[Email to Jean-Francois] It was a grueling ordeal from beginning to end, but I kept repeating that the difference between an ordeal and an adventure is attitude. The road is really bad and you know what the driving is like, passing passing, even when you can’t see around the corner. So my insides were sloshed all around in my body as the bus jolted along the potholes. I couldn’t decide whether that was making me sicker or not.
I finally went to the back of the bus and took up the whole big back seat. That seemed to help the most. I dozed a bit, and sort of meditated on my insides sloshing up and down. I woke up feeling better. I’m still coughing some and I have that diarrhea that feels like pissing out the butt. I am having black tea with sugar, but I was so hungry from having one piece of toast this morning that I poured myself a helping of those hot Indian snacks. It may make me sicker too, but what the hell.
I sat next to this young Israeli guy who totally agreed with me that it’s all about attitude. I said, “It’s harder to have a good attitude when you’re sick.” And he said,”I was on a 17 hour van ride in Mongolia and spent the whole time puking. I look back on that as an adventure.” He said he sat in a window seat, but when he was throwing up, they would stop the van for a few minutes for him. Don’t you just love travelers! You feel like shit, but they puked for 17 hours in Mongolia. Just perfect.
I spent right around $100 altogether for this four-day trip to Pokhara. The plane was going to cost $119, but the bus was about $9 instead. If I could have gotten out of Pokhara before next Thursday, I’d have stayed just to avoid the bus. But nothing to do but just put my head down and get through it. I have apparently survived.
Coming back from dinner last night, I thought maybe the internet would be faster down in the hotel lobby. All I wanted to do was to keep myself awake for a few hours before the jet lag cotton-brain descended. There were two women sitting in the lobby. I asked if the internet was faster down here and they said yes, so I grabbed the computer and came back down.
As I came into the lobby, I saw a few others had joined them and I had a second or two of, “Aw Darn…I was planning on some nice quiet computering…” But soon I was caught up in listening to them talking about their experiences working in hospitals and doing nursing training here.
At one point, the short-haired one, (turns out her name is Kerry–same name as the woman who invited me to come to Pokhara) was telling a story about shocking a group of urologists somehow, and they caught me frankly eavesdropping. So they began to tell me what Kerry Reid Searl does, what she has pioneered as a teaching technique. She calls it Mask-ED.
She dons a polyurethane costume—they are anatomically correct and full body—and is, like Mrs. Doubtfire, transformed into a totally different person. In fact, the guy in LA who created Mrs. Doubtfire did Kerry’s costumes. Each of her characters has a full history, a whole life, and has found himself or herself in the hospital.
The nursing students or the doctors at conventions come into the room to meet Cyril or Bob or one of the other characters. These are everyday folks, with fears about what’s happening to them, but fiercely protective of their own dignity. Some of them are “retired” people from the field, so when the nurses start to practice, they remind their caregivers about washing their hands or admonish them about speaking to their patients with attention and respect.
The story about the urologists at a convention was hilarious. Cyril wandered in with his pj’s and his “bits,” as Kerry put it, hanging out of his pj bottoms trailing a catheter. “Which one of you wankers did this to me?” he demanded. “Was it you?”—pointing out to one of the surprised surgeons. From there, Cyril proceeded to tell them all the stuff they’d left out of his pre-op briefing, all the problems he was going to face, the impact on his sex life.
The doctors started off essentially dismissing him—How did THIS guy get in here, who is he to stand up there and yammer on??? But after Cyril had their full attention and they were squirming in their chairs, Kerry pulled off the mask and revealed herself as the keynote speaker they THOUGHT they were going to hear.
Everything that involves training students to be present and human in their interactions with their patients and clients can be demonstrated more effectively with MaskEd, says Kerry. She uses the full-body masks to allow students to practice procedures that, before, were practiced with disembodied plastic body parts. Because the buttocks they are tending aren’t attached to a real human, they don’t really learn what it is to nurse full human beings until much later in their training, maybe too late for the folks who need that most—the elderly, the deeply fearful….
…And, I realized, the people with disabilities. What if special education teachers had practice teaching sessions with folks who looked, spoke and moved like the students they would be dealing with for the rest of their careers?
