During the course of the year, I fancied going on a solo adventure out in the unknown. Having known a number of my friends that had climbed the Himalayas previously; I was looking forward to something of the sort. Having met Work the World Ambassadors at BDSA and other conferences, I was informed of a dental elective program in Nepal.
I also noticed that my first point of research was Google and Work the World was among the very first few links, which meant that information was readily available without me having to do vast amounts of research and planning.
This prospect allowed me to pursue my passion, discover myself and build on my development as a dental student. The Kathmandu program was new at the time and I knew it would be centrally located for me to explore the rest of the country.
You would be surprised at the speed of how things get done in just one phone call to the Work the World office! Fourth year at dental school is often very hectic due to the clinics and the prep time for assessments over the year. This meant that I had very limited time to sit and plan an elective. With the help of the office, this became a very simple task. MyTrip, Work the World's online placement planner, was extremely useful! It had set dates and I would just ensure that the documents required by a certain date were in order and ready for submission by then. When I had any questions, one phone call or a quick e-mail would do the trick. Therefore planning was hassle free.
On arrival, I was actually dreading walking out of Tribhuvan Airport with the overwhelming number of taxi drivers keen to take me where I needed to go. Luckily, I bumped into one of my housemates to be at immigration. She had her t-shirt on and I recognized it as I stood behind her. I knew I was safe to be spotted thereafter. Just as I expected we walked out we could see the taxi drivers approaching us and suddenly we saw Sean, Kathmandu's Program Manager come to our rescue just in time! His pick up was perfectly timed and there were no delays as we proceeded to the Work the World house. I have a Kenyan passport and am a frequent traveller — immigration is something I dread. I get questioned on the most random things because of the situation in Kenya, my home country. In Nepal, it was a completely different experience. Trust me, they have the nicest immigration officers!
The orientation which involved being shown the house, the city, my way around everywhere and introduction to the house was smooth and I feel this was because the Nepalese people are very friendly and whole heartedly welcome visitors to their country. During the orientation, we were introduced to Nepali cuisine and, having read all about ‘momos’, I was eager to taste some and as expected they were great! My roomie and I can comfortably say we survived on that stuff while we were there.
WTW house and staff
The house is relatively new, everything is clean and I give credit to the housekeeper. She is very hard working, humble and respectful of everyone. Before I got there, I was hoping not to come across the squat toilet, but thankfully, the toilets in the house are Western-style. We somehow managed to break the shower on the very first day of placement, and Sean sorted the issue out straight away. Four terraces, a patio, and a garden all in one compound meaning you will never be short of space to bask in the sun and chill out.
The house is very secure, so big up to the guards. I managed to make good friends with them as the World Cup was on at the time and we would spend hours discussing the scores and all. These guys worked so many hours helping Krishna, the cook; with setting up the barbeque and I really admired that quality of teamwork within the staff.
Krishna is on another level! His food was so amazing that most of us learnt how to say, ‘Krishna bhai, khana ek dum mittho chha’ (The food is delicious bro) , quicker than introducing ourselves in Nepali. His skills in the kitchen are extraordinary and the Kathmandu house is very lucky to have him.
We had a Nepali language teacher and she was brilliant. She was very friendly and I would recommend attending her classes especially if you are considering the Village Healthcare Experience. With the lessons I attended, I can comfortably say I always managed to get away with bargains in Thamel and in taxis since I could easily talk to the vendors and drivers for a cheeky discount! It also helped us in making new friends when we were out in Thamel.
The Program Manager, Sean — I simply have no words for this hero!
The Program Manager, Sean — I simply have no words for this hero! I assure you that on his watch, you will have no trouble in Kathmandu. You need it? He’s got it. It was that simple. Punctual, understanding, efficient, resourceful, well-connected. He constantly kept up to date with how we were doing, ensuring the placement, accommodation, our lives outside the house and travel plans were running smoothly. He does his job like a boss!
Following a hospital orientation, I was introduced to the staff at the dental department and we managed to strike up a good rapport with the dentists there, exchanging contact details at the end for future endeavors.
The placement made me realize how much we take for granted back home. The experience taught me how to work around limited resources and making the most out of them. Due to limited funding, the infection control procedures were different, the treatment options for patients were limited. Patient contact time was also significantly less. as there were many patients to treat with all sorts of oral pathologies and diseases.
I saw conditions that you would only see in textbooks or journals. One such case was an odontogenic cyst. I saw this from the history and exam stage to the post-op — the patient underwent a neck dissection and a mandibular resection. I was lucky enough to observe the surgery in progress as well. It was quite astonishing to witness someone’s lower jaw literally cut and separated from its natural position. I appreciated the facilities and resources at our disposal in the developed world for early diagnosis of these sorts of oral diseases, because the impact they can have on the patients’ physical and psychological states is profound.
