Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Back in Nepal! Some photos from China and Tibet

 View over Tibet

 Spices at a market in Lhasa

 Pilgrims outside of Polata Palace

Camel trekking in the desert

BBQ Chinese style

Everest base camp

Tibetan Yak herders in the snow


Chinese guard in Lhasa

Forbidden City - Beijing

Kebabs at Beijing Night Market

North Korea on left, China on right of river

Terracotta Warriors

Friday, September 23, 2011

Holiday in China

We have had to take a short break from Nepal (for visa reasons) and have
for the past few weeks taken a whirlwind trip around China.  It has been
difficult to keep the blog updated, with both blogspot and facebook
being banned sites here...

Arriving in China was a real luxury after 3 months in Nepal.
Everything is very clean and organised, public transport is a breeze and
the hostels are so fresh and clean.  We have taken a quick trip from
Dandong in the north (on the border with North Korea) moving south to
Lhasa at present. All our travel has been by overnight train, with
sleeper tickets a true luxury.  We've stopped at the major cities on the
way, seen the tourist sites and attempted to get off the beaten track
(with difficulty).

Travelling through China has brought with it many interesting
observations.  The sheer scale of development and construction here is
phenomenal, everywhere there are cranes building new highrises and
roads/railroads overpasses and other infrastructure.  It all shouts out
progress and modernisation.  Despite this agriculture appears somewhat
backward, with most of what we've passed by being small blocks
cultivated by hand.  The sheer number of people here is also crazy.
Every city we come to easily has more people living there than the
entire population of NZ!  The city's are full of life and people, buses
and trains are always full.  Beijing West train station must've had
100,000 people there - and a good 3 or 4000 of them were on our train.
You couldn't move down the aisle.

China has clearly developed at a great pace, with the majority of the
population living in poverty till recently.  Now, the people have money
to spend, and are living in a very modern, in many ways western world.

Tourism here is very manufactured, with sites like the Great Wall
rebuilt as new rather than reconstructed.  Everything is crowded with
people (mostly domestic tourists), souvenier stalls and convenience food
and drink.  It is hard to find glimpses of the past, and untouched

China has been a brilliant glimpse into another culture, a country of
great food and diversity.  For the next few days we will travel overland
through Tibet back to Nepal.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Tradition and Superstition

While in the Terai we learn't some more about the traditions and
superstitions that are particular to the plains area in the South of
Nepal.  One tradition that shocked us is the practice of early child
marriage - families will arrange the marraige of their children when
they are only 5 - 8 years old. A ceremony will be held at this time,
with the husband and wife only living together when they reach puberty
or their late teens. Sometimes the girl child (wife) will go live with
the husbands family immediately after the wedding with both children
growing up together.  The women tend to be very sub-servient, and many
miss out on an education altogether.  Education is not viewed as a
priority when the girl child will grow up to marry into and belong to
the husbands family!  Others that do go to school tend to drop out
early due to pressure on them to help with household chores, young
marraiges, and a lack of proper sanitation facilities at the schools.

A lack of education also breeds a healthy environment for superstition
... one belief still prominant in the Terai is that of witch-craft,
also known as Bokshi in Nepali.  Some parallels could be drawn with
medieval England.  One person or a group of people will accuse a woman
of being a witch, and she will be ostracised from the community.  If a
woman is believed to be guilty of Bokshi villagers will put human
excretment in her mouth and to beat her to drive the evil spirits
away. Superstitions like this were actively encouraged and used by the
Maoist rebels during the civil war as it enabled greater control over
the local community.

Fortunately, local NGOs are working to improve this situation in the
Terai through both education and legal aid.  We met with the Jan
Jagaran Youth Club (JJYC) who run many programs in the Bara region,
including programs to encourage the education of girls and paralegal
training.  Paralegal training has been given to a group of village
women to enable them to solve conflicts within the village, avoiding
the cost of lawyer which is unaffordable to all except the most
wealthy of villagers. In fact the system is supported by the local
legal community with many lawyers and barristers providing support and
advice to the paralegals pro bono.  Many people are unaware of their
basic rights, and the countries laws. This training is slowly helping
to improve this situation.  In a recent witchcraft case we were shown,
the victim had been accused of Bokshi by a village rival and
subsequently punished. The victim approached her village paralegal for
help. The paralegal sought advice from local barristers (the woman who
had accused the victim had bribed the local policemen, the victims
only previous avenue of help). With the help of the entire group of
paralegals and support of the local legal community a large village
meeting was called with both women having their say in the open air.
The victim was able to clear her name in front of the entire village
and the accuser was ordered to pay a hefty fine to the victim. This
did not fully please the victim who demanded an eye for an eye but the
paralegals were able to inform her that she would be the one breaking
the law in that case and the matter was resolved.
This shows how deeply rooted cultrual beliefs are affecting the
devolepment of poor, rural areas of Nepal. The path to resolving these
issues will be a long one but with local groups like JJYC and CDRA
doing good grassroots work we are moving in the right direction.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Uterus Prolapse

One of the biggest health issues facing Nepali women is Uterine Prolapse.  This is when the uterus starts to fall out of the body - its comes in various degrees and is shockingly common in Nepal.  I'd never even heard of it prior to coming to Nepal - but now I hear about it almost every day!!
First or second degree prolapse can be treated through rubber rings inserted into the pelvis to hold the uterus in place, and pelvic floor exercies.  Third degree prolapse is the most serious, this is when the uterus falls out of the pelvis and hangs like a tennis ball out of the body.  Surgery is required at this stage.
The health camps are important for identifying women suffering from uterine prolapse so they can be referred for free treatment in a hospital.  The most difficult thing to comprehend is that many of the women suffering from uterus prolapse have been living with it for years (we have heard cases of women living with it for 17+ years).  From the outside you cannot tell, the women hide their pain so well. 
55 women have been identified and treated as a result of the 16 health camps.  7 were identified at the health camp in Jhapa. An additional 15 women have been identified by Bijea, the nurse working in remote western Nepal.  Thanks to Rotary support these women have all been able to have treatment.  The surgery, along with travel, food and accomodation costs for the women is only approx. $US 500 per person.  Unfortunately this is not affordable or accessible for the women, and it is only through the health camps that many realise help is available. Sadly some women refuse the treatment as it is impossible for them to take the time off after the surgery to recover, or they do not have anyone to support them during this time. This was the case for one of the women identified in Jhapa. All she requested was some painkillers - and to think of the times we complain of a headache!

One of the women suffering from 3rd degree prolapse - shes lived with this for around 10 years!

It is estimated that more than one in ten women of reproductive age in Nepal is suffering from 3rd degree prolapse.  Uterine prolapse is caused by many factors, including early and frequent pregancies, home births, resuming heavy workloads straight after giving birth, and poor nutrition. Many husbands will leave their wives in this condition as they can no longer engage in sexual activity.

Women in waiting room

Examination area