What truly defines us?

Rolina Dhital

I have been tempted to write for so long but held myself back because these days you just need to be careful with your words. No matter what you say, there will always be someone who will be reactive against you. With so much hatred and foul languages used in the social media against each other, it is really scary. So just want to clarify that this isn’t political nor against any group or beliefs. It is entirely my personal blog. I just felt like sharing my own perspective as a minority in terms of ‘thinking’ in this country.

Coming from a multi cultural background, I think I have a pretty good exposure on diversity. My mother is a Newar, originally from Kathmandu. My father, a Bahun originally from Gorkha and my husband, a Magar originally from Rukum. We have Budhists, Hindus and Christians within our diverse family. With an inherited sharp nose and a brain good enough, I have been called the ‘cunning Bahun’. With an inherited slanted oriental eyes and opinioned mind I have also been called the ‘calculative Newar’. And of course being an emotional fool with a short temper, I have been told to have the temperaments that perfectly match the ‘hot blooded Magar’. With a dark complexion and those ‘Indian’ features, I have also been called a ‘Madhesi’ many times. All these names were given to me none other than my own folks who have also loved me dearly and I just laugh it off.

My parents in their days had a bit of struggle breaking the barriers with an inter-caste marriage. But for me, things were extremely smooth. One fine day we told our parents and close relatives that we have met someone special. Few years later, we told them that we feel ready to get married. Everyone welcomed our decision. There were no speculations, nor raised eyebrows. I did not hear anyone bringing up the ‘caste’ issue. We had a simple wedding with a court marriage, a short ceremony of exchanging garlands and rings, and a small combined reception where only the closest friends and families were invited. It was a simple and beautiful event with no exaggeration and no extravagance.

Following the marriage I chose not to change my surname and it has nothing to do with caste. I didn’t want to change my name or anything about myself just because I was married. And no one in the family I married to ever questioned me. We moved out from our parents’ home and it was just simply because we loved our independence. Nobody objected and it was in fact a celebration for us being capable enough to live on our own. And yet we enjoyed every bit of the new cultures we were exposed to. I enjoyed the new food and the dialect of my Magar family. And so did he enjoy mine. Every Tihar, my maternal aunt invites us for Mha puja, where the Bahun and Magar jwains enjoy the festive culture- the Newari way. And I celebrate Bhaitika next day, the Bahun way and him the Magar way.

I know family like ours is rare in this country. But I also know that we are not the only one. I have so many friends and relatives who ended up marrying into different races without much complication. I have also seen many people like us in my neighborhood. Yet I know we represent the smallest proportion of this country. Had I been born somewhere else within my own country, where the ethnic identity is so dominant, who knows, I would have been a victim of honor-killing too, like many of those that you hear in the unofficial news. Who knows if things get worse in this country, people like us would still be eligible to be honor killed for not ‘respecting’ and ‘preserving’ their own ethnicity or religion and for contaminating the thousand years old culture. Who knows….

In the midst of people voicing out for their rights on the basis of race, I just feel that there is no escape from racism. Even if we end up having the most perfect constitution, the discrimination will continue. Even if we run away from our country, there will always be someone in the foreign land who will look down on you. As a matter of fact, except few friends who will love you and Nepal unconditionally, to the world you are just someone from one of the poorest countries in the world. When you apply for international scholarships, jobs or even visa, you just mention your nationality and no one really cares which ethnicity you belong to. You just represent a country recently devastated by a mega earthquake, now torn apart in ethnic riots and heavily dependent on foreign aids. For many, they wouldn’t even know what Nepalese look like. They will only identify three kinds of people, one who looks like Chinese, one who looks like Indian and few in between.

I once argued in a program in a developed country where I felt discriminated against when it came to funding issue. When I was questioned on my intentions on using the fund, I felt so offended that I replied, “I may come from a poor country but I have always lived with dignity”. I felt immensely proud of my integrity back then like most Nepalese do. But today when I look back I feel like laughing at myself. Do I really live a dignified life? Can I really do without foreign aids? The answer is unfortunately a big NO. And they had all the rights to question me because the country I belong to has always been so dependent on others. Except few upcoming young entrepreneurs, we have not really done anything remarkable or self-sustaining for our country besides boasting about the beautiful landscape and a proud history of not being colonized.

And yet day and night we keep ourselves so busy discussing about different classes in Nepal. But the truth is, the only class that exists in Nepal or anywhere in the world, is the one of economic status. Either you belong to the class that has enough money or you don’t. The ones who are able to raise their voice actually all belong to a privileged class irrespective of any ethnicity. For the poorest ones, be it a Bahun, Janajati or Madhesi, survival is an everyday struggle and to have a proper meal a luxury.

