Days 1 and 2: Heathrow to Kathmandu
The first time we all met was at Heathrow Airport, where we had to quickly reorganise all of our luggage in a bid to get all our equipment across to the camp. Etihad Airways were kind enough to give us all an extra 15kg luggage allowance per person. However, we quickly learnt that dental equipment, especially toothpaste, is VERY heavy, and the extra 90kg between us still wasn’t enough, despite us bringing only the bare minimum in personal essentials.
A six-hour wait at Abu Dhabi International Airport meant the first two days merged into one. As a newly qualified dentist, being surrounded by such talented professionals was a fantastic learning opportunity for me. For example, Shirin allowed me to pick her brains and gave me a short tutorial on occlusion whilst we waited for the connecting flight.
Upon arrival in Kathmandu, all luggage got through customs without any issues – phew! We were greeted by some of Deepak’s family with marigold garlands, then checked in at the Moonlight Hotel where comfortable beds and steamy hot showers awaited us (a well-planned false sense of security…).
Day 3: En route to Dhading
The next morning we did some sightseeing in Kathmandu, guided by Ishwar. We visited the Pashupathinath Mandir, the oldest temple in Kathmandu, located along the bank of the Bagmati River, and also Swayambhunath, a sacred Buddhist pilgrimage site which was particularly spectacular and one of the highlights of the trip for me.
We got back to the hotel for a quick lunch (where two of our dentists fell asleep at the table) before departing on a long bus journey to the Dhading District, where the camp was to be located. We were joined by Neeraj, an orthodontist based in Kathmandu, and Nisha and Prabha, his hygienist and receptionist. Tshristi, a local dentist, Sushir and Manis – recently qualified dentists with extensive knowledge in dental aid camps in Nepal – and Karun, a final-year dental student, made up the rest of the new-joiners.
The stop at ‘services’ was an eye-opener into the sorts of facilities we would be using. However, the stunning scenery more than made up for this. Deepak decided it was a good time for the team to get to know each other in a speed-dating format of sorts; the UK team must have come across as really rude as we were all exhausted by this point! (We were later forgiven!). Six hours later we finally reached our cockroach-infested hotel. Three of us got next-to-no sleep that night after the discovery.
Day 4: Hiking to Shree Mahendra Secondary School
In the morning we were told that the roads leading up to the school had been badly damaged due to the recent weather and vehicles could not make it up the hill without getting stuck. A tractor was hired to carry the equipment up to the school and there was just enough room for some of the Nepal team. The UK team, accompanied by Neeraj, Tshristi and Deepak’s parents, started a three-hour hike to reach our destination!
On arriving at the Shree Mahendra Secondary School we were met by confused onlookers; the locals couldn’t comprehend why the ascent took us three hours when it normally takes them 30 minutes! We had lunch at the convenience store, watched some local boys play Carrom (an Asian board game) then started setting up the clinics in three classrooms that we had been allocated.
Oral hygiene instruction was delivered to the waiting crowd by Deepak and Durga, who are both fluent in Nepali. Finally, the doors were open and patients were seen in a diagnosis clinic and then made their way to the adjacent rooms for periodontal, restorative and surgical treatment as required. The reality of the situation was that most patients needed restorative and surgical care resulting in a larger backlog for these designated areas.
Knowing that two trips a day to and from the ‘Cockroach Inn’ to the camp and vice versa was not feasible, supplies were brought in and a camp was set up in the school grounds with half of us sleeping in the school library and half in tents beneath the stars.
For more about my trip, read my other blogs ‘Days 5-8: Hiking to Nepali villages, providing oral surgery and restorative care’ and ‘Days 9-13: Pokhara, Gohrepani, Poon Hill and back to Kathmandu’ at mynsk.co.uk.