Archivi categoria: Nepal

LEPROSARIUM OF PASHUPATINATH


Pictures and words by Fabrizio Fiorenzano

Access to quality health care in Nepal is nowhere as easy to come by as it is in the West.

Pashupatinah Nepal Leprocy

Here in the tallest country of the world, where the beautiful Himalayas overlook the entire nation and separate it from Tibet, where tourists climb the mountains surrounding the living museum of the Kathmandu valley, serious diseases and health conditions such as leprosy, HIV, tuberculosis and child malnutrition are endemic. Only the wealthiest individuals may afford the level of health care necessary to effectively deal with such serious health issues.

Pashupatinah Nepal Leprocy

In September of 2001 I traveled to Nepal, with the intention of producing a new report. I was based out of Kathmandu, but one day I rode a cab to the nearby city of Pashupatinath where I knew there would be something of interest.
This city is mostly known for being where Hindus have their dead cremated, but there also is a small complex of temples where some nuns belonging to Mother Teresa’s Order help run a charitable shelter for old and sick people suffering of various diseases.

Pashupatinah Nepal Leprocy

Twice a week, fifteen nuns come here to comfort and provide care to these people. Many of them are simply old and alone in life, with nowhere else to go or stay, and nobody else to turn to.

As I got out of the taxi. a little boy promptly came up to me and offered to be my guide to the city. I asked to be taken to this shelter. Most tourists are not allowed access to the complex, as they are not Hindus.

Pashupatinah Nepal Leprocy

My first impression as I entered the leprosarium was better than I expected. It was clean and quiet, and not at all as depressing as I thought it would have been. Unfortunately, this was soon to change. The residents conducted themselves with great dignity and pride, especially the women. Although clearly very poor, they took great care of themselves and their appearance. Women usually prepare the food – typically rice and vegetables flavored with various spices – and do laundry together in a shared space in the communal yard, using old pails and running water. Although at first I felt like a complete outsider, I soon realized that they did not really appear to be bothered in any way by my presence.

Pashupatinah Nepal Leprocy

There were monkeys everywhere, climbing and walking along the walls of the complex. Monkeys are sacred animals in Nepal. I was advised by my guide to avoid staring them into the eyes, as this might be interpreted as a hostile signal and could trigger aggressive reactions. Many people in Nepal are wounded by monkeys every year.

Pashupatinah Nepal Leprocy

Carefully trying not to upset these feral monkeys, I next found myself walking through another section of the shelter, there where the sickest lay in their beds. Scarcely illuminated by whatever slim sunlight may reach them, since no sources of artificial light are installed, the sight of all these wretched men and women lying down in unkempt beds filled me with a deep sense of sadness and loneliness. It was here, that I truly realized how terrible health care really was in this country, in a way far more effective than any printed statistics could ever convey.

Pashupatinah Nepal Leprocy

Although visitors are not normally allowed to take photographs in this area of the complex, after my guide’s suggestion a few rupees handed to one of the women granted me special exemption. I really wanted to bring back some of these powerful images. Although a photographer should not refrain from capturing images that may shock or upset the viewers, in some cases the desire to be respectful to the weak and the unfortunate among us must simply take priority.

Pashupatinah Nepal Leprocy

Recognizing my respectful approach, everyone around me started reaching out and asking me about myself, my country of origin and more. We spoke, in a friendly and heartfelt mood, and then we shared some food, very simple yet delicious.

I stayed with them for a couple of hours, which surprised them significantly. Apparently, most tourists who go visit there are in a great hurry to quietly leave as soon as they manage to take a few pictures of the local features. But in my case, time flew. I realized how late it really was only when it started getting noticeably cooler and darker.

Pashupatinah Nepal Leprocy

Before leaving, I glanced around one more time, the scene unchanged since my arrival. People sitting on the ground, gathered in small groups, the darkness now slowly engulfing them making them resemble clusters of silent ghosts. But what really had changed was in myself. I left with mixed feelings. Happy, as I felt deeply enriched by this memorable experience, in an intimately human way. But sad as well, as I realized how lucky I was to have a wife and family waiting for me back home


PORTRAITS FROM NEPAL


Photos by Fabrizio Fiorenzano


NEPAL, HINDU CREMATIONS


by Fabrizio Fiorenzano

Pashupatinath is one of the most important Hindu temples in Nepal. Located near the Bagmati River, it is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site along with a few other legendary temples in Kathmandu. At the ghats (stairs leading down to the river), funeral pyres are constantly being built for the open-air cremations taking place on a daily basis. Non-Hindus are not allowed access to the Pashupatinath temple, but the real attraction for both Nepalese and foreign visitors are the cremations. Cremations are part of life and death, but not something that anyone would want to witness too often.