Neither the earthquake nor the economic blockade, not even the recognition of their ethnic group would make any difference to them. Because they never had anything to loose in the first place- neither the money, nor the rights!

And yet, we believe what actually uplifts us or makes our country proud is not the economic growth but the recognition of our own group in that ‘book’!

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Naked truth of mental health and social (ir)responsibility

What would you do when you see a person with mental health problem wandering in the middle of the street? The answer in our society is pretty obvious. We would stare at the person, perhaps laugh a little and then walk away. Probably many would genuinely want to help but would hold themselves back because of the fear of facing unnecessary hurdles ahead.

What would you do if this same person happens to be an adolescent girl lying next to a busy street, in a bright daylight, unprotected, abandoned and naked!! Would you still choose to walk away?

– See more at: http://setopati.net/blog/6924/Naked-truth-of-mental-health-and-social-(ir)responsibility/#sthash.ZqrKV1Jw.dpuf

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Afterquake experience as a medical professional

Went to Chapagaun yesterday with Nepal Army team because the Ministry of Defense directed that the medical team hadn’t reached there yet. In a way we were quite excited on this idea, and we were told all they needed was human resource. I imagined going there in a huge vehicle with enough supplies. But then, we later found out they had no medicines, no other supplies, no definite plan.They just got the vague order from above.
We had a great team of 11 people including 4 doctors and medical students from first year to fifth year. We were pretty well prepared with all the basic medications and our own plans. But the vehicle was small enough and we had to fit in tightly, thankfully most of us were of small built.

When we traveled through the old town, it was deserted, there were some houses fallen but the frightening part was that you couldn’t find anyone there. It was like traveling through a haunted place. But when we reached there everybody was so confused on where to start. The army as confused as we were had suggested us to start a health camp under a shed in the heavy rain with no one showing up.

Aware of the fact that it was going to be our waste of time, we decided to find the temporary shelters around the village and divided into groups with one group being static staying at a place that looked more or less like a health camp. Rest of us walked though the scattered places guided by the locals that looked very different from the shelters at Tudikhel or in other huge open fields. We found people living under overcrowded tents, under extremely unhygienic conditions. We walked through the open fields with human feces that was extremely smelly.

We went from tent to tent spreading awareness and also treating general conditions and diarrhea. Tried to purify the water as much as possible but then we too were in short of purifiers. While the static team was left with examining just vague complaints like it used to be in general health camps. People excitedly came to take medicines just because it is free and many got angry at the fact we didn’t give them enough.

Many were fighting with us as we couldn’t provide them water purifiers, as if we were the corrupted ones who are hiding all the supplies and all the funds we received. It was disappointing in a way, because our students, without having a second thought, without thinking about their own health first, obviously they too haven’t slept for nights, went there shivering in the cold, getting wet in the rain, went tent to tent, and yet some people were thankless. It was disappointing because even at the time of crisis, many people were acting so selfishly.

But it was also satisfying because we tried our best for prevention. Even though they were ignorant and wouldn’t understand what we were doing, we knew it was the time to act to prevent potential outbreaks in the future. We did warn them and educate them about potential dangers. But still it was also a waste of the well trained team. Perhaps things like that could have been initiated at local levels, by the youths staying there. Our expertise could have been used at the places that required more technical help.

Lessons to be learned, people outside Nepal please stop being cynical and impatient. It is disheartening to read about so many posts talking about corruption and what not before the funds have even reached us. And many people here are trying their best and putting others first. For the local people who haven’t had huge damages, though we understand your sentiments as we are in the same boat, please stop being selfish. We need to prioritize! Any thoughtful person would rather hand away the resources to the people in real need.

For people who are heading out to help, please have a proper plan and needs assessment first. And for medical teams, we don’t really need a general outreach health camp right now, save it for future outbreaks. It is waste of medicines, if you start distributing it freely for any vague complaints. It is time of crisis and we need to save it for severe conditions. For now what we need is preventive measures. And of course funds must be used in step wise manner, none should be using it all at once with nothing left for the future.

I am still thankful to Nepal Army for their initiatives, got to share our own issues closely and it was a chance to understand each other well, and did our best as a team. As I wrote this just got another call, need to go somewhere with the Army again. I now know what to expect but it won’t stop me from contributing my best.

