A collection of reflections by a New Zealand family [Mike and Bex Sanders and Matt and Maia] about their time adjusting to life and serving in Nepal with INF.

• Our trip from Kathmandu to Pokhara only took around six hours travel time – which is really good – given the recent floods we were expecting up to 12 hours and had heard it could take up to 24 hrs…. Our house is an old two storey building, we live on the ground floor and our landlord Ganesh and his wife Kushila live above us. We have shared access to the roof which we use for drying our laundry and getting better views of the mountains [which peek out of the clouds about every second day]. Ganesh and Kushila seem very nice and love the kids and the kids are starting to warm to them. The house was advertised as having a yard…. definitions of yards vary, what we have is a corn crop behind us and beans in front and mosquitoes everywhere…

• We started language on Tuesday last week. We are in different classes, Bex’s language has come back pretty well but she never learnt to read script and some of the finer points on verb tense and more grown-up language. Mike is also learning the script and conversational Nepali. Our teacher, Sunneta lives locally and is quite patient with me [Mike]. Currently Mike is doing three hours in the morning, while Bex home schools Matthew [well attempts to], then we have a quick lunch together and then Bex starts her study, while Mike looks after the kids.

• A month in Pokhara has flown by in some ways and dragged in others. We have slowly been kitting out our house [washing machine, toaster oven, and bought our transport [mountain bikes]] and have begun adjusting to a different way of life. In many ways, the biggest adjustment has been the monsoon heat!

• Socially we are getting to know the local Nepali and Bideshi [foreigner] community. We were invited to dinner [Dahl Baat] with our land lord and had a lovely time getting to know him and his wife better and the following day he made a swing for Maia and Matthew and ever since then he has won their little hearts. The swing has also brought the Nepali family that live in front of us over and Matthew and Maia have been playing with their children in the afternoons the last couple of days.

• There is also a good group of bideshis who have been a great support, admittedly there are the typical cultural differences and misunderstandings you get when you put a diverse group of people together, however it is encouraging to see people respond with grace and good humour.

• Much has happened over the last 1 ½ months highlights include an Ear Camp in Chitwan [near the Indian border] where Mike rode an elephant and did 50+ hearing tests over two days. He got to work with some great doctors and around half of the people seen would benefit from intervention in the form of hearing aids or surgery.

• Bex also went on a trip to see the work that INF is doing in Gorkha [the epicenter of the 2015 earthquake]. Work here is mainly focused on rehousing people with disabilities and developing disability support groups. The houses being built need to comply with the updated seismic code, so seeing how this was being implemented was very interesting for her.

• The Nepal elections are happening around us. Due to the complicated geography of Nepal they have two election days. The first was for the hill/mountain regions and was held three weeks early. Everyone had to return to their home village/town to vote so the traffic was crazy for the few days before and after the vote. This vote was fairly uneventful. The second and main day of voting was 7 December. This year the election time was pretty peaceful. There were a few bombs including one in Pokhara at one of the main intersections but no one was hurt and one in Kathmandu where a few people including a politician were injured. This is the first election since the new Nepali constitution has been implemented, and there is potential for greater political stability as a result [however many are not that hopeful, there have been around 24 changes in government over the last 25 years!].

• Christmas in Nepal was very different from what we are used to in NZ. We normally spent the day with immediate family but in Nepal you spend the day with the church family. In Nepali culture festivals are very important and Christmas is the biggest Christian festival. Everyone gets dressed up in their best clothes and we spend the day at church singing, dancing and feasting. It is a great social time but still quite difficult when you don’t understand the language well.

• Directly after Christmas we went on our village stay to Khaireni. This is a farm that was set up as a place for people who had recovered from leprosy to live and work. It was a chance for us to use our Nepali, and experience the slower and simpler village life. We stayed for six days and the kids loved it.

• Following our short village stay in January, Mike started “working” at the Ear Hospital mainly observing the processes in place, but also sorting out some equipment [test boxes, free field test areas, and updating programming software for you audiology geeks out there]. It has been a valuable opportunity to get to know the staff better, hear and understand their needs and get some work language under his belt.

• Last week was World Hearing Day in which the ear hospital staff organised a rally and march through Pokhara and Mike gave a brief educational talk about hearing loss. In all we had around 200 participants and the program was commended by the WHO representative and other attendees.

• Matthew and Maia have been enjoying school / kindergarten at PSC. The New Year saw proper school hours begin: 9-2:30 for Matt and 9-12:30 for Maia. Friendships are forming nicely between all the kids, across ages.

• A flicker of light and less than a second later a resounding boom. The thunderstorm and hail season has arrived. The poor plants in our garden are shredded, and there is a mad scramble to unplug any electronics that we don’t want fried. We have been told that it is unseasonably cold but we are counting that as a blessing, it still gets up to early 30’s in the middle of the day.

• In early March, Mike visited Tribhuvan University at Kathmandu to get some information about the audiology programme they run and to learn how to make acrylic ear molds for hearing aids. The man in charge of the course was very helpful, and the GP ear hospital can now make acrylic molds which are much cheaper and more durable than the instant soft molds used previously. While Mike was there he was invited to speak at the second ever Speech and Hearing Association Conference as a guest speaker which he attended about two weeks later. This was a good time to meet other professionals in the field including ENTs and Speech Language Therapists.

• Mike to really start pushing for better protocols and systems within his department, and this has been his focus at work over the last few weeks. Importantly as of last week, he implemented an electronic record system for hearing tests, which will greatly reduce the repetition of paper work and make generating reports on patient profiles and research much easier.

• Bex has taken on the role of deputy team leader for the INF expat community in Pokhara, this involves a mixture of pastoral and practical organisational work, she is now extremely busy most nights, but this will hopefully ease off as she has just hired a Nepali support.

• Matthew and Maia continue to thrive, they are both doing very well, we have had two new families start at the school.