Chikar, Kashmir, the community where we are based, is about 4,700 people (over 20,000 in the Chikar Union Council) and already it seems that all are aware of our presence. Since the earthquake on October 8, 2005, they have been used to seeing foreign humanitarian aid workers, but due to the fact that most NGOs have left here by last May and the harsh winters, we are basically the first to return this spring. The fact that we are female foreigners (gories) ads an extra touch of inquisitiveness. Everyone has been extremely open and welcoming to us. We have had the opportunity to walk around the town, see patients (always female), go in to a home and today there was a health fair and celebration of the first anniversary of CDRS of which we were honoured as VIP guests.
We are living in the Rural Health Centre which is a huge 4 story concrete mansion formerly a private residence. The family who owns the house is too traumatized to return, so leased it to CDRS for peanuts. We have the penthouse with views of the 20,000 ft. Himalayan foothills. Spectacular!!!
Most of the 18 staff of CDRS live in this building (30 total staff inncluding all 4 facilities). We eat together, play cricket and carom and work together. The atmosphere is like a big family and we already feel like a part of it. Aneela, the RN and interpreter and Farah, a lady health visitor (LHV), are our constant companions, best friends and guardian angels, ensuring our comfort in every realm of life (including serving us tea as we write this). We’ve almost learned all the names, but words like Shazia, Touqueer, don’t spring to mind easily, and Afzal, Abrar, Abaid, Abbas, Asif and Ali Ahmed all become a jumble in our addled brains. We will do a whole blog entry about Todd Shea, the American cofounder of CDRS. He is a noble and extraordinary soul who is adored by the people. He arrived here a week after the earthquake as a volunteer and has now committed himself to this community and region.
Our senses are being bombarded with the sounds of the singsongy truck horns blaring as they zigzag down the mountain (cliff) side. These trucks are each a work of art with elaborate and colorful paintings on each small panel, including the wheel wells and hubcaps. The call to prayer at the 3 mosques is heard over loudspeakers throughout the town 5 times a day. The food is spicy and filling, lots of curried rice and chicken and wood fire baked chapattis. The scent of spring blossoms would permeate the air if the odor of burning refuse wasn’t so ubiquitous. This ain’t Switzerland despite the alpine magnificence! The mountain views rival some of the best in the world. The people are extremely handsome. Many have the famous “National Geographic” cover girl emerald green eyes. These are apparently a genetic legacy of Alexander the Great’s troops.
We haven’t really gotten into a work routine yet. The plan is for us to assist the staff seeing female patients in the outpatient clinic (about 150 people come through between 9-2 5 days a week). We will also be doing home visits; try to do some education in the schools and the week after next we will go to three outlying clinics and see women where there are no female health practitioners. These are very remote places, though only 20 Km. distance from Chikar, it apparently takes about 2 hours to get there in a 4WD vehicle. Thus far in the out patient clinic, we have seen a lot of anemia and upper respiratory problems, as well as a probable case of lupus. Since there is no lab or X-ray available here, all diagnostics are based on subjective and objective assessment. All the women are eager to be heard and seen by us and seem very grateful of our presence and willingness to be with them.
Since our arrival the CDRS staff has been busy preparing for today’s health fair which celebrated the first anniversary of CDRS and also their merger with the government's newly established Rural Health Center, a UNICEF pediatric program and UNFPA Mother/Child health center (United Nations Population Fund). The staff put on a series of skits in which we were included; Helen, playing a wife and Judy an ailing patient (both wearing local dresses!). Aneela and Farah took us on a shopping spree, to get the appropriate Kashmir attire. We chose the fabric and were fitted on Thursday, and picked up the amazing 3 piece outfits on Friday. We had “beauty treatment” done by a 14 year old girl who drew traditional henna designs on our hands. Today Helen’s virgin lips were lipsticked and eyelashes mascaraed (don’t worry we have photos). We were bejeweled, given fancy shoes- we were afraid maybe we were actually going to get married off! Everyone was quite amused and glad to see we were integrating into the local custom. Helen has had a stomach upset and managed to discreetly vomit backstage prior to her stage debut. What a trooper but the show must go on. After the dignitary speeches we were unexpectedly requested to address the 200 or so crowd with our words of wisdom. We managed to pull it off and were rewarded with a warm round of applause.
There is so much to tell! Hopefully this gives everyone a bit of an idea of this amazing experience to date. Thinking of family and friends in between all that is happening.
Miss you and we send much love, Judy and Helen