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Prejudices against professional women

I don’t hate men. I am not even an extreme feminist. I consider myself extremely fortunate to have grown amongst wonderful men in my life. Be it my father, my husband, uncles, brothers and male friends, they all have always been amazing and very progressive. But I wish I could say the same for the professional world. – See more at: http://setopati.net/opinion/5770/Prejudices-against-professional-women/#sthash.wPoBhHpP.dpuf
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Inaccessible health centers and vacant delivery rooms

A few days ago, I talked to a young doctor working in a primary health care center located just two hours’ drive away from Kathmandu. She shared her frustration and asked if we could help by donating a heater for the delivery room at their health center. – See more at: http://setopati.net/opinion/5330/#sthash.OQhKP6po.dpuf
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Life of an inexperienced teacher

                                                                                                                          -Rolina Dhital

I never thought I would become a teacher someday. It was never part of the plan. As a  student, I mostly ran away from teachers. I was always the mischievous kind. In my first year of medical school I was awarded with the title of  “the naughty prankster” from my friends in a student poll. I loved giggling with friends, cautiously choosing the least noticeable seat in a lecture hall. I was a perfect procrastinator and a dead liner.

Like many, I too had my share of ups and downs throughout my student life. From moments of pride and achievements to poor grades and low self-esteem. From the words of praises and admiration to criticisms and heartaches, I have been through them all. In short, I had the most normal student life. And life moved on, just the way it should have.

Then, one fine day, I became a lecturer in a medical school, where I was supposed to deal with people mostly in their late teens and early twenties. I had undertaken this new job at a point, where I was still figuring out what I “really” wanted from my life. I had just had a career counseling from a reputed and senior academician who told me, “I encourage you to get into academia because we are in short of new generation in this sector”.

It took me a while to think over and over again. I loved the idea of being able to teach and mentor someone. I loved the idea of being able to inspire someone even more. But then, the idea of dealing with people of the most complicated age group freaked me out. It took me back to my own days of early twenties, and I didn’t even want to deal with my younger self. I panicked a lot before joining the first day at work. I panicked even more before my first day of delivering a lecture.

But then to my own disbelief, I actually enjoyed dealing with this bunch of young promising people. It took a while for me to process the idea and categorizing myself as a “teacher” now and them as “ students”. It was also awkward and confusing as I was working with my own teachers who now turned into my colleagues. I now had to read even more than before and surprisingly it was not boring anymore.

I  understood the little secret that “the teachers will always know”. When students try to fool  you, you know exactly what they are up to. But you choose to let them win as long as it is harmless. From the other side of the table you could clearly tell who is well prepared and who is just pretending. You slowly learn to put on a straight face and laugh inside silently on every silly remark they make. Many times, it reminded me of my own stupidity in the past, and on how my friends and I believed that we could fool the teachers.

You also have to deal with challenges you never anticipated because you look somewhat young and would blend in with the students in the crowd. Every now and then, I had to explain to other people that I am a teacher and not a student. You go through the same pattern over and over again, of people getting confused, surprised and then underestimating you. As if you being a female and young makes you less competent and less experienced. You reach a point where someone complimenting you as “young” turned into something awkward, something you are not very proud of anymore.

At times, you have to deal with students who challenge you and intimidate you in weird ways. There will also be the ones who would make an attempt to attack your integrity. But then many of them will actually inspire you, amaze you and make you proud. You will also meet some of them who are just like you, as if you are looking at the mirror of your younger self.

You totally understand their insecurities, fears and dreams because you have been through the same. You can relate to them better because a part of you still thinks like them. But still, there will be a gap between you and them because what they are going through now is a part of your distant past. They will have to go through each stage of growth just like you did to understand the way of life. You cannot feed them all of your ideas because they will be creating their own.

Being a student isn’t easy because you are expected to be disciplined most of the time. But being a teacher is tough too because you’ve got rules to follow as well. It is even tougher when you are given the job of reminding them their code of conduct most of the time. And it becomes the toughest when they start comparing themselves with you, as if you and them are in the same boat.

Each time you plan for something fun with your friends and family, you are worried of meeting your students in those places. You realize that you were once worried of meeting your teachers and how the time has changed. It is really awkward  when you actually bump into them and their parents when you are at your “coolest and most casual” self. You blush when people you hang out with share those glances and laugh at you, when you greet your students. And the rest of the day you have to deal with your funny friends and family calling you “teacher/mam” all the time.

It feels like a crash course when you have to deal simultaneously with over 200 students, ranging from the first year to the fifth year. It can be overwhelming and exhausting. But it also teaches you important lessons on leadership, diplomacy, empathy, compassion and forgiveness. It is like looking at the reflection of the society you live in, very diverse. You meet the smart ones and the over smart ones, you also meet the shy ones and the nervous ones, you meet the leaders, artists and writers in the making. Many of them remind you of your own friends, while you will also meet the kinds you have never met before.

Well, the story continues and it hasn’t ended yet. I am enjoying this job that I had never planned to undertake. Now, I see myself transforming gradually from an inexperienced teacher to a more experienced one. It has also transformed that carefree and restless girl in me into a more mature and sensible person now. I feel older now, but I do look forward to many more exciting days to come….