As one approaches the Bagmati River, the smokestacks of ongoing cremations are normally visible in the distance. People in Nepal are cremated in different sites, depending on their social and economic status in life. One is reserved for members of the royal family, another one for wealthy and prestigious families, and several others for the common folk. The cremation places for the commoners are located at the other end of the bridge, kept out of sight from the places used by the royals and the wealthy. From the opposite bank of the river one can observe all of the various ongoing activities.

The fire is managed by two persons, who appear to be close family members. They use long bamboo sticks to stir the fire and ensure it consumes everything. Next to the fire a young man sits on the stairs leading down to the river, his head shaven. The whole thing is difficult to understand for us coming from a different culture. It is an impressive but surprisingly not grisly spectacle, as the general atmosphere is serene.

As soon as the pile bursts into flames, the body gets covered with straws soaked in water collected from the nearby holy Bagmati River, resulting in a lot of white smoke. As the head of the body is thus concealed, the attending family members start waiting for the pyre to be fully consumed by the fire, which takes many hours.  Once complete, the relatives descend the stairs to dispose of the ashes of the deceased into the river.

Not everyone is cremated. Holy men, lepers and people with smallpox have traditionally been buried, with holy men buried in a vertical position and their bodies preserved with salt. Small children under the age of two also are not cremated, because their souls do not need purifying. Often times today, instead of being buried they are moved by boat to the middle of the Ganges or some other sacred river and then dropped into the waters, tied to a heavy stone to make them sink to the bottom.

Families who cannot afford the wood required for the cremation service sometimes also dump the corpses into the Ganges. On occasion, an effigy is burned to symbolize cremation. Few people are buried and they mostly are victims of suicide, murder, or some other kind of violent death, because it is believed that their souls will never find peace – no matter how the corpse is disposed of.


THE ANGEL OF KATHMANDU


by Fabrizio Fiorenzano

Father Eugen L. Watrin moved to Nepal in (1955).

The origins of the Social Action Volunteers dates back to 1974 when the first group of Godavari Alumni Association, young men and young women, walked to the village of Gonga Bu to begin the social survey of the area.

The survey showed that the village people’s priorities were health care, education for their children and food for their babes.

Gene says: “The day on which a baby in Nepal first eats solid food is celebrated as a big festival for the family.”

In response to these needs Dr. N.D. Joshi, an ophtalmologist on leave from Brunei, volunteered go to a weekly clinic in a tea shop in the village of Gonga Bu.

Soon the little room in the tea shop was overwhelmed by numerous patients with all kinds of diseases from leprosy to encephalitis.

So they moved to a larger room in the middle of the village. One of their Lady doctors decided to set up a a separate clinic for mothers and babies. The number continued to grow until the roads developed and it became easier for the sick to reach the Kathmandu hospitals.

A donor agreed to provide Watrin with a veichle that would enable him and the doctors to provide health care to more distant villages.

Without the visits of the Mobile Clinic it would be very difficult, if not impossible for mothers to get the needed medical care for young children. Statistics show that 47% of the children of Nepal are malnourished and if they fall sick they have very low resistance to any disease.

They need imediate and professional care which Mobile Clinic is able to provide. Without this help the children often become physically and mentally retarded for many tears or even life. These sick village children are certainly the poorest of the poor and what could be a better use of donor funds than to do whatever is possible to enable them to develop into healthy, happy and productive adults. This is what mobile clinic is doing. The Social Action Volunteers-Nepal’s 25 years of village health work enable them to do it well.

His days begin with an hour of prayer before his 6:30 daily Mass in the chapel at the Godavari Alumni Association. Before Mass has even ended the poor people who traveled far from their villages to seek help for food, shelter or clothing, are already knocking on his door. His days are long and busy but he likes it that way and he thanks God at the day’s end for his busy life and we thank God for Fr. Gene.


