Thoughts on Tihar

The season has changed, the rains have stopped, and the views of the mountains have been spectacular.  The daytime temperatures in the sun are still quite warm, but the evenings are getting chilly.  Even though we miss the autumn season in Ohio, this season in Nepal is one of the nicest.

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During this time from the end of monsoon into this cooler season, there are multiple holidays celebrated by the followers of the Hindu religion.  The festival that just ended is called Tihar – also known as Deepawali.  We went out walking on the night of Laxmi Puja.  Laxmi is considered to be the goddess of wealth and prosperity.  On the evening/night of Laxmi puja (worship of Laxmi) everyone who wants to have more riches and prosperity lights the way into their home so that Laxmi will not pass them by.  People also make colorful designs in front of their homes and businesses and small footprints leading into the house so that Laxmi will feel welcomed and be able to find her way in to bless them.  There is much singing and dancing, and also eating of special kinds of treats made only at this time of year.

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As we walked through the streets brightly lit by the candles, sparklers, and lights, I was musing about the difference between Laxmi and Jesus.  Once a year, people here spend much time, money and energy preparing their homes for Laxmi puja.  Their goal – to gain the attention of this goddess, Laxmi,  in hopes of having a more prosperous and easy life.  “Notice me!  Make me rich!  Pay attention!”

On the other hand, we have a savior named Jesus who stands at the doors of our hearts – whether we have prepared, hung lights, or called to Him.  He comes searching for us – to give us the most precious gift of all – forgiveness of our sins because of His great love for us.  And an offer of a relationship with the God who created the universe, but who wants to be part of our lives.  Amazing!

Let’s notice Him!  And may our lives here continue to shine His light into the dark places of the world.

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Kriya (Ritual Hindu mourning)

We returned to Tansen on Sept. 29.  As we were on the bus that day, I got a text from Ganesh (my assistant and the guest house host) that his father was ill.  We met him that evening, and even though he was still feeling weak, he was planning to walk back down to his home in the village (with the help of his son and grandson.)  We were happy to see that he seemed better.  Ganesh’s dad had struggled for many years with alcoholism, and his body was starting to wear out.

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The next day, Ganesh left for a trip to India.  Before he returned, he was getting calls from his family urging him to hurry back as his father was more seriously ill.  The family finally hired a vehicle to bring his dad up to the hospital again and he was admitted with severe pneumonia.  This was on Tuesday – and Ganesh returned that evening from his trip.

Even though his father was quite ill, he seemed to rally after being in the hospital and being on oxygen and medication.  However, by the end of the week he had reached a plateau and didn’t seem to improve any further.

On Monday morning, Ganesh came to our door quite early and asked Les to come down to check on his father.  Within a few minutes, Ganesh was back at our door, asking me to come with him to the guest house so that he could show me where his keys and important information was located – because he knew that his father’s death was imminent.  He also knew that once his father died, he would not be able to return to his home or to work until the 13 days of required mourning was finished.

Ganesh’s dad died at 6:30 am on Monday, October 10.  He, along with his 2 younger brothers, were all there with their father.  One was crying softly, but it wasn’t until Les pulled the sheet up over his father’s face that Ganesh broke into loud sobs.

Things went quickly after that.  They found a jeep, and along with the body (wrapped in a sheet) and the rest of the family, they rode down to the village where Ganesh’s mom and older brother were waiting.  The other relatives and neighbors soon gathered, and they soon had a full bus, a jeep and about 20 motorcycles (all men) who traveled with Ganesh and his father’s body down to the river at Ramdi.  This is the Kali Gandaki River – which eventually flows into the Ganges River.  It is considered a holy place, and is where people take their loved ones for cremation.

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While there by the river, Ganesh and his 3 brothers all had to remove their regular clothes, and wrap in a long white cloth.  They also had their heads shaved – except for one tuft of hair which is left on the back of the head.  After that, the body was burned, and the ashes were thrown into the river.

For the next 12 days, Ganesh, his brothers, Ganesh’s mom, and the wives of Ganesh and his brothers, all have to observe what is called Kriya.  It is a time of mourning which is directed by the Hindu priests.  Because Ganesh and his family are Brahmin (high caste) the rules are often more strict.  Ganesh’s mom (the widow) has to remain isolated in the sense that no one is allowed to touch her.  She has to prepare her one meal a day on her own – after doing a ritual washing.  The meal can only consist of rice, ghee, cucumbers, white radish, lemon pieces or juice, and some sugar if desired.  No salt is allowed for the entire time of mourning.  This meal has to be cooked over an open fire.

We went to the village house on Wednesday to pay our respects.  The widow was by herself at her little place to cook.