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Life of a to-be-plastic surgeon’s wife

Rolina Dhital

If you’ve ever watched the popular drama series called Grey’s Anatomy, probably you remember that hot male plastic surgeon. He was good looking and his job was to use the knife and stitches to make others look good. Despite his Casanova image, as young girls, my friends and me were always in awe of his sexiness. For some reason, the idea of a man being a plastic surgeon alone was so appealing.

And now, coincidentally, I happen to be a wife of a to-be-plastic surgeon. As a matter of fact, I had an important role to encourage him to consider plastic surgery as a career option. A friend who used to watch Grey’s anatomy and had seen my husband’s picture on Facebook once said, “Why are all plastic surgeons hot? Getting married to one must be so much fun!” At that moment I had blushed realizing that I’m married to a pretty hot guy who is also now becoming a plastic surgeon. But fun? Did we even have time for fun? Life seemed more colorful before he got into the five-year long residency program in plastic surgery.

Plastic surgery, as the name suggests itself sounds like a glamorous field for many. You imagine rich celebrities coming for lip job, nose job and what not! You imagine a plastic surgeon loaded with a thick wallet of credit cards, taking vacations in the most exotic places around the world, riding expensive cars and wearing designer clothes. Probably you would even imagine his wife to be all dressed up and made up walking into his clinic in designer shoes carrying a designer bag. But in reality, probably that holds true only in developed countries where cosmetic plastic surgery is quite fashionable. In Nepal, I have yet to come across a filthy rich plastic surgeon, who has had the luxury of such extravagant life style. And the situation is far worse for the young doctors who aspire to become plastic surgeon.

Little did I know, that in reality the soon to-be-plastic surgeon that I am married to actually had to rush to hospital every other night to attend emergency surgeries. His crazy and twisted real stories of his patients included saving a man’s finger that was accidentally chopped off by a butcher’s knife when he went to buy meat; sewing the tendons of an angry teenager who punched his fist into a glass door; dressing the infected wound all over the body of a poor woman who was caught on fire on a cold winter night; amputating a dead arm of an old man who had electric burn from the electric wires carelessly hanging above his terrace where he had gone just to pee at night, and many more.

And little did I know, in the midst of these unfortunate events taking place around, I will be left alone on almost every weekend week after week wondering how to enjoy my solitude. Little did I know that our movie date that comes only once in ages would end up with me watching rest of the movie in the theater all alone while he will have to rush to hospital to re-implant a chopped off finger of a little boy. There have been uncountable cold sleepless nights when I laid all alone in my bed waiting for him to come back from yet another emergency surgery, wondering and silently praying that he succeeds in his mission.

It is even more frustrating to realize that with a to-be-plastic surgeon as your husband, if you still choose to have a decent living then it is your and probably only your sole responsibility to be the breadwinner of your family. Because, as a fifth-year surgery resident in his early thirties, who has worked almost for eight years as a doctor, after completing a five and half year long course in medicine, all he gets as stipend is just a little more than what a cleaner who had barely completed his high school gets as his salary. With an advanced training and a medical education of 10 years, with all his skills and diligence, all he becomes is a poor to-be-plastic surgeon that works like a slave. And you become the slave’s wife. Sad isn’t it? Probably you wouldn’t want to switch with my life ever.

But to be honest, I wouldn’t want to trade this life with anybody else either. And I have no regrets, neither for marrying him nor for him choosing plastic surgery. I do become a nagging wife complaining most of the time about him and his profession that looks somewhat pathetic to me many times. But then when he choose not to shout back, his silence tells me the passion he has for his work and the respect he has for his supervisor and other colleagues. And when he comes back home late at night and tells me the stories of his patients with compassion, I see the twinkle in his eyes that reminds me that I married a man with a golden heart and I fall in love with him all over again. And when I meet a child who smiles at you through a recently repaired cleft lip, I feel immense pride and gratitude.

Being a to-be-plastic surgeon’s wife is tough. At times, it is lonely to the extent that you start following the blog by “lonely doctors’ wives”, totally relating to their stories. You loose that excitement to go back home early from work, because you know there is only loneliness waiting for you at home. But then, we all are born with a purpose. And probably his purpose was to serve and to give generously. I am not sure if he will ever become rich, but I know he will grow into a fine surgeon, someone who will become a source of hope for the scarred, burnt and broken ones. And even though I will continue to complain about this life we both chose, I will also continue to stand strong by his side.

Well, as for now, this is just a little reflection from a wife of a to-be-plastic surgeon. But next time before you judge that all doctors are rich and don’t do their job sincerely, you should know that there are many other young doctors waking up at nights to help the sick and injured ones. As much as you read about diseases you should also understand that there are many other spouses of busy health workers who are giving up the little joys in their own lives so that someone else’s suffering could be lessened.

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