2 August – Day one at the eye camp!

There was a lot of excitement in town this morning and I think our fellow travelers were just as excited.  Last night was brutally cold but we were warm in bed as long as we didn’t expose skin to the air.  Melanie and I both had on our thermal underwear and an extra shirt.  We alos had wool socks on and slept in a thermal liner inside a three-season sleeping bag.  We had some wool blankets piled on top of the bag.  We wore knit caps pulled down over our ears and eyes and had buffs around our necks.  My nose was cold but I made sure not to need to use the toilet!

After breakfast, we wandered into the village up to the town hall where the clinic will be held.  There were already dozens of people waiting for us, from children to the elderly and they all wanted to talk to us.  My Tibetan isn’t that good to understand though.  “Julley” is still the only vocabulary that I know.  Once the doctor arrived, we went in to set up.  Lots of medicine needed to be sorted and stacked, the doctor’s gear needed to be laid out, furniture had to be moved around, eye charts needed to be hung and the sunglasses needed to be sorted through and organized on the table. 
We had about 250 pairs of sunglasses, mostly donated by ABN-AMRO and Baker & McKenzie staff.  Our former colleagues came through for us when we asked for donations.  One of the biggest problems for the nomads in this high desert area are caused by the lack of proper protection for their eyes.  Sand and dust easily gets in their eyes and causes infections.  The atmosphere lacks ozone protection and the bright u/v light cause cataracts.  The nomads have nothing so the donated used sunglasses help a lot.  The doctor also brought a lot of the Sherpa-style sun-goggles but these are given to the people with the worst problems and highest risk.  It turns out that the younger kids, for some reason, prefer Ray-Bans and Oakleys anyway.
The doctor organized everything to be very efficient.  Our “patients” queued outside very orderly and patiently.  When they reached the front of the queue, Melanie asked them to read the eye chart and their results were documented.  Apparently this was the best job because of two reasons.  First, everyone in the town who was not in the queue crowded around to laugh hysterically whenever anyone reading the chart made a mistake.  Second, you might be surprised just how many Ladakhi and Tibetan nomads do not know their Western letters and numbers or speak English.  They would have their readings translated to our volunteers as “letter that looks like a snake” and “do-not-enter letter”.  This is the most fun the town has in a year.  Inside, I got to organize everyone into the spots on the floor where they could sit and see the doctor on a first-come, first-served basis.  I didn’t want to make a queue where every time someone saw the doctor, everyone got up and moved.  Instead, I just had them sit in spots in orderly rows and pointed out who was next when their time came.   This simple method allowed me more time to help the elderly stand up and sit on the floor because only one person was moving at a time.  Other volunteers were assisting the doctor with documenting his work, handing out the prescription medicine, handing out the sunglasses, etc.  I understand that we had about 120 patients today.  Good job doctor!
BTW, I would also have said “Good job Khandro-la” too but I am worried.  We opened the clinic a little after the posted schedule time because we wanted everything ready before seeing the first patients.  It was disappointing to be late but it took us longer than we planned to get ready.  The mayor only opened the door to the room for us about 15 minutes before the scheduled start too.  The worrying part was that Khandro-la showed up a good hour after the clinic started and she was furious.  Who said that we could open the clinic without her blessing, she demanded to know?  In front of the whole town she gave a dressing down to the doctor and all of us.  This was HER clinic and we disrespected her.  Aiyoh!!  Anyway, she then turned to “her people” (the townsfolk) and said some prayers, made an announcement about how great she was and then gave us permission to proceed after changing around the setup of the room, assignments of who would do what, some of the systems we had in place and, most of all, she made sure that she was in charge of handing out the sunglasses.  What an ego!  Oops!  Careful of your Western bias, Michael!
This morning, while I was trying to take an ice-trickle shower, Melanie had a nice chat with the woman who runs the camp.  The woman was every bit as bundled up as we were against the cold summer day.  Remember that this area is only accessible about three months per year because of the snow on the passes to reach the summer pastures.  Melanie explained to her that we lived in Singapore where it was hot year round.  The woman looked confused.  Hot ALL year?  Yes.  ALL year?  Yes.  No snow?!?!?!  Wow, not only “no snow” but in 22 years of living in Singapore, for weather reasons, I have yet to need to wear any anything with long sleeves or long pants.  The woman just could not conceive of such a place existing on earth.

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