And my mind leaped directly to the other Kerry, Kerry Bissenger, the woman who so generously and spontaneously invited me to hop on the bus with her and a group of 19 students going to teach in the schools in Pokhara, a city 200 miles away from Kathmandu. Kerry B. has been working with thought leaders in the field of disability policy, and educational inclusion for some years.
Kerry B. would have the resources to incorporate Kerry R-S’s amazingly innovative work into the toolbox of special ed teacher training. I went directly upstairs and emailed her Kerry R-S’s Ted Talk video.
Mask-ED is a kind of improvisational theatre. As a professor of prospective nurses, Kerry Reid Searl knows what students often slide past, what procedures they can give short shrift to, what topics they NEED to memorize but are perhaps weak on. With her real-people characters, she can show the young nurses the consequences of losing touch with the very real human side of nursing, of too hasty hand-washing, of poor communication. With the mask on, the professor disappears and the future patient appears—to admonish, to flirt, to show his fears and embarrassment.
Then, Kerry R-S unmasks and uses the experience her students have had with Cyril or one of the other characters to emphasize the lessons, to talk about what just happened and what could be better or different.
This is role-playing taken to the max. It’s like Candid Camera in the classroom, except that the students KNOW that Cyril is being played by their professor. It’s just that Cyril is so real, they can suspend their disbelief. That, finally, is what theater is about—convincing the audience to suspend their disbelief. Traditional actors find it difficult to play Kerry’s characters because they have been trained to project OUT, across the proscenium arch and into the back row of the balcony. Traditional role-play keeps all the baggage that comes with practicing on one’s friends or professors. Cyril replaces the history and emotional environment of one’s teachers or friends or fellow students with Cyril’s own history, his own context, his backstory.
Of course, these masks are not cheap. And getting the proper training in their use would also require an investment. But the implications for disability work are far-reaching. This is one of those—“The World Needs To Know About This” moments.
I am taking some audio clips as I travel. What I learned last time is that, though I name each clip in my iPhone, these labels do not carry over when I download them to the computer. Boo-hiss!
So I’m transcribing them daily and will share them here:
On the bus: “The pollution is beginning to clear. The sun is out. Maybe we will actually be able to see the world without the gray of the smog that covers Kathmandu these days.”
I sat in the front seat of the bus and so could experience once again the feeling of utter chaos on the roads. The idea, as far as I can tell, is that one has to overtake and pass everybody going slower than you are, and it doesn’t really matter whether there is a turn coming up, or, many times, someone actually coming at you from the opposite direction. The impression is one of urgent hurrying, but when Kerry suggested that, I said I wasn’t sure. “Maybe it’s just ‘driving.’”
What amazed me about it was how closely cut are the distances between vehicles coming and going. We routinely missed the other cars by inches. Motorcycles often passed between two cars going in opposite directions with just two or three inches on each side. It felt like a different concept of Space. As if the margins we consider “safety margins” of distances, because we believe and it does seem true, that we can’t accurately judge how far away the other vehicle is—is just another refutable belief. The oncoming motorcyclists didn’t even flinch when we came roaring at them seemingly head-on, only to miss them by swerving at the last millisecond.
There are no white lines that have to be respected. They are more suggestions than rules.
Now I’m sleepy and so I need to move—do some laundry and hang it out to dry. Then see if my buddy from the airplane has arrived and wants to meet for what I’ve heard is the best lemon meringue pie in Nepal.
When you are on the road, it’s often the people you encounter and the kinds of conversations that make the trip.
Yesterday, we were getting ready to board the bus for the 7-hour trip to Pokhara. The trip’s local organizer had provided four bicycle rickshaws to transport the students’ considerable luggage from the hotel to the bus.
Teddy, one of the two boys in the Aussie group, struck me right away because he looked up in his phrase book, “May I?” and then went to the rickshaw driver who would be pulling the luggage to the bus and asked him, in Nepali, if he could drive the rickshaw. And then proceeded to pedal the rickshaw.
[I have a video of this, but the internet is so slow, I will probably have to wait to get back to Bhaktapur before I can upload it.]
