Life in Nepal, Personal Ramblings

jisty, jona and the komodo dragon

Jisty and Jona (Jonathan) were quite the pair. They were as best of friends as eight-year-olds could be. They always got the highest marks and the most smiley faces in class. They spent every minute they could with each other. But, most impressive was what happened when their imaginations joined forces.

Jisty and Jona could be found everywhere on campus, always engrossed in whispers of conspiracy or adventure. The adults humored them; the other children had long learned to simply let them be. As a result, tales of tigers in the backyard and purple ants were generally ignored with a good portion of humor.

So when stories about a Komodo dragon lurking around campus surfaced, everyone smiled, nodded, ruffled their hair and said “uh-huh.” Only this time the Komodo dragon lingered on, his antics getting wilder by the day. One day, Jisty and Jona can running into my office yelling, “Aunty Fylvia, the Komodo dragon is chasing a snake in your backyard. You better keep the cat indoors or he’ll eat him up.” Like everyone else, I listened, nodded and smiled. I even asked them to describe the dragon to me.  “It’s brown and as tall as you, Aunty Fylvia,” they insisted.

A couple of days later, there was a big commotion by the entrance to the in-patient area. A crowd had gathered, and there was a lot of hand gesturing and concerned murmuring. There were even some hurriedly creating makeshift weapons out of the fresh bamboo stalks nearby. Getting closer, here’s what we saw. (When you figure that each tile is a square foot, I guess Jisty and Jona weren’t imagining it to be about as tall as Aunty Fylvia). And no, the “komodo dragon” was not harmed. He managed to get away and was never seen again.

Feature image by Kalle Kortelainen on Unsplash

Life in Nepal, Personal Ramblings, Places

neither shockers nor surprises

There’s so such thing as quality assurance or JCAHO certification in many hospitals overseas. So, after being shocked by things around Scheer Memorial Hospital for the first three months, we became immuned to pretty much everything. You would also be if you were witness to bricks used as weights for traction; sleeping bags strewn in the hallways for patients when the beds were full; the surgeon walking out of surgery to the maintenance shed so he could retro fit a cranial brace to fit a leg; or a child scream through stitches across his face for lack of anesthesia.

Yeah, you pretty much have to be ready for anything to survive. That’s why when we thought we heard some kind of bleating sound coming from the X-Ray department as we were walking across the hospital courtyard, from home to work one morning, Roy pulled me by the elbow saying, “Just keep walking. It’s way too early in the morning to wonder what that could be. Just keep walking.”

About an hour later, I saw Dr. Rick saying goodbye to his patient. There he was–affluent surgeon, who once lived in the same neighborhood as Tom Hanks, now turned missionary–taking care of the goat of a friend of friend of someone he barely knew. A couple hours of hospital time, x-rays, an orthopedic consult, follow up visit, medical supplies–all pro bono.

Yeah, we saw a lot of strange stuff in that hospital that one would never see in the Western world. And all that we saw made every day so fulfilling and meaningful.

Feature image by Tobias Federle on Unsplash

Life in Nepal, Personal Ramblings

some kind of mother’s love

I am good at burying memories of my not-so-proud moments. I’m really, really good at it. But then sometimes, something random and innocuous  trips my memory blocker and I remember the moment–in detailed clarity and with all the original embarrassment.

Today a cute little dog name Tia was what made me remember one of my moments.

It was about the third week of our  life in Nepal. We were still the fresh, drenched-behind-the-ears missionaries getting used to many things–a stone and marble home without heat in the Himalayan winter; scrawny chickens that looked like turtle doves at the dinner table; boiling and filtering water to drink; showing some respect to the soldiers carrying machine guns at the army posts along the highway; topping off a sandwich with Yak cheese instead of Swiss.

Life was exciting and adventuresome. Even in that which we didn’t care for, we reveled in the experience of it (like the first time we realized the delicious treat was buffalo innards). Even when listening to warnings from the US Embassy officials about living in Maoist territory, we felt a Superman-like wave of the thrill of danger.

