The Amazing Jyväskylä!

The Amazing Jyväskylä!
Me at the harbor of Jyväskylä

23 November, 2014

Field visit to Okhaldhunga: Words have failed me! (Part 1)

Finally, I got to go on a field visit!

The day started at 2.45 am. I had been told that at 3.45 am, my colleague would come to pick me up in a taxi and we would go to the jeep station together. Anyway, he only arrived at sometime past 4 am and we left for the station leaving the vigorously barking dogs behind. A short ride on the taxi took us to a dusty place just next to the high way. There was light coming from a tiny office which was already packed with people trying to secure the tickets. My colleague went ahead to that office without saying anything, but I understood I should just wait for him outside. As I was waiting, of course, I was also observing. That's my curse. It was still dark at the time and a bit chilly too. I saw all kinds of bags lying on the ground. There were more men than women; the ticket office was full with men and the women were waiting outside to guard their belongings. I thought they might have been transporting products back home for their business or something. That was utterly lots of stuff, I told myself. Everyone was in warm clothes but I knew soon it would become a pain for them when the sun came up. I had a T-shirt and a hoody on, which was quite okay for me with this kind of weather in Kathmandu. I somehow had the feeling that people here are really afraid of the cold. When it was only 20 degree, I already saw bulky, buffy jackets on the street. In the office, everyone was wearing sweaters and windbreakers. I was reminded of Hanoi. However, having spent 6 months of winter in Finland, this was absolutely summer for me. I was still rocking short-sleeve T-shirt.

Anyway, we boarded a 9-seat jeep to one of PEEDA's project sites in a district called Okhaldhunga, an extremely mountainous area 125 km South East to Kathmandu. Even though a jeep was only allowed to carry 9 people including the driver, of course 10 of us were packed inside. The explanation was that it would help with the bumpy and hilly roads, which turned out to be true but also resulted in my unprecedentedly terrible carsickness. And the blasting music played all the time inside the jeep did not help at all. The ride was in total 9 hours and I vomited my gut out every couple hours or so. Therefore, I decided not to eat or drink anything on the way until we reached the destination. My colleague was worried, I knew that. But he was a guy, and there're social protocol of interaction between men and women who are not related here in Nepal. And even I know development workers should be progressive, there're certain restraints that have been engraved into their mind. Or so I had presumed. So, bottom line, I understood I should take care of myself. But I could tell he felt bad for me. He kept asking me: "Okay, Phuong?" and if I had any strength left after the vomiting section, I'd say "yes, I'm okay"; otherwise, I would just give him a confirming nod. There was another guy as well who worked for a partner NGO with PEEDA called SAHAS Nepal. He was designated as project coordinator in Okhaldhunga and he went with us this time. Since I decided not to eat until we reached the destination, every time they had something to eat and I said no, my colleague from PEEDA would say: "Sorry, we're eating." That was sweet of him, I thought. Other passengers in the jeep also gave me sympathetic looks any time they were face-to-face with me, which was kind of heart-warming though. Even though there was nothing they could do for me, it did show that they were at least concerned. (and probably asked themselves what the hell this foreigner was doing here!)

After the seemingly endless jeep ride, we finally arrived at our destination, Maneybhanjyang VDC, at around 3 pm and I was completely drained. I needed to rest my head where it would not move constantly and vigorously. After having some warm milk tea in an eatery, my colleague showed me where I would stay for the night. It was a room on the ground floor of a 2-story house where PEEDA staff always stayed when they were there. I would be sharing the room with 2 other sisters who were locals. When I told them I was from Vietnam, they looked puzzled and they didn't speak much English, so I took out my notebook and tried my best with recalling and drawing the map of South Asia and showed them where Vietnam was. At the time, there were three of them: Pramila, Rinuka and Sarmila. But later on, only 2 of them stayed the night with me in the room. 