Not sure how we got into the subject of the 60s and 70s. Maybe because he was saying that he doesn’t like just to be a tourist, that’s why he drove the rickshaw. And I said, “In my day, we called it the difference between being a tourist and a traveler.” And then he asked me to explain why his father—of my generation, I presume—would quit college and just go traveling.
The first thing I said was that we believed that you could learn more about life by living it than you could learn from books. And that travel was seen as one of the best ways to learn about life.
From there the discussion went to American politics, greed, how the Republicans were changing the voting system, and then how he felt a bit apprehensive about how this experience, teaching for 5 weeks in a Nepalese school, living with a family in the Tibetan Refugee Center, would change him. So I talked about how he would understand something much deeper about relationships after his Nepal experience. The way people do relationships here and in many other parts of the world is just different. Our more individualistic outlook on life shapes our connections to people. Here, their less individualistic view shapes their relationships. When we spend time in a place like this, we gradually begin to understand this difference, this subtle and yet quite profound alternate universe of networks and connections.
I also told Teddy that he would not be able to actually articulate what he’d learned in any meaningful way. In fact, nobody would be particularly interested in what he’d learned about himself and life. This is one of the most difficult lessons, I think. Travel, really good, close-to-the-ground travel, profoundly changes us. But we are almost completely inarticulate about what and how and why. When we get together with other travelers, we don’t need to talk about it, because we all know what happened and what it means. When we get together with our very good friends back home, we just can’t seem to get what has happened to us across.
Afterward he said, “Thank you for giving me some food for thought.”
I am time zone challenged. The only way I can tell what time it is in the States while I’m in Nepal is to add 15 minutes to the time and then add an hour and then switch from day to night or night to day. So right now it is about a quarter to 11 pm in North Carolina. Subtract 15, subtract 1 hour, switch to daytime– it’s 9:30 tomorrow.
Really. It’s already tomorrow. What is especially weird is when I’m on the phone to somebody in, say, New Zealand in my fairly early morning and they are already ready for bed. Their today is GONE. And if I wait until after supper, the same day, THEY are starting tomorrow. How can anybody wrap their head around THAT?
I confess that just dealing with Mountain Time where my friend Kalman lives and Pacific where Sadna and Sridhar live — tends to throw me off. I know that I can’t have any real interactions with those people until really, pretty much afternoon, my time. It is just all so confusing.
I just figured out the flight times for my trip to Nepal. When I leave NYC on Thursday at 11:40am, it will already be roughly 10:30 Thursday night in Kathmandu. And when I arrive there 21 and a half hours later, it will be nearly 8pm on Friday in Kathmandu and only around 9 am Friday in the States.
My first task, as I see it, will be to totally switch my internal clock from day to night. I’ve done this. A BUNCH of times. But still. Whoa. I’ve already told my Stateside clients not to expect SQUAT out of me for a week.
One of the pieces of advice you always get about this kind of switch is: When you get on the plane, immediately set your watch to the new time zone. Okay. I get on the plane, set my clock ahead nearly 11 hours and then what? Stay up until 1am in my new time zone and see if I can catch some shuteye? That would make sense.
Well, it helps that I’m a raging insomniac anyway, many many nights of my life. I don’t stress over it, but I also just don’t sleep the way I used to. Stay tuned. We’ll just have to see how this plays out in real time. What, then, IS real time? I have to conclude that there isn’t any. Not when today and yesterday and tomorrow just slip and slide their way around the planet.
Every time I go on a long trip– and I’ve been on many months-long trips, starting in my 20s– the week before I leave is just always crazy. I find it difficult to sleep. I have a ticker-tape of thoughts that won’t stop rolling through my brain. What if the folks I’m going to see don’t want me? Don’t have anything for me to do? Are too busy to see me? What have I forgotten? What if my 2T hard drive doesn’t get here today?
I am already missing my friends and family. Did I pick that fight last night, or was it HIS separate anxiety that did that? I’ve got my bags partially packed in the yoga room, with items that should go into the bags sitting on top or beside, to remind me of what I’ve already got. I have been using AnyList to keep track of the stuff I randomly remember.