I was like Super Mom, Super Wife and Super Missionary molded into one tough, good-looking woman. At least that’s how I saw myself–until one dark, so-quiet-you-can-hear-the-silence night. It must have been about 2 in the morning. I was fast asleep. So were Roy, the kids and the dog. Then, all of a sudden, out of the stillness of the night, came the loudest thunderous sound I had ever heard. In that instant between sleep and wakefulness, I knew it was a bomb.

Screaming, I jumped out of bed and began running down the hallway towards the front door. Alongside me was Wrinkles, also running, trying to beat me to the door. I was out the door, in the middle of the open yard before I realized that I had run out of the house without thinking of Roy or the kids. I was just thinking of getting myself out to safety. Looking through the open front door, I saw my family looking at me like I was crazy.

Some Superwoman I turned out to be. The fact that Wrinkles was far from being man’s best friend that night by trying to get out before saving her family didn’t make me feel  any better either.

Life in Nepal, Personal Ramblings

scheer during the civil war #3

April 24, 2006 (In response to the headquarters in Hosur asking Roy if there was anything they could do for us from India)

Come to think of it, you can FedEx me some Chicken Biryani. All there is to eat is rice, lentils and potatoes. Crops are rotting in the fileds due to the extended bandh. After three weeks of this diet my eyes are starting to slant ever so slightly, and I’m beginning to speak East Baltimorese with an Irish brogue. I’m not sure what that’s all about.

The hospital is held in high esteem by the demonstrators, which is basically 99% of the Nepalese people. We are one of the “martyr hospitals” now with the first shot demonstrators having died here. We are as good as gold. When one of our ambulances approaches a mob of demonstrators, they part like the Red Sea did for Moses. The U.S. Embassy has appointed me to the Overseas Security Advisory Council, so we have all bases covered. I’m already the U.S. Embassy Warden for Kavre District. I have contracts, MOUs and personal understandings in place with all factions over here. We would survive and do well even if the Smurfs took over.

There’s only enough petrol in the country for the next 4 days, but we’ve made a premptive move to garner the gas in Kavre District. Mobile phones have been cut. International lines are OK for now. I am using a satellite phone when I’m in the mountains or on the move. Ambulances going in to Kathmandu need a white man in the front seat. Anyone can call me on my sat phone in an EMERGENCY. It costs me a dollar a minute or fraction thereof, so no idle chat. The # is 8821654260895. There’s talk of internet being yanked like they did on Februay 1, 2005. But we’re ready this time. We’ve started our own internet services provider on campus, with a VSAT downlink. The king can cut off all phone lines and we’ll still be able to communicate by both email and Skype.

I’m eyeing up this one particular cow that hangs out on the road going to the Chandeswari Temple. The longer this morass drags out, the more I fear for this particular cow’s chances of survival. I’m worried that he’ll disappear one night. Nepal has a high rate of disappearances, you know. Tell the folks in India that our spirits are high; our healthcare services remain excellent and uninterrupted; and the beacon is burning bright as hell. Also the Nepali Church growth is BOOMING. I’ll have Fylvia email you about that.

God save the King for the Hague!


Life in Nepal, Personal Ramblings, Places

scheer during the civil war–#2

Brief emails from Roy to the head office during the civil war in Nepal.

March 10, 2006

We’re on a mass casualty alert –the first one in the history of the hospital. Banepa is a war zone. The police station has been destroyed, the municipal building sacked and burnt, and now there’s about 1200 demonstrators battling police. The difference between yesterday and today is that there is about a 500-man army contingent holding the  high ground outside the Hospital that I don’t think the demonstrators know anything about. The army moved in last night under the coverage of darkness and the curfew. We look for them to be moving down to join the fray shortly. All three fatalities yesterday were head shots–no rubber bullets here. There is a 7:00 am to 9:00 pm military curfew in effect for Banepa, and the normal 9:00 pm to 4:00 am government curfew for Kavre District in effect. That leaves us the bustling hours of 4:00 am to 7:00 am to take care of our affairs. We have enough food to hold out for about 4 days, fuel for about 6 days. We’re digging in.