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The 4 sons (Ganesh and brothers) were at their place to prepare their food.  They also were being directed to do a specific “puja” (worship) in order to help their father’s spirit get into heaven.  There is a priest who comes daily to the house in order to make sure all these things are followed properly.  Neighbors and more distant family members stay nearby to help – giving tea to guests, and doing the things needed to help the family in mourning.

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The 3 daughter in laws also have their own place to make their fire and cook their food.  They all have the same restrictions on what they can and cannot eat.

To our western eyes – this seems like a punishment for the family who are already mourning the loss of their husband and father.  Is there any purpose to following all these rather empty seeming rituals?

For me, the most difficult part of this to understand is the isolation.  If I had just lost my husband or my father, I would want to be able to touch the rest of my family – to both get and receive comfort.  Hugging isn’t a big part of the culture here, but even just giving someone a hand squeeze or shoulder pat would be helpful.

Even at the end of the 13 days, life will never be the same again for Ganesh’s mom.  She will never be able to wear any red clothes again – and wouldn’t be able to marry again, either.  Life for widows is quite hard in the Hindu religion.

One interesting note about how life is different in KTM from the rest of Nepal – even when it comes to Kriya.  Wealthy businessmen and govt officials in KTM have somehow arranged for their kriya to last only 13 hours instead of 13 days – they don’t have the time to spend on this, so have gotten permission to shorten it significantly.

The hospital here in Tansen actually allows people to have leave (with pay) for the required kriya they have to do.  It would be very difficult if they didn’t do this.

Please keep Ganesh and his family in your prayers as they head into another week of doing this mourning.

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Where has August gone???

August has been a busy month – and it’s gone by really quickly!  We’ve had the chance to catch up with old friends – we started the month with Bokuro Urabe and family.  Bokuro was one of Debbie’s students in Japan back in the 80’s at the Sendai Student Center.  He and his family are now serving in Bangladesh, and we were able to meet with them in Pokhara for a few days.

Urabe family

We also traveled to KTM to meet our mission “bosses”.  Our current boss, Becky, is going to be retiring and we will really miss her – but we were happy to meet our new boss, Paul.  We enjoyed time to visit with them, and of course to catch up with Hannah, as well.  As a bonus, our friend Theo was in KTM with his daughter, so we were able to meet with them too.

GBGM at UMN Theo

Finally, another old friend from Japan, Jun Yasuda, is here in Tansen for a couple of weeks with us following Les around in the hospital.  He is a medical student who was here with his family in the 90’s.  Jun and our Hannah were preschoolers together.

Jun

In the midst of all these joyful reunions, we have both kept busy with work.  Les has stepped down from the medical superintendent role, and is looking quite happy and care free these days.  He is very much enjoying his role now as the in charge of training courses, and also just being in the clinics.  He is called the “RIPE coordinator” – RIPE stands for Rural Inter-Professional Education.  He organizes training sessions not only for the resident doctors, but also for village health post workers and others.

ALSO course

The hospital has been extremely busy – with many, many sick patients, and overflowing wards.  Here is a photo of the patient count recently – note the number of beds available, and the number of patients!  Beds in the corridors are a common sight.

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Last week, Debbie organized a gathering for the didis and bahinis who work in our homes. These ladies work so hard to keep our homes clean, and to provide us with tasty and safely prepared food and water.  Many of them are dealing with family members who are suffering from a disease that is becoming more and more common here – diabetes.  There is a Nepali word for this disease – it is “Madhumeha”.  However – everyone these days refers to it as “chini rog” (sugar disease).  There is so much misunderstanding about how to eat a healthy diet appropriate for diabetes, that we decided to do a bit of teaching about it.  I was happy to receive help from a friend in KTM who sent me dietary information in Nepali, and Les came as the “special guest” to share with the ladies and to answer their questions.  We decided to serve snacks that were all appropriate for both diabetics and for gluten free diets!  Popcorn, hummus with carrot sticks and cucumber slices, peanut sandeko (peanuts lightly fried and spiced along with onions, cucumbers and garlic), and sugar free milk tea.  I had packets of aspartame so the ladies could sweeten their tea.  It was a fun gathering, and several ladies mentioned going right home to share the information they had learned with their family and friends.

Les teaching didis didis listening Didis listening.2 Didis eating healthy snacks for didis

Tomorrow (Wednesday), Les and I will start our travels to the U.S.!  We are very excited to visit our granddaughter – this will be Les’s first time to meet her in person.  We will be away from Tansen for 4 weeks, so Debbie has especially been busy preparing things for her time away.  There are 7 new people coming to Tansen in September – for short term volunteering, medical electives, or to come as a long termer!  A few of these seven have actually been previously, but since they don’t live here regularly, there are always preparations to be made.

We have had a much better monsoon than the last years – but the rains took a break for the past couple of weeks.  The other evening, Ganesh and Laxmi hosted all the team (25 of us!) to a wonderful meal up in front of their house – and this was our view!  We appreciate prayers for enough rain for the rice to finish well.

