Category: Kate's Earlier Blogs
1. Be proud of yourself
Of the 12 students in my program (Traditional Medicine) and the 12 people in a concurrent program (Rural Himalayan), I was the only naturopathic student. Every other person there was a student in medical school at mainstream colleges, mostly in the US. I was also one of the oldest people, having worked for years before returning to school for naturopathic medicine - most of these students had entered medical school right after university undergraduate programs. For all these reasons, I felt like the odd one out a lot of the time and this was hard for me since I was also dealing with culture shock in a new place. My interests, outlook, life experience, and attitude were so very different, even more so than I expected. What I am passionate about was either mostly uninteresting or completely unknown to my companions. During this experience I realized how important it is to remain true to oneself and that it isn’t always necessary to prove yourself to other people.
2. Be patient (already!)
Having patience in India is key. Or else you will go insane. Things do not happen at the pace that you expect - some things are too fast (traffic!), but most things are very, very slow! For example, the distance from Delhi (where I arrived) to Dehradun is 235km. In Canada, driving this distance would take about 2.5 hours. This trip took about 8 hours by bus in India (including a stop for lunch). On my way back from Dehradun to Delhi, the trip took about 5 hours by train. So, it seems that due to poor road conditions, road closures/checkpoints, and traffic, travel by car takes about 3 times longer in India than Canada. Even travel by train (which is much nicer, except for the restrooms) takes about twice as long.
The distance from Dehradun (where I was for 2 of the 4 weeks) to Agra (where the Taj Mahal is) is 381km. In Canada, it would take about 4 hours to cover that distance. The weekend I did it, we travelled for 12 hours overnight by car. The trip went like this: left at 8pm from Dehradun and drove on bumpy, winding, congested, and LOUD roads until about 1am. Stopped for tea. At this tea stop some of us got out of the car to walk around and were instantly surrounded by random men asking us all kinds of personal questions! I got back in the car and stayed there. I managed to sleep for about 2 hours total by listening to my iPod, creating a pillow from a raincoat, putting on an eye mask, and wrapping my head in a scarf (I wish I had a photo of this!). We then continued travelling for a few more hours until we stopped at a closed gas station for a restroom break. We reached our hotel in Agra at about 8am. Quick change and breakfast, then spent the day sightseeing. Stayed in Agra that night, then left the next morning at around 7am. Our drivers tried to take a shorter route back, but it ended up being on worse roads, which ate up more time. We stopped a few times for tea and lunch, and got pretty near Dehradun by about 7pm. Then we got stuck in traffic due to either roadwork or partial flooding of the road. Our driver drove on the shoulder AROUND the traffic to another route and then on dark, winding, guard-railless mountain roads (nearly flying off a few times!) until we reached our destination by about 10pm. In total, 12 hours to Agra, 24 hours in Agra, then 15 hours back to Dehradun.
Another memorable story: I budgeted a certain amount of money for my trip, but that did not end up being enough, so I tried to use my bank card at a few Indian ATMs with no luck. So I tried talking to the banks - again no luck. Then I tried using my credit cards to get cash, but couldn't because I didn't have a PIN set up... So, I started to get a bit panicky - here I am in a foreign country running out of money! I would exchange traveller's cheques or US cash at a particular foreign exchange place and I heard that they could also do a credit card advance without a PIN, so I headed there. Usually I was served by the man who seemed like the owner or his wife, both of whom were professional, efficient, and friendly. However, this one day I rushed over there during a short break in my day (through deadly traffic amid dust and noise and chaos) desperate to get some cash before I left town for the weekend and was served by a different guy who was quite possibly the slowest human being I have ever encountered! He clearly had little idea how to do this transaction and I was so nervous that he couldn't do it, or the phone line would be down, or my credit card wouldn't go through, or whatever that I must have been shaking! I realized in this moment that this was a HUGE test of my patience! And that there was nothing I could do to make anything go faster or work better... And then I chose to stop worrying. Not an easy thing to do, for sure, but still possible! Everything worked out OK in the end and I managed to make it to my next destination on time, so worrying and being impatient would have been an unnecessary stress. I am so thankful for this and other experiences because they have given me much needed practice at being PATIENT, a skill I can definitely use in my life.