April 17, 2006

There are enough war stories around here to write a best-selling book. The problem is that the government would come down on us quicker than Jack Sprat if we were to go on record relating just 10% of what we have seen. No sense alarming you or anyone else with anecdotes. Rest assured that all employees are giving 100% and Scheer is enjoying one of its finest moments. At some future point in time, when people reflect on this era in Nepal’s history, Scheer will be well-respected and appreciated for having been in the vanguard of providers that treated the injured on all sides without regard to any factors other than need. I’m very proud of all of our staff members–from the gardeners to the surgeons, and the Church should be also. Adventist or not, they are exemplifying the best in compassion and care rendered in a difficult practice setting.

Life in Nepal, Personal Ramblings

memo from the ceo

Cleaning out my hard drive today, I came across this email Roy wrote the expatriate staff at the hospital in Nepal, at the height of the civil war.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006, 7:26 a.m.

Please be apprised that I have been in contact with both Elder Ron Watts, President of the Southern Asia Division, and Elder Matthew Bediako, General Conference Secretary. These compassionate and eminent church leaders are concerned about the escalating domestic situation in Nepal and, even more so, for our safety. I have assured them that while we have no control over the spiraling unrest gripping the nation and lurching towards an unpredictable finality, we absolutely do have control over what transpires here at the hospital. All of you are doing your jobs under trying and stressful circumstances as well as any employee of any Adventist mission hospital in the world. I am extremely proud of your pulling together, contending with the ephemeral deprivations of the little luxuries that make life a little more bearable here even in the best of times, tolerating the limitations of travel associated with the ongoing bandh and the government’s daily curfews, overcoming the natural anxiety and fear that you might be experiencing as you watch everything that is going on in Nepal, and a host of other feelings that we share.

Firstly, remember that God is in control at all times. He will ensure that his angels protect us through even the most difficult of times. Secondly, remember that Scheer has been serving Nepal longer than the lifespan of most of the protagonists involved in today’s conflict. Scheer is both a nationally and internationally well-respected institution on whose service the community depends. And how they have rallied around to assure us of their full support!

Lastly, remember that I would not ask any of you to do a single thing that I would not do myself. We have all worked together for several years, doing the Lord’s work. This hospital is in its 46th year of operation and has never been more viable. We are resisiting Satan’s best efforts and are winning. The hospital will survive this turbulent period with its head held high and its reputation for uninterrupted quality of care intact. Your individual and collective work efforts, your prayers, and your continued support for hospital administration’s watch care will ensure that the hospital remains unscathed. In this sea of turbulence, the nation is counting on its few anchors of stability to remain in place. Let’s work together, as we have been doing, and ride this out like the professionals and people of faith that we know we are.

In His service,


Life in Nepal, Personal Ramblings, Previously Published

the view and the fog

(published 2003, Adventist Review)

Sometimes a fog of discouragement clouds my vision and my view is not very appealing. What once brought pride and satisfaction is now a pathetic sketch of mishaps and coincidences. What once was a source of encouragement is now a sore irritation.

Without a WOW moment in a while, my spirituality is in a slump. When the petty takes control of the day, it’s difficult to remember what it was like just a while ago. Clouds hang heavy at such times. Times like when . . .

I read the chronicles of conversion in other 10-40 window areas and can barely hear a few lethargic sheep bleating in the Nepal fold;

I return from vacation to be bombarded by complaints of irate workers about trivial problems;

I take 3 hours and pass 7 army checkpoints to travel 12 miles to do my weekly shopping;

I find Roy at times too busy being missionary in Nepal to be husband and father;

I read an anonymous letter listing the sins of a church leader in Southern Asia;

I learn that the three new members joined the church because they thought it guaranteed a job.

At such moments I hear a voice telling me “Pack up and leave. NOW.” And I embarrassedly remember the accolades and praises we receive from friends back home—all in admiration of what we are doing in Nepal. If they could only see me now!  The weight of my gloom emphasizes the hypocrite within me. What am I doing here? I should be home, close to my college-age son. I should be concentrating on my career. Is it all worth the spattering of miracles now and then?

Discouragement can be fatal to spirituality. It quickly translates a satisfying spiritual past into a series of superfluous, insignificant blah blah blah’s—noise that drowns out the good and positive.

