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Buddha’s Birthday on a Full Moon

The flags hung in honor of Buddha's Birthday in Patan, Kathmandu

The Buddhist flags hung in honor of Buddha's birthday in Patan, Kathmandu

Buddhism is everywhere here in Nepal and it’s intermingled with Hinduism. It seems though that most people I come across are Buddhist. I have always had an interest in Buddhism; they say it’s a philosophy and not a religion. That may be true but here in Nepal it comes across as very religious to me.  The temples alone yell religion and then all the people performing different rituals also smacks of it. Religion isn’t so bad; it brings comforts to millions. Ritual is amazing; it creates energy like nothing else I’ve ever seen. And yet, I find myself resistant to it.  Here in Nepal though I feel slightly less resistant. When I am asked if I am a Buddhist the next question is usually if I am a Christian. When I tell them I’m nothing they don’t try and convert me, they just listen.

So Lord Buddha’s (as they call him) birthday is May 27th and I happened to be in Nepal for it. It’s actually a national holiday here as you can expect. Being next to the gumpa that contains all the mini monks Buddha’s  birthday was an interesting experience for me. All the trumpet playing and horn blowing they have been practicing seemed to be for this day. It was a full moon and I went onto the roof to watch the boys playing their trumpets out towards the city.

I couldn’t get any good pictures from our roof so I decided to go up on theirs. I had my camera with me and as I went to go up on the roof many of the monks were outside the gumpa. They beckoned me and asked that I please, please come in.IMG_0868

Up to this point I had been afraid to go in. I can’t really tell you why. I guess I didn’t want to be disrespectful, this lame tourist poking around inside a religious structure. I think I was also waiting for an invitation. So I finally had it and I removed my shoes and followed the monks in.

It’s so beautiful inside with large statues of Buddha and some other folks. I learned that you always walk clockwise around any religious site here and so I followed the path around inside. The energy inside the gumpa was astounding; I could feel it circulating clockwise through the building. I could feel the energy of everyone that had come that day to pray. It was positively vibrating. As I walked around I saw mini monks stashed away in corners repeating mantras out loud, sometimes in pairs, sometimes alone.

The gumpa next door

The gumpa next door

Doorway to the gumpa

Doorway to the gumpa

As I came to the end again there was a local prostrating himself. It’s quite something to see someone doing this. It’s so humble, almost apologetic. He was doing this movement over and over across the floor as if to say “forgive me, I am so worthless, make me better.” It wasn’t in the direction of Buddha’s statue and I wasn’t about to interrupt him to ask him to who or what he was doing this to. Perhaps it was just himself.

The mini monks asked if I wanted to learn how it was done and I hesitantly said yes. I have this fear of looking like an idiot because I don’t get something right the first time, but I know that it’s better to say yes and have a new experience.

One young monk showed me first. You stand up straight and put your hands in prayer position, then you bring them to your head, your heart, and then you get down on the ground and bow your head all the way down. Then you push yourself up without using your hands more than once for the push.IMG_0865

The first time I tried this I had to use my hands twice, I didn’t really trust my own strength on the hard marble floor and I was being watched. I could see on their faces that I had done it wrong even though they were obviously trying to hide it. I tried again and this time got smiles from the two monks. This is the kind of magical thing I hoped for, the sort of romantic idea that got into my head when I first heard the name Nepal. After this I felt uneasy, wondering what I should do now that I had made my rounds so I made my way out into the entranceway and watched all the young monks gathering at the lit candles. They were picking them up and bringing them inside for some purpose that I couldn’t gather, mostly because I didn’t ask. I kept having this sense like I was interrupting something, that I was an outsider. I felt myself shrinking back. I wanted to take a picture badly but was afraid to ask. I didn’t want to make a wrong impression or say something wrong but the photo opportunity was too good to let go.

I haven’t prostrated myself since then but I have this feeling like it would do me some good. I think it would do a lot of people some good. Do I have to prostrate myself to some religious god? Shouldn’t I prostrate myself in front of my own self judgment instead. I could learn to be easier and more care free…

Woman celebrating in the Laghenkel area of Kathmandu

Woman performing a ritual in honor of Buddha's birthday


Adjusting and Life in Nepal

Warning: I use swear words in my blogs, just keeping it real, folks


Night time setup

So what’s it like living in Nepal for 2 months? First off, there is electricity for only 4 to 12 hours a day. I always wondered how people got by on just candles back in the day. It’s not so bad honestly, and you bring a headlamp to get by when you’re not working with candles. I keep finding myself wandering out of an area without candles and realizing that it’s pitch black. The power is often on at 3 am or some other really convenient time that I can’t quite understand. I find myself working on my blog by candlelight, which I find pretty ironic… As ironic as people carrying huge buckets of water on their shoulders and then stopping to answer their cell phone.

