Wednesday, May 2, 2012
The “men” just left for Pokhara this morning, to renew our visas. I have stayed behind to do some work and to recover from my recent diarrheal illness. Now, it seems, I have some time for writing…
My eldest son says that I have been comparing everything to The Hunger Games (a book by Suzanne Collins). I’m not sure that is true, but I have come to realize something as we have been reading David Watters’ book At the Foot of the Snows. The condition of humans (one subset cruelly using their power over a majority of others) is not some futuristic possibility. It is real history in this world; it is real history in Nepal. Read both books, and see if you don’t find some of Nepal’s former leaders somewhat like President Snow. Read both books and see if you don’t find Nepal's police force not unlike the “Peacekeepers.” Okay, there have not been any “Hunger Games” in Nepal, but I understand in Rome, at one time, Christians were fed to the lions for sport. Ladies and gentlemen, one of these books is fiction; the other is non-fiction. The real triumph in the non-fiction version is the ability of the oppressed to stand their rightful ground and to respectfully love those who persecuted them. I know only one way for this to happen; they must have been following a Leader, a Master, who also loved those who persecuted Him. There is no greater story on earth, and if you are reading this, it is likely that you could read this great story; it’s called the Bible. I challenge you to read all three: The Hunger Games, At the Foot of the Snows, and the Bible. If you accept my challenge, please write me and tell me your impressions.
I have been working on the Pediatric Ward lately (which I really like doing). Still, it is the place of heartbreak for me. There had been a twin on our ward for about two weeks. He was delivered at home, along with his other twin who did not make it. He was brought to the hospital a few days later for “not sucking at the breast.” He was a little cold and weighed just over 3.5 pounds. He was not sick, just a little shell-shocked at coming out too early. We placed a small tube from his mouth to his stomach and began feeding him his mom’s expressed breast milk. We also started “kangaroo care” which entails binding the naked baby to the mom’s bare chest, so that by skin-to-skin contact, he could be kept warm. This technique is very simple, very effective, and keeps us from depending upon electricity and faulty incubators to keep newborns warm. So, for some unclear reason, this little guy was taking his time figuring out how to grow. This did not worry the doctors at all; he just needed a tincture of time to get the hang of the eating and growing rhythm. The mom was attended by the mother-in-law who seemed loving and supportive in the journey they were on (sometimes she was the mama “kangaroo”). On this little guy’s nineteenth day of life, the dad came in and declared that it was time to give up on this little guy; the husband needed his wife at home to care for their two other children. After many attempts to talk him into “a little more time,” the father got his way and we watched them all leave, quite sure that this little guy would not survive the trip home (Have you seen our video on Nepali roads?). For lack of support, for lack of patience, and who knows what else, another sweet little soul leaves this earth (I believe). We had two deaths on the Pediatric Ward last week: one from encephalitis, one from pneumonia. We did everything we could to save their lives; it wasn’t enough. So, we hurt and mourn with their mothers and fathers. Finally, I have always thought that malnutrition was not such a big deal in Nepal; you know, not like those kids with bloated bellies that you see in Africa. Now, as I watch so many kids struggle for life against many illnesses that my children survive in the comforts of our home, I am beginning to understand the toll of malnutrition. The more I think of it, the more I understand. How many of you would thrive on two meals a day (one at 11am and the other at 8pm), always the same food (rice, lentils and vegetables). It is not that other items are unavailable, and it is not that other foods are terribly expensive (although some might be); the bottom line: culture is very resistant to change. So many kids who start life this way simply lose the desire to eat, after enduring many days of hunger between 11am and 8pm. What to do?
Contrary to my sons’ occasional accusations, “He did it for no reason,” people usually have underlying reasons for their behavior. And discerning that reason is a skill that can be learned in the discipline of anthropology (Dave, are you smiling now?). So, for years I have observed Nepalis who wear shoes with laces and choose to wind the final bit of lace around their ankles and make the tie behind the Achilles tendon. This has always looked terribly uncomfortable to me and I have often wondered why they do it. I have asked and often been told, “That’s how we do it.” The other day, I was chatting with a Nepali medical Resident and he enlightened me. He said that when he was little, and his parents would buy him shoes for school, they would buy them quite large, so that they would last a long time (shoes being an expensive investment). The trouble came when he went outside to play, while at school; he loved to play soccer, as many Nepali boys do, but when he made a big kick, his shoe often went flying as far as the ball did. This could be troublesome; the punishment could be severe if a boy returned home from school without a shoe. So, he learned to secure the shoes to his body by the above-described tying style. Over time, that is what felt comfortable to him, and to this day, he ties his shoes behind his Achilles tendon. Anthropology offers a lifetime of potential learning.
Thanks for listening,