From the lessons I learned since at my mother’s knee, I know what I must quickly say to the one sucking out my enthusiasm–“Away from me, Satan!” The solution to my negativity is really as simple as that. I need to get the focus off myself, get off my high horse and let go of the reins. In my humanness, the present looks bleak and hopeless. But heaven looks down, sees God in control and cheers the march forwards and upwards.

So I force my unwilling soul to do what is unnatural at the moment—I get down on my knees. I raise my soul heavenwards. I tightly shut my eyes so I can see.  And I see people touched by God’s children passing through this land.

I see Biku Maya. Homeless and illiterate, she can’t understand what goes on in church, but she comes anyway—just to be in God’s house, with God’s people. She comes because someone, a very long time ago, showed her the compassion of Jesus.

I see Aarti. She used to work in her mother’s tea stall from before sunrise to way past sunset. But now she goes to school because John and Ruth who came here as volunteers one summer are giving her the gift of education.

I see Dawachiki. She used to be a beggar outside our walls, but the hospital stepped into her life some 30 years ago. Now she is a ward aide in the hospital and has seen her daughter become a nurse.

I see Surya. She began doing odd jobs around the hospital at the young age of 13. Today she is the hospital’s chief financial officer. Her life is such an intertwining of Adventism that she’s decided to join the church.

I see Bishnu. He struggles with alcoholism in a land that does not recognize it as a disease. The hospital now conducts one of the two Alcoholics Anonymous programs in the country–to bring hope to him and others like him.

I see terrorists, near death, brought to this hospital because they know that here compassion overrides prejudice, hatred, and even fear.

I see women who can now ride the bus and shop on their own because ADRA has taught them to read and count change.

I see these lives touched by those who come and go, those who leave behind a legacy of God’s eternal control over His church, over His people, in this country and everywhere.

Where I am today, the view may not be good, but if I listen hard enough, I hear Him through the din and fog. He tells me “Do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go” Joshua 1:9

Life in Nepal

piggyback trips to the e.r.

My first week on the job, I was asked to identify outreach projects for the hospital–something that would not require extra personnel or funds from the operating budget. Doodling on a legal pad, I brainstormed in solitude, looking out the window every now and then. And that’s when I saw a man walking through the hospital gates with his mother on his back. He had been travelling over the mountains for three  days to get to us.

I was shocked at the sight, but quickly learned that this was normal in Nepal. Carried in makeshift stretchers or by piggy back, patients often travel by foot for hours–sometimes days–to get to a hospital. Every day after that, I saw patients being carried here, exhausted from travel, dehydrated, sometimes near death.

And I knew what had to be done. We had to take medical services where there wasn’t any. I walked across the hallway into Roy’s office and told him I had an idea. Without looking up from his desk, he said, Tell me about it when you’ve found the money for it.

The ambulance travelling through flooded, muddy roads to get to the village

My plan was to form a three-member mobile medical team to provide services one day a week in villages with no medical services within an hour’s walk. There would be a doctor, a nurse and a driver who would double up as an administrative assistant. But I couldn’t think of a way to make it happen. The project needed personnel and money.

I began hounding the Chief Medical Officer every chance I got to see if there was a creative way to juggle shifts and give me a doctor and a nurse just one day of the week. Finally he said I could have Tri Ratna, a lab tech, one day of the week. TriRatna could easily take vitals and assist the doctor–that is, if we had a doctor.

While I was waiting for a doctor to miraculously be provided, Surya,the CEO, and I began working on a budget  and targeting villages. We sent emissaries to village elders to see if they’d be interested in giving us rent-free space to conduct weekly clinics. All of them thought it was a great barter.

Patient registration and waiting area

We figured that we could provide services in a village, one day a week, for about $200 a month–cost of 4 days of wages for Tri Ratna  and the driver, the fuel and medical supplies. All we needed was a doctor for free and $200 a month.