Western standards of cleanliness don’t apply here; I’m far from a germaphobe but I find myself amazed at the amount of dirt and grime on everything. The people that live here don’t notice it because it’s how they live. I find myself trying to just be cool and ignore the grime, but I have to admit there have been a few days where I struggle. Walking into the clinic kitchen and seeing Urmila preparing lunch on the floor is something you just can’t prepare your mind for. I think to myself, okay, that’s how they do it here and look they’re all fine. Every time there’s something just a little bit crunchy in my lunch I have to cringe and tell myself it’s just an un-ground piece of pepper. Right. If you’re the kind of person that walks around with hand sanitizer in their purse never, ever, come here. You will have a complete meltdown, or maybe you should come and get over it.

20Local water fountain

Water is scarce so we put a bucket under the tap while we wait for the water to be heated by the solar panels; this water is then used to water plants and to do your laundry. Being here has made me realize that while I’ve fancied myself a conservationist I have a lot to learn. The clinic reuses water bottles until they start to stink. The sponges used in the kitchen for cleaning don’t get thrown out at the first sign of wear. There is no washing machine or dryer so it’s all done by hand. All food scraps are saved in the kitchen in a bucket for compost. I keep putting a lid on the bucket because it attracts flies and Uma (the cleaning lady) keeps removing it. I mention this to Nicky and she says that the concept of keeping the flies out of something has probably never occurred to Uma before. This concept has never occurred to me before.

Of course there’s no refrigerator. There’s running water in the clinic but it has to be pumped out of the ground into two large containers on the roof almost daily. If you forget to pump then it’s possible that you go to the sink to wash a dish and no water comes out. This happened for the first time on one of the two days I had where I was ridiculously homesick and fairly irritable. Okay, I think, so the waters not coming out, great. There’s no electricity so we can’t pump water until it comes back.

“Fuck, really? Of course there’s no water, and there’s no electricity,”  I sarcastically say under my breath but it’s noticed by Sonya. Sonya, one of the interpreters and students, forgot to turn on the pump so tells me that she’s only human and I realize I am over reacting.  Just add it to the list of things I have to get used to here.


Me in my cute mask

Many local buildings don’t have any kind of running water; so the locals go to a community fountain and fill up there. Prajwal, one of the interpreters and my student, tells me that people spend hours waiting to get water sometimes. As I start to realize what this means I begin to feel less inclined to judge the dirt on everything. If you don’t have running water, it’s so much harder to do laundry and take a shower.

Most of the streets aren’t paved in the village so every truck that goes by kicks up a dirt storm. I bought a cuter face mask (if there is a thing) than the Home Depot style ventilator masks I brought my first day here.  Even though many people walk around with them on, I still feel like some kind of prissy Westerner every time I have to put it over my face to protect from all the dirt and smog from the ancient vehicles.

The clinic I live in is actually quite new and therefore much nicer than most of the buildings in the area. You can buy milk every morning from the local restaurant owned by Lilla Didi. She’s a smiley, happy loving person that welcomed me immediately. She knows a few English words and says things like “Amy, beauty,” “welcome,” and “no.” She’s a shining example of the friendly people of Nepal. Lilla Didi (Didi means sister) says that she loves all the volunteers so much and she is so sad when they leave.


Lilla Didi sitting on a table in her restaurant the Forest View

I’ve taken to walking around Chapagaon and into the neighboring Newari village at dusk after I am done working. It’s practically right out of a postcard with the beautiful old buildings, people in colorful clothes, chickens, goats, and straw everywhere.

Everywhere I go people stare at me. Apparently it’s not rude to stare in Nepal, especially at random white chicks with red hair walking around your neighborhood. I will be happy to be back home walking down the street in complete anonymity. The people here cannot afford cameras and they are completely amused by pictures of themselves. I walk around and when I want to take a picture I hold up the camera and say “okay?” They usually don’t answer but I take the picture anyway and then I hold the camera up, “you want to see?” They always smile or laugh at the picture. The little kids sometimes fight to be in them.  A lot of the kids here learn English and sometimes they follow me and try out the words they know. Because I work at the clinic they call me doctor. I can’t lie; I really like how it sounds.