3. Remain calm/I am capable/go with the flow/be resourceful/have faith
During most of my month in India I had a cell phone provided by the program. However, on my last day in Dehradun before heading to Delhi to fly back to Canada, I no longer had my cell phone because we had to turn them in the previous day. Some other students, two coordinators, and I headed downtown to run various errands. I needed more cash (again!) while the others headed to an internet cafe and a cell phone store. I agreed to go get my cash then head to the internet cafe to meet back up with some of the others. Seems simple, right? Well, there are literally internet cafes one on top of another in this city and the one I THOUGHT I was supposed to go to was essentially empty. So where were my people? I couldn't exactly go searching for them, since I barely knew where I was or where to begin. At home if this happened to me, it wouldn't be such a big deal, but try to imagine being alone and kind of lost in a noisy, busy, chaotic, and crowded place where you can barely recognize places you know and most writing is in a language you can't read... Without my dear cell phone! Again, I realized in this moment that this was a test of my ability to fend for myself and figure myself out of my problem on my own (remain calm!). First I realized that if I could not find anyone, I could still go do the other things I needed to and head back to my house on my own (I am capable, so go with the flow!). I found and used a public phone for the first time to call one of the coordinators, whose phone number I thankfully had in my wallet (be resourceful!). Turns out the number I had was for a different coordinator (remain calm!), but he gave me the right number (have faith!). I went to a sweet shop to wait for him, but time passed and nobody showed... Was I at the wrong place? Totally possible given that businesses in India often have nearly identical names on the same street - they copycat each other frequently... By coicidence, the other coordinator I had been with earlier showed up at this shop and then a couple others did too (have faith!). Of course everything worked out fine...
4. Be prepared and keep learning
Prior to going to India, I did some research. Reading novels, how to get around, cautions, tips, packing lists, maps, history, culture, food, language, etc. While there, I REALLY wanted to learn more, so I asked my host family A LOT of questions at every opportunity. Politics, pop culture, clothing, food, arranged marriage, India perspectives on other countries, tips, language lessons, whatever. You name it, I asked it! I also decided that I would truly try to LIVE in India, instead of living as a Canadian in India. This means thinking in rupees (not dollars!): evaluating prices based on the market (and not how much cheaper things were than at home) and bargaining fairly (rather than throwing money around because I was a "rich” Westerner). This also meant learning and understanding customs in India and living by them - tipping, photos, attire, table manners, language, bargaining, attitudes, behaviour... I know that I did not manage to blend in too well, but I made an effort to be observant and adjust myself to my surroundings.
As I wrote in a previous blog, you cannot be certain that what you think is polite/rude is viewed the same way in foreign countries. This is what it means to be a conscientious traveller, I think. And I think this is where "rude Americans" (and other Westerners, although most foreigners will assume we are also American) get into trouble. I think most people are trying to be courteous and are unknowingly interpreted as rude because sometimes social norms are so different. It is important to make an effort to be polite, but on whose terms? What I think is much more difficult, but quite an important lesson, is to actually LEARN about the culture you visit and play by its rules rather than impose your own. This means avoiding value judgements ("India is so backwards") and instead making observations ("India is so different from my country"). Through observation, you can see HOW something is different. Through researching history and gaining experience, you can actually start to understand WHY. If cultures are like people, the NATURE influences are the attributes randomly granted to it (location, climate, geography, natural resources, etc). And not all countries start out with the same stuff (just as not all people do). And, just like with people, understanding NURTURE (history, interactions with neighbours, etc.) is a major puzzle piece too.
Overall, I would say the cultural experience was the best part of my trip. I love learning about people and different cultures, especially trying to discover WHY another culture is the way it is. History is really an important key to this, since if you can trace the history of a culture, you can often see how certain patterns of behaviour emerged as an adaptation to daily life. I have read quite a few novels (many with lots of historical context) about India and became fascinated by it, which is part of what inspired me to go on this trip.
I found the people in India to be very dignified, respectful, and eerily calm! Despite (or due to?) the incredible chaos, desperation, and physical danger of daily life, there is a sense of spirituality that permeates everything. People in India seem to have mastered remaining detached from the external environment while remaining intimately connected with the collective population. And even I (control freak and cultural outsider) was able to embrace this fateful outlook and literally flow through traffic, crowds, animals, and whatnot… At least some of the time! What an interesting feeling that was.
