Monday, July 13, 2009

A Hand On My Heart

I was gasping for breath and my heart was pounding at an uncomfortable pace so I stopped for a minute by the side of the path. Surrounded by a quiet green forest, on the side of a mountain, the Himalayan peaks were no longer visible from where I stood. There were no houses, or fields, only a still forest, an empty path, and the heavy sound of my own breath. For most of the day, I had walked up hill, with with a 30 pound pack on my back. Three days' walk behind me was the airport up at Jomsom where I had begun my trek, and 4 days' walk below me was the nearest paved road that led to Pokahara in the Annapurna region of the Himalayas. I was starting to panic. The hikers that I had been tagging along with that day were far ahead of me and it was getting late in the afternoon. When the sun drops behind the mountain peaks, there is a sudden drop in the temperature in the valleys. Packs of wild dogs and the occasional leopard, might also be roaming around up there at night. Not wanting to be cold and alone in a completely unfamiliar place, I picked up my pack and started up the dirt path again.
I had intentionally let my traveling companion go on ahead of me. Neither of us was feeling well. She had a headache and wanted to get to a place to rest as quickly as possible. I knew that she would be alright with the trekking group that had adopted us. We were not part of their group, but their friendly group leader was a bit surprised to see two completely unprepared young women hiking alone in Nepal for the first time... or maybe he just thought we were cute. He encouraged us to stay close to his group.
I had some digestive problems and wanted a little privacy. There are no public rest stops on Himalayan treks--you just squat behind a rock--so I dropped back from the group. By the time that I reached that quiet place in the forest where I stopped to catch my breath, I hadn't seen anyone on the path for about an hour and I really wasn't sure how many hours I would have to climb before I would reach our planned resting spot.
The path led me over the crest of a hill and to a wide flat area among a very small cluster of mud and stone homes. Two boys, about 13 and 8 years old, were standing on a hill above me on my right. I hardly noticed them because I was focused on putting one foot down after the other. The older boy called down to me, "Please help my brother."
I looked up at the boys and saw the older brother with his arm around his younger brother supporting him. The younger boy had sliced his leg from mid inner thigh to mid calf. The wound was not fresh, but it was an angry red with thick yellow puss oozing out of it. I inspected his leg more closely and asked the boy if there was someone in the village who spoke English. The boy shouted for a man who came quickly. With paper and pen in hand, I carefully explained that the boy's leg needed to be washed, very thoroughly, with water that had been boiled and soap. Then I pulled a full course of antibiotics from my pack. In Nepal, anyone can go to the pharmacy and buy antibiotics. You do not need a prescription. The pharmacist often knows the normal dosage for your weight. For about $4 US, I had bought one full course of sulfa antibiotics, for myself, just in case I got into trouble on the trek. I explained to the village man to cut the pills in half and give them to the boy morning and night until they were gone. If the boy became more sick, then he should stop taking the pills and they should take the boy to the hospital.
As I was explaining all of this, a small crowd from the village formed around us. There was an old lady who repeatedly put her wrinkled hands to her eyes and then stretched out her arms to touch me and pull at my dress. There was a man who was limping and another pointing to his elbow. Everyone had a malady. Everyone needed help. I was surrounded by at least a dozen outstretched arms and open palms. I opened my pack again and pulled out a very large bottle of Centrum vitamin pills. Putting a few vitamins in each open palm, I pressed my hands together and acknowledged the god within them. Then I lifted my pack and continued on my way.
An hour later, I was climbing another steep hill. The sun had already gone behind the mountain and I was feeling very ill. I stopped, almost in tears, with my heart pounding out of control. Behind me a porter appeared. He was a member of the trekking group that we had been tagging along with. He was the 'sweep,' the last person who collected the straggling tourists. Strapped to his head was a 200 pound load of tourist gear. The man, who was only about 5 feet tall, reached up and put his warm callused hand on my heart. He smiled. Then he stayed with me until we arrived at our resting spot about a half hour later. He didn't speak to me, but knowing that he was near was all that I needed to take my fear away and to keep me moving.
*On another trip, my husband and I slept one night in a remote village hospital on the very same trekking route, because we didn't make it to our destination before nightfall. The hospital was no more than a large barn with no equipment or electricity. The beds had straw mattresses and no one came or left while we slept there. I still think about the boy with the wound and wonder if he was all right. Could I have done any better? I regret that I didn't give them my bar of soap, or money to pay for a donkey to take him the 4 day trip to the hospital. These things simply didn't occur to me at the time.


