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As the public utility jeep where Mary and I found ourselves squeezed into was winding its way in the bumpy asphalt road, I asked her to crane her neck out the window to check out the  mountain range  of Montalban that overlook Payatas.

(Fast forward: When the government decided to relocate some residents from Payatas because the mountain of trash caved in a day after heavy rains one July morning, where many scavengers were buried alive among the trash, Rizal and Montalban were considered as relocation sites. Many residents objected despite the catastrophe because this is where their daily bread is coming from and Montalban is quite a distance and had nothing to offer, revenue wise)

Mary said retorted ‘You call these mountains? These are hills. You have to remember Eva, I come from the Himalayas’.

Back then, Everest was such an enigma to me and I inquired if she had scaled the Everest summit.

The mountains of Montalban

‘Everest base. I went as far as the Everest base.’

At this point, she narrated how she found her way to Nepal.

‘I used to work with the UNICEF, bringing iodine supplements to children in the mountains. You’re a doctor, you know iodine deficiency causes goiter in adults and cretinism in children. The problem was, I was not prepared to encounter cultural barriers.’

I interjected ‘How come. Any well-intentioned mother sure would want the best for her child’

‘That was not the case. You see, in certain cultures in Nepal, the bigger the goiter is, the more beautiful she is in the community. So they would refuse.

A Nepalese woman with goiter

What would have been a two week stint would take three months each time. So you could imagine my life in the mountains, sleeping in tents with my team, the locals and the sherpa for three months. We had no source of water for bathing. After three months, I had lice’

‘Lice?’

“Not just head lice. Body lice. the kind that stuck to our thermals, our blankets, our clothes. The funny thing was the UN  and my agency needed an inventory of all the equipment and gadget they made us use. They had to have everything back, including the lice’

I stifled a laugh because I thought it was impolite. There was a tinge of desperation in Mary’s voice when she told this bit about lice infested things.

‘Oh, I always thought people who work with the UN lived such charmed lives’ I said

‘Not all the time. I was a volunteer. You know what, when I finally got down to Kathmandu and found myself a hotel, I must have been in the bathroom for half a day because I did not want to stop bathing until the brown water that dripped did not become clear.’

At this point, the jeep dropped us off in Payatas B, the community where, about a hundred meters away awaits our makeshift health center, with about thirty older persons from Payatas ready to greet us  with warm smiles and eager albeit queasy anticipation.

To be concluded

(Nepal photos sourced from the internet from the guy with Olympus Camera)


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