Ganesh and Laxmi Himalayan view

Thanks for reading – and for your ongoing prayers and support for us!  Much love!

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Who is responsible for them?

A few weeks ago, our head of Social Services/Pastoral care in the hospital posted this photo on his facebook page.

From the Kantipur News in Nepal

From the Kantipur News in Nepal

His post read, “This young man was treated worse than an animal – for six months he was chained to a post in a shed because of mental illness.  Who is responsible for him?”

Pun Narayan (the head of social services) has been passionate in his campaign to try to help people in Nepal suffering from mental illness.  There are no govt supports or structures to help people, and families either keep people hidden away, or send them out into the streets and abandon them.

A couple of years ago, our hospital helped to start the New Life Psychiatric Rehabilitation Center.  When local police find mentally ill people on the streets, they bring them to the mission hospital to get help for them.  After they have been treated, and are ready to be released, there is a problem.  With no family or friends to help most of these people, they just end up on the streets again.  This “half way” house was set up to try to help these people learn to function and take care of themselves even without a family to help.

For several years, we have been renting a place for the NLPRC, but finally they were able to purchase a nice piece of land and have started building a home there.  This land has its own water source (very important in Tansen!), fields which can be used to plant rice or graze animals, and space for the residents to do other crafts or work to help create income.  Les visited the site in April, and Debbie saw it just last week.  You can see the progress that has been made – and we would ask for your prayers as the first building is finished and the residents are able to move in and start taking care of the land around them.  Please pray also for Pun Narayan that his vision and dreams would come to fruition – so that one day in Nepal there will be no more people chained in cattle sheds or suffering due to mental illness.

Looking down on the building site - April

Looking down on the building site – April

 

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The empty rice fields in April

 

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Just getting started – April

 

The building in June!

The building in June!

 

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Rice fields – more ready for planting now that some rains have started

 

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The building is coming along nicely.

 

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Pun Narayan shares his joy in the progress of the new building.

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Memories, Miriam, and Mohan

Four years ago – Saturday, June 2.  I was on skype with my parents, and Les was out for his morning run (including racing up and down the stairs on Srinagar hill).  We had only been back in Tansen for 3 months, and were just feeling settled and back into the work and life here.

A few hours later, we were on a helicopter to Kathmandu – taking Les to the Neurologic hospital because he had suffered a bleed in his brain.  Hearing the CT technician say the words, “Bleed bhayo” (there’s been a bleed), was such a shock to me.  Why would God allow this just after He had asked us to return to Tansen?

The night Les spent in the ICU in the Neuro hospital was life changing for him – as he watched all the other patients around him who were in comas or dying, and realizing that could have been him.

Les in hospital roomLes in hospital room

God has given us 4 more years together – and we hope and pray for many more.  But we are much more aware of how quickly life can change… and how much we need to hold on to Jesus as He is the only unchanging one in life.

About 2 months ago, we were blessed with our first grandchild.  Miriam Rose was born to Luke and Laura, and Debbie was able to visit within the first few weeks of her life.  We are so proud and happy to welcome baby Miriam, and also to watch Luke and Laura being such loving, attentive parents.  Now, Nepal seems farther away than ever!

Such a joy to hold my baby's baby!It’s such a joy to hold my baby’s baby.

We are very thankful for life giving rains which we have been receiving over the past several weeks.  The hills went from brown dust to green in just a couple of days.  Unfortunately, the roads often don’t fare so well during monsoon, but we are in need of a good, long monsoon, so we’ll pray for lots of rain but no landslides.

Dry and burned areas on Srinagar in April

What a difference some rain makes.

Unfortunate side effects of those much needed rains...Top photo – burned and dusty Srinagar hillside in April.  Middle photo – what a difference some rain makes.

Bottom photo – unfortunate side effect of rains on roads.

In the face of many discouragements, there are bright spots to which we can look and remind ourselves that God is at work.  A young boy named Mohan from a nearby district came to the hospital about 6 months ago.  He initially presented with fever and hip pain.  Surgery was needed, but the father was at first unwilling because of lack of money.  After meeting with our social services staff, the father agreed to the surgery.  A hip arthrotomy and debridement were done, and that night Mohan was moved into the High Dependency Unit (HDU) due to sepsis and ARDS. He developed a progressive paralysis, probably Guillain-Barre syndrome, and could not move.  He was very sick and on a ventilator for 2 weeks, and then continued to get oxygen for several more weeks.  Doctors didn’t have much hope for Mohan, but he survived, and was moved into the pediatric ward.  He later got acute osteomyelitis in his femur and needed another operation for bone decompression and debridement.  Mohan finally recovered fully after much care and many prayers.  He spent almost 2 months in the hospital.  His bill was about $2400.  This was completely out of reach for this poor family in which the mom couldn’t work due to poor health, and the father only had a low paying blacksmith job, and not enough land to grow crops even to feed his family.  The family was able to pay about $250, and the hospital Medical Assistance Fund paid the remainder.