Add to this packing and separation nutsiness the fact that I am working all this week with clients that need fairly major work done before I leave. I’m operating on the premise that electricity will be iffy, that Skype will work but can’t be really counted on, that the wireless internet will be as slow as I remember it from previous trips. All that adds up to a sketchy ability to serve the clients that I have here in the States. I’ve warned everybody, but it also means that the heavy lifting that needs doing with my two substantial clients just needs to get done this week and while I’m in New York.
One of my favorite things to do just before a big trip is to invite various friends to stop by the evening before I leave for a Packing Party. The Night-Before-Packing is something the overland travelers all did while I was on the road in ’78-’79. We would gather in the departing traveler’s room, offering graciously to take the stuff they were finished with off their hands. Half-bottles of shampoo, half-tubes of toothpaste, the baggie with laundry detergent they will no longer need because THEY will be HOME, where all those things already live in their pantries, medicine cabinets and utility closets. We, on the other hand, miles and miles from our own going-home party, were happy to add the lightweight supplies to our lightweight luggage.
This year, our singing group, Song Circle, meets the night before I leave, so I will have to do my packing on Friday night. I haven’t invited anybody to a Packing Party yet, but I’m thinking about it. It’s so nice to have that support as I peer over the precipice. Once I’m on the Conveyor Belt, that moving space that takes me from Point A to Point B, there is no precipice, no major life stride into the unknown that I’m feeling now. I’m just moving, and I keep moving until the Conveyor Belt stops at my destination and I’m ready for whatever adventure awaits.
Jean-Francois and I had a spurt of packing energy last night and got me set up with an electronics and emergency overnight bag for the Nepal trip. I will be transferring my “office” to Nepal, so I need to have all the essential elements of an equipped set-up. I’ve done this once before, when I moved my office to Puerto Rico for two weeks last January.
I used this bag for the Puerto Rico trip, too. Packed, it stands upright. It has MANY MANY pockets and crevices and can hold a wealth of stuff. The last trip, I took my Lenovo laptop, which I’ve just replaced with a MacBook Pro. I found a very lightweight second screen. I’m hoping it is going to work with the Mac. It’s too late now to order another one.
Here’s the electronics section…Notice there are a couple of FlipCameras– now out of fashion but excellent little machines in their time. I’m thinking that my client in Nepal will have somebody who can make use of them. I also will be looking for something to deal with the possibility of electrical surges and sudden interruptions in current. I’m also taking a battery pack so that I can charge my various devices even if the electricity has been interrupted. They call it “load balancing” in Nepal. One night I watched the rolling blackouts from the roof terrace of the hostel where I always stay.
Below: The two-screen setup with the Lenovo. The little plastic pink electronics bag — once was some sort of cosmetics bag. The new Mac finding its place in the sturdy backpack. Also not shown: An emergency clothes cube with a change of clothes, a raincoat and a a light shawl. A little toiletries bag with meds, toothbrush and paste, and soap.
Entering a new era here at Worldstouch! I have had international projects before and have even blogged about them, but it has been nearly 7 years since I’ve been on my own, doing this work I love as WorldsTouch.
As I ramp up for a November 9th departure for two and a half months in Nepal, I’ll be blogging here and posting photos of my gear, my packing process. I’ll link back to Facebook, for my friends following this thread.
I’ve been thinking about what I’ll take on this trip and decided I needed a new laptop, one that was lots lighter than the Lenovo ThinkBook I’ve got. I bought a MacBook Pro after having considered the Air. I wanted a LOT of Ram– got 8GB– and a zippy processor (2.7 GHz) so that gives me a good solid workhorse machine for many miles on the road.
I’ll have more on the technology toolkit as I get it together.
I just checked today, and here’s the lowdown on what to expect in terms of weather:
November Average in Kathmandu: 60 degrees Farenheit – 47-72 range
December Avg: 52, with 38-65 range
January Avg: 49, with 36-62 range
Clearly not frighteningly cold, but provision will need to be made for the chilly nights. It’s also important to keep in mind that rolling blackouts of electricity mean that whatever heating might be available is probably subject to sudden shut-offs when the electricity goes out.