PASHUPATINATH, THE HUMAN TOUCH


by Fabrizio Fiorenzano

Nepal is still a Country where to get adequate and satisfying health cares is not so easy as a western person can believe. In the highest Country of the world, where the wonderful Himalayan peaks dominate the entire nation and divide it from Tibet, and where tourists climb the mountains all around the Kathmandu Valley, many calamities such as the children?s malnutrition and other serious diseases: Leprosy, HIV, Tuberculosis, are very diffused and only if you have the fortune to be enough rich to afford good medical treatments, is possible to hope to live a proper life. It was the month of September of the year 2001 and moved to Nepal to work to another reportage. I was based in Kathmandu and one day I asked to the taxi driver to bring me out of the city because I knew that there was something interesting to see at the near city of Pashupatinath.

This is a city known for the hindu cremations, but here, not so far from the capital, there is a little complex of temples where Mother Teresa’s order of nuns started off a recruiting centre for sick and old people affected and suffering by different forms of diseases. Here, 15 nuns two days a week come to assure comfort and assistance to this people. Many of them are simply old or alone in the life. Nowhere to go, nowhere to sleep, no family, no relatives. When I arrived and came down from the taxi, immediately a boy came to me offering his contribution to guide me in the tour of the city. I told him that I wanted take a look to this institute and so he kindly showed me the way.
The mostly of the tourists, as not Hindus are not allowed to visit the complex.

Man affected by leprocy

In this leprosarium, my first impression was to stay in a quite and clean place, and it did not seem so depressing as I thought, but unfortunately this sensation changed very soon.
The first thing I noticed was the human dignity. It surprised me very much, especially in the eyes of women there was a so great haughty bearing and a so incredible pride. Also if in their visible poorness and humility, they took great care over how they dressed, to care themselves, their hair, their hands. Usually women prepare the food, especially spices, rice and other kind of vegetables and wash the clothes in a common yard using old pails and running water.

For a moment I felt like an intruder in their world, but I didn’t understand if I was appreciated or not, this because they seemed don’t care about my presence.
All around, there was many monkeys quickly climbing the walls of the complex and walking over them. In Nepal, monkeys are considered sacred animals. My guide told me kindly to refrain to look them directly in the eyes because they can interpret this act as an act of challenge and there is the concrete risk to make them became very aggressive.
Nepal is full of monkeys but also full of people wounded from them.

Paying attention to these not so friendly creatures and refraining to watch their pupils, the exploration of the place brought me in another section of the complex; the hospitalisation wards.

The sense of sadness and solitude now started assault me. Everywhere, men and women alone and stretched on unrehearsed beds, almost all in a forced status of darkness without artificial lights, but only few and slim sun light rays came inside from the external.

This made me understand how backward can be the health assistance level in this Country, much more than any statistics could explain, and how sad could be to stay and to live in a place like that living in a terrible and depressing solitude.

In this part of the complex was not allowed to take photos but my curiosity and my desire to bring back with me the testimony of what I was seeing, prevailed!

My guide suggested me to give to a woman few rupee to be allowed to shoot photographs, so I did. As photographer I should always take all my pictures without any form of fear or moral brakes, but in some cases I remember to be a human being and at the top of my target I have respect for the most weak people.

The most nice thing was to see their incredible will to communicate with me and their will to know something more about myself and about my nationality.
Thanks to my approach and especially thanks to my personal guide, was possible to share with these unfortunate people some friendly and intense moments. I ate some food with them and they seemed to be so surprised to see me staying there with them for a couple of hours. They was so friendly and their food was so delicious. Generally, when a tourist arrives in a place like this he will not remain for long time, usually no more than few minutes, just the time to take some snapshots to the monuments and then to leave the place quietly but in a hurry.

The time passed very quickly for me and I had the chance to understand how long I spent there only when I saw that the sun was coming down and the temperature started to became a bit colder.

First to leave the complex I overviewed around me one more time and I had the way to notice that nothing was changed. Many small groups of people was still seated on the ground and many of them was only shades in the darkness and very similar to a troop of silent ghosts. The only things changed was located into myself.

Leaving this place the main feelings I felt was, at the same time, a mix of happiness and sadness. Happy, because I felt much more richer inside myself, I lived a unique and unforgettable experience that changed deeply my intimacy. Sad because the awareness to be so lucky to have a family and woman that was waiting for me from the other side of the world, I also knew that I never could say or to think the same words addressed to that people known in the complex of Pashupatinath.