Mohan and parents

The family returned home to their village with a restored-to-life son, and hearts full of gratitude for the help and support from the doctors and staff at the mission hospital.  They also asked for a bible to take home – and invited the social services staff to come to their village to visit them.  We are thankful to so many of you for allowing us to be here to care for and pray for Mohan and patients like him – and for giving to the MAF so that charity care can be given to families such as this.

 

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What is our value?

This morning I read the verse from Philippians 2:3….Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.

As I thought about that, I remembered a talk I heard once about how we (sometimes unconsciously) assign differing values to different people.  We see it acted out all around us.  Recently, I have become more aware of it here in Nepal.  Perhaps it has just hit closer to home…

One of our doctors recently traveled out to a remote part of western Nepal to do a medical camp.  He and some other medical workers visited several villages and tried to offer the care and advice that was possible.  As they arrived in one village, they heard about a woman who had just died the previous day.  Why?  Because there was no way to transport her to a hospital or medical facility.  That night, the doctor and some friends had their rest interrupted by a group of young, wealthy Nepalis who arrived by helicopter to party and enjoy the views.  The helicopter waited for the group and took off the next day with them to travel wherever they planned to visit next.  So – it wasn’t really true that there is no transport available – it was true that there was no transport available for a poor village woman.

When I was sharing this story with a friend this morning, she talked of a time when she lived in another remote area, and had a woman come to the hospital there who was diagnosed with an ectopic pregnancy.  That hospital was about 20 minutes from the local airport, so they phoned right away to see if a plane was there and a seat available.  They were told that there was a plane, and a seat, but that the pilot was in a hurry (for his own personal reasons) so even though they begged the airport personnel to hold the plane for 20 minutes, they wouldn’t, and the plane took off.  The woman died in that village hospital – because she had no value in their eyes.

What is our value?  Is it because of our citizenship?  our wealth?  our job title?  More and more I am drawn to Jesus and the fact that we are all of equal value – because we are all created by God and made in His image.  What more value do we need?

1623NP Tansen Hospital, Nepal, WMM

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Wedding Season

It’s wedding season in Nepal! There are certain days and months of the year here which are deemed to be auspicious for starting your lives together! And – long engagements are unheard of here in Nepal. As a matter of fact, when I went to the hospital maintenance department for devotions on Monday morning (which I try to attend every week) it was announced that one of the young men had gotten married on Friday! (No advance notice had been given as far as I knew!)

So – I got to the office on Monday morning (3 days ago) and received an invitation to a wedding that was to be held on Wednesday (yesterday). This wasn’t a good start – because Wednesday already was booked with too many activities!

When Les and I met at home for lunch, we discussed the wedding invitation – and Les then showed me that we had received another 2 invites – one for that day (Monday) and one for Tuesday! We decided we couldn’t do Monday or Tuesday, but the father, mother, and sister of the bride on Wed were all good friends, so we made a plan.

The invitation stated that the wedding party would be at a local guest house/hotel from 2 pm to 8 pm. I already had a gathering planned for 3, Les had plans for his Sahalu game at 3:30, and at 5:30 there was a farewell dinner and party planned for a missionary team family who is leaving in a week. Hmmmm – how to make it across town and back during that time????

We ordered a taxi to come to the hospital at 1:45 to pick us up on Wed. That morning we phoned to the father of the bride to let him know we planned to arrive right at 2 – because there is something known here as “Nepali time”. In other words – nothing starts on time – especially weddings.

Debbie dressed in her sari, and Les put on his fancy vest, and we rode to the party location – arriving just at 2. The only person there from the family was the father of the bride. We enjoyed chatting with him for about 15 minutes – and he started apologizing for the lateness of his family… A few minutes later, the mom and sister of the bride came in. At about 2:40, they invited us to start eating – there is always a feast served at these functions. So – we filled our plates and enjoyed yummy rice with beans, curried vegetables, spicy paneer, goat meat, etc. By the time we finished eating, the groom had come in, so we were introduced to him.

Salomi & Deb

Salomi (bride’s sister) with Debbie. Salomi used to be the biomedical engineer at Tansen hospital – now she teaches in KTM. She and Debbie used to do Zumba together.

Salomi, Bishop & Dhana

Bishop and Dhana, parents of the bride, along with Salomi. Bishop is the head cashier at Tansen hospital, and Dhana is head surgical nurse at the hospital.

We finally had to leave at 3 – Debbie was already 15 minutes late for her own previously planned program! We enjoyed the party – but never got to see the bride! We saw her photos later on FB – she did look quite beautiful!

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