Patti McGill Peterson Center for International and Intercultural Studies
In December and January of the 2011/2012 academic year, I had the opportunity, through a Travel Research Grant, to conduct research in Nepal. While in Nepal, I studied the methods of healing employed in the central and southern regions of the Southeast Asian country.
Although the interviews I conducted in Nepal will ultimately be used in an SYE paper speaking to the influence of natural environment of concepts of health and disease in Kenya and Nepal, the roots of this trip extend much further than my senior year. When I was a freshman, I joined the then-fledgling SLU organization Literacy For Nepal, which sought to raise money for scholarships and a new library in Nichuta, a tiny village in the Terai, or southern lowlands, of Nepal. Through this club-which was founded by my friend, travel partner, and translator, Brijlal Chaudhari-I became more and more interested in Nepali culture.
This project took shape in my mind when I took a class with Dr. David Hornung called Cross Cultural Perceptions of Healing. This class forced me to push the boundaries of my own understanding of medicine, of disease, and of health itself, stepping outside my Western mindset and into that of various cultures. My culminating paper and presentation for this class focused on mental illness from a Nepali standpoint, allowing me to expand my knowledge of Nepali culture to the medical sphere.
I spent three weeks in Nepal, travelling and conducting interviews. Upon my arrival in late December, I spent several days in Kathmandu, meeting up with SLU alumni Brijlal Chaudhari and Tsewang Lama, before setting out toward the south of the country. Among my travel companions were Brijlal, Jordan Pescrillo, James Racette, and Bekah Green, all SLU students or alumni. As we moved to the south of Nepal, the cold, somewhat smoggy, air of Kathmandu shifted until we were suddenly in the misty warmth of the southern lowlands. In the very rural environment of Nichuta, I was able to breathe cleaner air and sink into the slower pace of Nepali life, which places strong emphasis on hospitality and friendship over timeliness. Village life offered me the opportunity to speak with Nepalis of various educational backgrounds, who were more than happy to share with me their thoughts and beliefs. Before moving on to Lumbini (the birthplace of Buddha) and Pokhara, our group taught a few English classes at the local school, and helped organize the SLU-funded library. In the more developed region of Pokhara, a beautiful mountain city in the Kaski District, I spoke with Nepalis who were more accustomed to Westerners. Following several days in Pokhara, I returned to Kathmandu, where I conducted more interviews, and toured the nearby Buddhist town of Boudha, with Tsewang's brother, who is both a professor of Buddhism, and a monk.
Throughout the course of my trip, I also had the chance to speak with Hindu Shamans, Allopathic doctors, Ayurvedic devotees, and experts on Tibetan medicine, all of which contributed to my understanding of medicine in Nepal. Three weeks was not nearly enough to truly grasp the culture and beliefs of such a diverse and beautiful nation, but I'm grateful for having had the chance to explore, and to learn more about, Nepal. I would like to especially thank Brijlal for helping me navigate the unfamiliar region, translating my conversations, and providing constant friendship and extensive knowledge and insight.