Maneybhanjyang VDC
After that short greeting, I lied down to take a nap. As soon as I started feeling cold when it was getting to late afternoon, I was woken up by Pramila because she was covering me with a thick blanket. Still half-awake, I managed to whisper a weak "thank you" and slipped back to sleep, somehow for a split second, it crossed my mind that when I was much younger, I used to cover my dad with the blanket as well when he took his lunch nap and left the fan running a bit too strong. I think I was sleeping for about 1.5 hours until I woke up again with Pramila trying to confirm if I had been carsick and vomiting on the way there. I confirmed the information and realized that now my head was clear and the dizziness had somewhat faded. Pramila asked if I wanted tea, I gladly said yes. My body was really longing for some hot fluid. I got up. 

While waiting for Pramila to boil water for tea, I went out to wash up and paid a visit to the toilet. Before coming here, the girls at the office were warning me about the bad condition of the toilet here. But as I saw it, they might have been exaggerating a bit. It was not all that bad. I've seen worse in the country side of Vietnam when I was cycling across the country for a month. The only thing is that I had to go down a narrow path and climb a few steps on the stairs to reach the toilet, which was kind of inconvenient at night but if I didn't drink much water in the evening, I should be fine. This was the part where the girls at the office were complaining about. However, come to think about it, toilets should be located far from living area for sanitary reason, which makes the location of the toilet here more or less reasonable.

Women are super strong here!

At 7, we went out back to the small family eatery in the village to have dinner. We had some very typical Nepali food: Dal-Bhat which includes rice, dal, achar (which was too hot for me!), vegetable curry and local chicken. It took me quite a long time to eat because I was also watching the TV at the same time with the children of the family. I had not watched TV for quite some time now so every time I saw a TV, I was like enchanted or something. It didn't matter that I did not understand at all what the programs were about, my eyes did not leave the screen. I wish I could have stayed a bit longer but they were closing the door so I thought it was time to go. This family had quite many children and there was only one boy. All the girls were beautiful and seemed pretty smart. The boy was, as my colleague said, "a good guy". However, it looked like he received special treatment from the mother and he was very well aware of that. Well, this was what I did not enjoy seeing. He would boss his sisters and even his mother around whenever he could. But the mother and sisters would not say anything against him and do what he wanted them to.

Then, we came back to the guesthouse, agreed on the time to meet the next day and said good night. I went inside the room to find both the sisters already settle in bed. I changed my clothes and also crawled to bed.

It was no doubt a long day but it opened my eyes. During the jeep ride, I felt like I was going to the end of the world. In a sense, it kinda was, I guess. The place was isolated by a big river. We had to cross an enormous bridge on foot and change the vehicles once. That reality caused my respect and admiration I had for development workers here to shoot up to the sky since they go on field visit every 1.5 months or so for monitoring.

A local shop in Maneybhanjyang VDC
The beautiful Maneybhanjyang VDC

During the time I worked for a livelihood program in Quang Tri, Vietnam, I had my share of suffering hilly and bumpy roads. However, what I had witnessed up to this point of the trip was at a whole new level. The majority of the roads to Okhaldhunga was dirt road filled with countless pot holes and rocks. Once the jeep had passed one dense and rough series of turns and we ended up in yet another mountain even before I knew it; and I could see the part of the roads that we had just passed, I could never believe that snake-like image engraved on the mountain were actual roads where buses and jeeps could pass. If you have never been to a developing country, just imagine the worst condition of roads that you have witnessed in your life, the pot holes you occasionally come across and multiply it to ... say ... 10 thousand times and also remember that you ride on that kind of road for 9 hours when always covered in dust because there is absolutely no air-condition inside the jeep so the window opens most of the time.
Jump to 2:18 to see the road conditions, I specifically remember this part of the ride since it was terrifying!

And I was told this was already among the good roads. Now, that did leave me speechless.  

No money is enough to pay for what development workers do here at daily basis; especially those based in the community, living far from their families and traveling frequently with very bad roads conditions. It takes much more of just wanting to earn a living to remain in this job in Nepal, I would think.

No comments:

Post a Comment