[Continued from Returning Home, posted September 26, 2011.]
The bandh (strike) lifted at 4:30 p.m.
As 5 p.m. rolled around, so did my car, heralding the smell of burning rubber in its wake. Yet it wasn’t until 5:03 p.m. that I realized it was a stack of flaming tires and not the car’s expeditious arrival creating the synthetic fragrance around us.
As is known to happen in Nepal or any other part of the world, students protest. On this day, the Dadeldhura student protests sank its roots into the roundabout near my waiting station. It seemed calm enough, and Ramesh seemed unfazed by its uprising. The riot police arrived within moments on the back of a pick-up truck. They were outfitted in white helmets, blue uniforms and the clear, full-body shields that I had only seen in special news reports and movies. They dismounted and forced the crowd back with a series of shouts and surely menacing gazes from behind their tinted visors. Yet no physical exchanges took place and no one seemed hurt.
Step six, almost complete. Once the protests subsided, the roads were cleared and my most recent chariot was, unfortunately, deemed unworthy. The road to Achham is long, often unpaved, and winding through the Nepali mountains. A hatchback would never have made it.
So, I was back to the drawing board. After a series of calls and a quick automobile transfer at a nowhere roundabout under a flooded and pitch black Nepali sky, I was in a newly hired jeep and ready for the road ahead. My driver and I decided to spend the night in Dhangadhi for fear of landslides en route to Achham. I had thought Ramesh would join me in the jeep. But I didn’t realize he hadn’t until it was too late. Ramesh would take the hatchback to his destination, while I took the jeep to mine. I thanked him silently and again as my driver and I continued to our hotel.
Step 7 and the last leg of our journey began at 6am the next morning. My driver and his friend spoke in Nepali. I smiled, took in the scenery and tried to occupy my mind with anything that might help me from nodding off. Safe to say, I was less than successful.
Two hours later, I awoke to our jeep stopping behind a row of parked vehicles along another mountain’s edge. I asked if everything was alright. My driver responded with that amazing South Asian sideways nod that defies every Western rule I had ever learned of head motion and meaning. “Landslide.”
So we parked our truck in line with dozens of others, dismounted, and began to walk. It was a landslide alright, and it was enormous. Looking up, the chute it left in its wake seemed fifty feet high, while its deposit of rocks and dirt on the road must have been forty feet wide by twenty feet high. We climbed the rocks. Saw the other side. Climbed back and waited. A bulldozer arrived three hours later and had cleared the road within another two hours. I applauded that bulldozer operator with every load he lifted. His skill and sheer courage seemed as big as the mountain of rocks and debris before him.
Once the road was cleared, we left. I took a photo of a rainbow across the valley. And then I slept.
After six more hours, we arrived in Achham. I awoke unsure of where I was and how I’d arrived there. But I was happy to be somewhere.
Some people say there’s no place like home. And I’ll agree. On a cloud-clustered hospital campus that has served more than 50,000 of the world’s poorest patients for free, that stands in the grazing path of countless goats and cows but days from my favorite pizzeria, family and beloved American drip coffee, I can say that there is no place like home. But home is also where you make it. And I’m eager to see what this home has in store.
Gregory Karelas is the Country Director of Nyaya Health. He graduated with an MSc in Medical Anthropology.