My interest in travelling made me pursue various excursions in Nepal. On my first weekend, a couple of us from the house went to Chitwan where we experienced an elephant safari and bathing them. The experience is one I’ll treasure for the rest of my life. We also canoed slong the river and got to appreciate local 'Tharu' culture through dance.
My second weekend getaway was to the 'Last Resort' where the second highest bungee jump in the world is! It was my roommate’s birthday, so we planned a crazy 'lads weekend' there and it did not disappoint. We met other students like us on similar placement during this weekend, some of whom I went on to meet in Pokhara and Kathmandu later during my trip. I also cycled to the Tibetan border and the scenery along the route was like a scene from Avatar — waterfalls everywhere! It was surreal beauty in the midst of the hills.
Following my placement, I managed to organize a tailored trip to hike the Himalayas. Due to the monsoon, the odds were against me and most people had warned me that I might not get a glimpse of the mountains at all, and I must admit, it was daunting at first knowing I was planning to hike alone. I was eager to hike to a point where I could see a panorama of the Annapurna Range and I did exactly that. I hiked to poon hill with two amazing Australian guys I met whilst on a break during my first day on the hike. Meeting them changed my life and I learnt valuable lessons from them.
They taught me to be more appreciative of being in situations. I still remember being told, ‘…remember that every situation you’re in, you’ve probably seen worse before’. The principle stood as a life lesson and I faced challenges as they presented themselves. They made me overcome my fears of leeches and more importantly dogs, which I’ve always detested. There was a breed of a large dog which villagers kept as pets (we just called them all Allen) and I would run at the sight of them. By the end of the trip I was petting them and cuddling them as we hiked. It was a transformation I could not believe! I met people from all walks of life and countries that were there for a similar purpose to mine. I got to learn basic German as well from two lovely girls who were travelling at the time.
On D-day, we summited Poon Hill at 3 a.m. We got there on a rainy and chilly morning at 4a.m and we refused to leave till we saw a glimpse of the mountains. Most tourists came at about 6.30am and following the cloud cover they left by 8a.m. The Aussie boys, one of the German girls and I persistently waited and finally we got to see the range at about 9a.m. I could say that I had now been there and seen that! It was such an emotional moment for me as I saw the beauty of the Himalayas unfold in front of my eyes. The whole trip to Nepal felt worth it! The guides constantly reminded us that we were very lucky to witness what we had just seen considering the climate.
After the trek, I spent a week in Pokhara, where I visited Phewa Tal (Phewa Lake), Davis falls, the Peace Pagoda, the old part of Pokhara and an underground temple. It was rejuvenating and informative form a religious and cultural perspective.
There were many durbars (squares), temples and stupas to visit in Kathmandu. Most of them are UNESCO World Heritage Sites and the buildings are spectacular. The monkey temple was fun — climbing the steps was not easy but it was good practice for my hiking expedition. The view of Kathmandu in the background from the top was fantastic.
The feeling of a paraglide take off is something I'll never forget. Even as I go to bed, I often close my eyes and re-live the moment I was air-borne. One word, AMAZING. It is a memory of a lifetime that is uniquely true to Nepal.
The nightlife in Nepal is affordable and very unique in its own way. My friends back at Work the World in Kathmandu had struck a good rapport with the management of various bars and nightclubs in Thamel whilst I was travelling and when I got back, the reception we got at a bar one night was extraordinarily special. It was like we owned the place. The DJ played music on demand; the drinks were constantly flowing in, the locals and tourists all mingling with us. We had the time of our lives!
Advice for future students
In terms of the placement, the hospital is severely underfunded and as a dental student, please consider taking your own alcohol gel, masks, gloves, fissure sealants and fluoride varnish to name but a few items. The hospital is welcome to any type of donations directly to the dental department.
Nepal is a place with numerous learning prospects and endless opportunity to experience new things. It is always great to travel with friends and I met up with a few of my friends from university whilst I was there, we had a great time there no doubt, but we got there at different times and I had travelled there alone on my own. When I got there initially, I knew nobody! It was nerve-wracking at first but I challenged myself to go out of my comfort zone and I came back a changed person. I would definitely recommend travelling alone to Kathmandu if you are courageous enough.
What are you waiting for?! Get dialing and choose Kathmandu for your placement! There is a man called Sean in Kathmandu and he is the Nepalese Messiah. Leave the in-country support to him and Work the World and aim to make the most out of your placement and travels in Nepal. You will not regret it.