Newari girl with my audience in the background

Newari girl with my audience in the background

Newari village at dusk

Newari village at dusk

Newari villager chilling out in a squat that is impossible for my body to achieve for longer than 2 minutes

Newari villager chilling out in a squat that is impossible for my body to achieve for longer than 2 minutes


Mini Monks in Nepal

Mini MonksWhen I signed up to work with Mindful Medicine Worldwide I was able to request my location so I chose to work in Chapagaon, a rural location just outside of Kathmandu. The clinic is on the grounds of a Buddhist teaching monastery. A teaching monastery is where boys age 5 to 18 come to live to learn to be Buddhist monks. That’s right, there are lots of mini monks here, running around in burgundy and yellow robes.

One of the perks of being in this clinic is getting to treat the mini monks, whether it be rubbing Neem oil on their heads or dressing their many cuts and scrapes. (What the hell is Neem oil ? Why, it’s a wonderful Ayurvedic antimicrobial, antifungal, skin healing plant oil that has a gnarly funk to it.)

In my head, before I came here, I had thought how peaceful it would be to be next to a Buddhist monastery. I had pictured rolling green hills and monks chanting in unison at dusk. Monks in training are actually quite noisy; they’re learning to play horns, they chant out of tune and tempo. Every morning at 9:30 and evening at 7:30 they come into the clinic using the little English they know, “hellloo, hello, helloo?” I massage the Neem onto their shaved, fungus-infected heads, not bothering to wash my hands in between. A few of them roll back their ears to show crusty spots where I apply a Chinese herbal balm to it. Another shows me the chunk of skin missing on the bottom of his foot and points to the Calendula. Read the rest of this entry »


Teaching Massage in Nepal

Nepal clinic

This is my second blog on being in Nepal as a volunteer for Mindful Medicine. (See my earlier blog for more details on how I ended up in Nepal.)

What I like about Mindful Medicine is that they want their work to be sustainable, to make a lasting difference. Instead of just bringing acupuncturists in for 2 to 4 month periods to treat, they have them teach as well. The Vajra Varahi clinic-paid interpreters have been learning basic acupuncture treatments so that they can help the acupuncturists that come here as well as treat in their absence.

Since I am a body worker and only halfway through my training as an acupuncturist I came to work here in a slightly different capacity. I was able to bring a massage table that was donated from Earthlight to do the work (30 pounds, by the way!). My job here is to teach the staff the basics of massage and anatomy so that they can continue to help the local population. A lot of people here have low-back, neck, and shoulder pain, often accompanied with arthritis. See the picture below (enough said).

Nepal bushels


I’ve started teaching. The students are Satyamohan, Sonya, and Prajwal who are all 25 years old and Ramita who is 33 and the only one with a child. They all have other jobs in the clinic, such as interpreting and reception work. I designed my classes based on my 6 years of experience, what Jessica and Grainne of Mindful Medicine had talked to me about, and what I went over with the clinic director when I got here. The students are picking it up fast and I’m actually envious of the way they get to learn massage, with one-on-one attention and none of the bullshit classes I had to take to satisfy state requirements. I’m working really hard to make sure that they can apply what I am teaching them once I am gone. Read the rest of this entry »


Volunteering in Nepal, A Personal Story

Amy in NepalThis metal monkey just turned 30 and is a body worker. I have been a body worker and holistic health practitioner for 6 years. It’s my life, it’s who I am, it’s what I do and the motivation for most of my endeavors. I am also currently working on a master’s degree in traditional Chinese medicine so that I can become an acupuncturist and herbalist. I’ve made it halfway through the 4 years it takes to accomplish this, that is, 4 years if you don’t care about having a life.

I want to have a life! I want to experience things, people, and places as well as be in love with Chinese medicine. To become an acupuncturist you have to be passionate about it, you have to love people, and you have to be driven. It’s not an easy path but it’s very rewarding. To be a Chinese medicine practitioner is to give your life to it, to live it, and to be an example. At least that’s what they tell you. To become a traditional healer, you have to do hours of rote memorization, you have to study relentlessly, and you have to get to a point where you just don’t give a shit any more and then try to remember why you’re there. You have to half ass your way sometimes and choose your battles.

So, I needed a break. A good break, a real break—not just the measly two to three weeks you usually get in between trimesters. (Yes, school is year round.)

I’ve never been to Asia before and here I am studying Chinese medicine. So much is lost on me because I don’t innately know the culture. Asia is huge; it encompasses places like Nepal, China, Tibet, both Koreas, and Japan. I’m not a very experienced traveler; I’ve been to some of the standard locations in the U.S. , as well as to Spain, Mexico, Jamaica, and Costa Rica. None of this could really prepare me for what it’s like to come to Nepal. I knew I had to get the hell out of dodge and take a break from school before I went crazy, stopped giving a shit, and stopped learning. Read the rest of this entry »