying to break that habit, but it's strongly ingrained.  I've done it 4 other times since then, so now I'm on my 5th toothbrush.  Jet lag is another problem for most of us.  I wake up at 3 or 4 every morning ready to start the day.  It's so annoying.  Despite all this I actually feel pretty good.  I'm happy to report that the altitude sickness and diarrhea are gone now.  Last night I got my first 7 hours of sleep in several days.  So I'm feeling golden.  Thank you to my body for adjusting!  Reidi said something really profound, "Your body isn't going to turn on you after it got you all the way here"... Yes in some weird way I believe that the universe/God or whatever you want to call it has been guiding me here and will continue to guide me in Bhutan.  I can't wait to see what is in store for me.
I don't know what all this is but Yum!

The food is amazing and is very similar to my favorite Indian restaurants in San Diego, but I am staying away from the chili.   BCF is spoiling us with three course meals and tea/cookie breaks everyday.  I actually think that I am getting a Buddha belly because I keep going back for seconds. 

Dragon Roots Hotel Dinning Room
Our hotel in Thimphu is nice for Bhutan with hardwood floors and marble stairways.  We have hot water, heaters, Internet, and American bathrooms.  They are even doing our laundry for us and the owner of the hotel is very hospitable.  Almost every Bhutanese that I have encountered here in the capital speaks great English and the people are friendly.  I am soaking it all in before I leave modernization and head east to my location next week.  I’m so worried about how I am going to cook for myself for the first time in my life since there are no restaurants or loved ones to feed me.  I only know how to make about a handful of meals, which are not available here.

Overlooking Thimphu
Overall, Thimphu is beautiful and magical.  Sometimes I feel like I'm in a dream, which I kind of am because it has been a dream of mine for the last two years.  I just can't believe that I am actually here and I was able to manifest it.  This gives me great strength and happiness, which I use to push myself forward with or without travelers diarrhea cha cha cha. 

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Goodbye and packing

My cousins came to say goodbye
Mom and I 
I had a great farewell party with my family.  My mom did an excellent job putting it together.  I only get to take 68lbs total for my last flight.  Packing was a bit of a nightmare because I couldn't fit all the "stuff" in my suitcases that I thought I needed.  Therefore, I had to leave a lot of products behind.  I just realized that I have never been without a clinique compact in the last 12 years, so of course I bought a few to take with me for the year.  Well I have a 20 hour journey ahead of me before I land in Bhutan. Wish me luck!

Way too much...