While we were waiting for the doctor and $2400 to drop into our laps, a few more months went by. Looking out my window one day, I could not believe what I saw–a man walking in, his bloody forearm literally dangling by a strip of flesh. I heard him ask for the doctor saying he walked for four days to get his arm reattached. A month later, after coming close to death several times, the man recovered, but had lost his arm, without which he could no longer work in the field. Yet, with a big smile on his face, he said goodbye and thank you over and over again before he set out on his long journey back home. (I can’t seem to find the picture I have of him.)

Dr. Scott Leon with a patient

Watching him leave and not knowing how he’d survive was about as much as I could bear. The mobile medical service just had to begin, one way or another. And then suddenly, after all those months of waiting, everything came together. GEM asked Roy if there was a project that needed funding and Dr. Scott Leon, a fresh graduate of Loma Linda University arrived unexpectedly with his lovely wife, eager to volunteer. Even better was Dr. Leon’s enthusiasm–the more remote the area, the more excited he became!

Patients truckpooling to the clinic

We started with one village, one day a week. Over two years, the project grew to five villages receiving care one day a week. Every morning, I’d look out the window and watch the medical team get their gear together. It felt very good. Now, that was true job satisfaction.

Life in Nepal, Personal Ramblings, Previously Published

looking back on missionary life

Banepa, Nepal, May 2005.

Since our first week in Nepal when we woke up to a bomb, our days have overflowed with adventure and blessings, trials and tears. With every turn we have felt the fire of the Holy Spirit melting and molding us into everything but what we thought we ought to be and do as missionaries. From these times we’ve learned a few things:

Danger and security are relative terms. “At an estimated 10 killings a day, Nepal’s is the deadliest conflict in Asia. . . .” (TIME, April 25, 2005, p.21) In such a climate Scheer Memorial Hospital is a haven! It’s a landmark of the community, a symbol of security. While bombs go off outside the campus, bringing down school walls to ruble, we have been safe.

Spiritual gifts surface under pressure. We do things in Nepal we never we knew we were capable of. In all our years of marriage, we entertained twice; here we entertain several times a week. Roy has always been an introvert; at Scheer no one can shut him up. I’ve never been one to empathize or sympathize; here I’m the resident Ann Landers. We’ve learned first hand that God chooses us not because of what we are but who we can be in His control.

Adventure is mission life on the edge. 2001, our first year, the King, his family and all his immediate heirs were assassinated. 2002 was the start of a “shoot-to-kill” curfew that is still in effect. 2003, seismologists determined that Nepal was due for a major earthquake with an estimated death toll of 20,000 within the next three years; the projected epicenter is clearly visible from my bedroom window! In 2004 schools and business were forced to shut down for over 30% of the year, forcing us to remain on campus for several days at a time. In 2005 the King abolished Nepal’s democratic government and took over, revoking many rights including those to free speech, assembly, and property ownership.

Restrictions give birth to freedom. Because it is illegal to proselytize, we cannot pitch a tent for Dwight Nelson or Mark Finley. Yet this restriction has forced us to get out of Adventist culture and find creative ways to exemplify Christ: We host one of the nation’s top medical schools on campus, bringing over 100 Hindu young people here every day; We share office space with Nepal Network Center for Cancer Treatment and Research, resulting in Scheer being the second hospice center in the whole country; We formulated the country’s first health insurance package, making healthcare an affordable benefit for businesses; We accept volunteers of all walks of life and faith, offering a first-hand experience of the Adventist, mission-oriented lifestyle; We organize the only international marathon in the country, drawing runners from 20 countries and raising money—not for ourselves but for other hospitals; We send out medical teams to areas where terrorists reign and where there is no medical care within at least one hour’s walking distance, creating opportunities to show the compassion of Jesus; We have the only Adventist school in the country under the guise of “home schooling,” sending Jesus into homes in the backpacks and hearts of little Hindu children; We are opening an orphanage after being touched by an abandoned baby, giving a future to her and other baby girls; etc. etc.

Our daughter, Sky, thinks the predicted earthquake will be a pretty cool way to wrap up our experience in Nepal. We, on the other hand, are satisfied with the dose of excitement and adventure we already have! Here we don’t have to stop and concentrate to see God. He is right here, every day, loud and clear, calling us to step outside our job descriptions for a dose of His Power.