  1. That would certainly be a humbling experience. God has a way of putting us where we need to be.

  2. Oh, Butternut! What an amazing story! We sit in our air conditioned houses with running water with no idea of the needs of so many in the world. Thank you for reminding us so we can, at least, be more aware. Is the little hand pendant created with this story in mind? What do the charcters in the palm mean?

  3. Incredible. I could picture the whole thing, you and your heavy pack, the boys, the cut, the villagers. I wonder what altitude you were at? Certainly you were very high, how could you think of all those things at the time, even under normal circumstances, it would be difficult. I think you are an amazing person Jeri.
    I loved this story. Write more please.
    ♥ lori

  4. Thank you for reminding me how plentiful my life is.

  5. I can barely make it to the city and back without my heart beating faster than be hiking in a foreign country alone, even for a couple of hours would make me totally loony. You are a brave woman and I bet that little boy got better because of you!
    Thank you for another amazing glimpse into your life!

  6. Beautiful recollections. So many sweet examples of what life is truly about - *service*. I believe we are here to serve life in whatever way we can. They must have thought you were a goddess appearing out of nowhere to help them. And then "the collector" who appeared to guide you to a resting place. Thank you for sharing such a heart-warming memory.

  7. I am impressed, Jeri, though I know that your intention is just to share your experience. How remarkable. I have thought of taking a similar trek but it is daunting.

    Imagine that your simple first aid knowledge and antibiotics can heal so many people. You become a doctor in a setting such as this. Were you traveling with your husband? I thought it was a girlfriend? I think the last bit confused me.

    Please write more of these stories, as Lori Ann said. I enjoy learning about your life experiences and reactions to situations. <3

  8. Thank you for the compliments everyone. Some day I will have to give you a story about me being bad so you get the yang with the yin of me.

    Leenie-the hand is an ancient symbol of protection, healing and creativity. It is a symbol in every culture that I know of. The Om in the center of the hand is the imperishable sound of the universe at creation. Some say it is the first word of God or the sound of the Big Bang. I didn't have anything to do with creating this pendant. It is an old Nepalese design. I am using the jewelry because I have tons of pictures of jewelry, but I have rarely carried a camera during my travels.

    Hi Lori Ann, I'm really not sure how high I was. But you are correct in thinking that it is very possible that my friend and I were suffering altitude sickness. It is a little difficult to tell. The stress of travel, different food, bad water, catching the flu, all kinds of things give you very similar symptoms.

    Hi Cynthia, thank you for pointing out the confusing bit at the end. I tried to make it more clear. I trekked the same route twice. The first time with a girlfriend and then again with my husband a couple of years later. I was supposed to go again this year with my sister, but I think she won't be able to go.

  9. hi lady - beautiful story - both of them - i'm sure the young boy is well and sitting somewhere telling his friends and/or strangers the story of the medicine woman who performed his miracle so long ago in the mountains!

  10. You have a wonderful heart. I'm sure the boy was okay, and lived to remember the kind woman who helped him that day, only to pay it forward when his time came.

  11. Bless you You did well You did the best you could at that moment. Very touching. My brother
    climbed the Himalaya when he was young he shared lots of interesting stories. I am not that adventures but have respect for people who are

  12. This story reinds readers that everyone has unlimited opportunities to assist others. Situations present and you have choices to be self-centred or self-less. Every choice emits an energy vibration and shifts your cosnciousness about who you are.

  13. This seems to be a good experience !! This is great too..Unseen Rajasthan

  14. Holy cow, the things you've seen, the things you've accomplished, the miles you've walked (some of them straight up into the sky). As always I am blown away by your stories.

    A few years ago I visited Telluride, Colorado (about 10,000 ft. altitude). I could barely cross the street for at least three or four days. I don't know how you did it.

    I salute you.

  15. Wonderful story. You should try a travel book/memoir.