I am trying to hang on to that feeling here, with some success, but I have to make a conscious effort. I tend to rush everywhere and I’m almost obsessed with sprinting down the long hall to the subway when I can hear or see a train coming and I know I can just make it if I run as fast as I can… So, lately, before I leave my house I remind myself that “I am calm and collected” and that there is no need to rush. When I’m commuting to work in the morning, I try to float above all the people and when I’m taking an escalator, I try to consciously “stand right” not “walk left”. I’m doing OK…
The best explanation I heard for the culture in India was that in India (and much of Asia), religion and culture are nearly indistinguishable from one another. Religion is a guide for how to live life and sets a pattern of cultural norms and values that reflect the “proper” way to live. While not everyone in India is Hindu, Hinduism strongly impacts the culture because it reaches into all areas of life. And while there is formal worship for sure, it is not so “obligatory” or chore-like as it seems in North America. Being a good Hindu does not seem to hinge so heavily on whether one faithfully goes through the religious motions, but has more to do with how everyday life is lived and whether one follows the core values of Hinduism. To me, this is really what religion SHOULD be – a guide for living one’s best life and achieving peace and balance. One night during the first week, the OB/GYN we preceptored with brought us along with her to a friend’s house to attend their weekly worship and celebration for their guru. As an aside, nearly every Indian I met had a guru, a spiritual leader whom they look to for guidance and inspiration. This celebration was lovely – music, singing, reading, and finally meditation on one particular lesson for that week. Afterwards, there was a small potluck, then back to work! I was so touched that these strangers would welcome 6 bumbling med students into their home to take part in such a personal ceremony.
I noticed that in India there seemed to be no boundaries. No boundaries between people and animals or people and machines. Behaviour seemed to depend on the whim of the person acting – people did not concern themselves with attempting to control the behaviour of other people. If you want to drive faster, you could pass the vehicle in front of you, honk your horn, drive on the wrong side of the road (temporarily!), or even leave the road entirely! Cows and dogs lived where they chose, alongside people, who also lived where they could make a home. Men, women, and children bathed in the river on a whim. Many roads had no dividing lines, and the city I was in had only one stoplight that I ever saw. However, I still felt that my personal space and my body were respected. Nobody grabbed me, blocked my path, or stuck their hands in my pockets. Even in crowds, I was never badly jostled and I never felt like I would be robbed or groped.
When I travel, I try to cultivate a truly open mind and to absorb (as much as possible) the culture I am in, rather than assuming that I know what will be construed as polite or rude... This is incredibly hard to do and demands that one be extra observant, especially when immersed in culture so different from North America. Finally, here are a couple of stories of how what I considered polite was actually perhaps inappropriate in India:
During the first week with my host family, I made sure to say “thank you” following every meal because I wanted to show them how much I appreciated having 3 hot meals each day cooked from scratch! From the start, I was kind of confused by their reaction, which seemed to be a mixture of annoyance and discomfort. However, the last thing I wanted to do was imply that they were making me uncomfortable, so I just ignored it. Later in the week, after many “thank yous” had been made, they finally asked us to STOP thanking them! They explained that because they were welcoming us into their home like family, it was unnecessary (and even inappropriate) for us to thank them constantly because with family you do not need to exchange such pleasantries. They told us that it was making them uncomfortable and asked us to save our thanks for the end of the week…
It took me many more weeks to pick up on the fact that Indians are not so concerned with saying an official “hello” or “good bye” as I am. The best examples of this occurred when I would talk on my cell phone with the program coordinators. If I called them, they would answer with “hello”, but it was a lot quieter and mumbled than I’m used to and it would confuse me! The reverse would happen when I would answer with a distinct and loud “hello” – it seemed to really creep them out… The funniest thing to me was “good bye”. I can’t even count the number of times that the coordinators would simply hang up without warning when the conversation was done, leaving me confused. And when I would say “good bye” first, they would always answer with a very strange “uh, good bye” as if I had said something really strange…
Considering that eating ranks high among my favourite activities, it only seems proper to begin recounting my experiences in India by discussing food. And as we are all aware, health follows naturally from food, so I’m going to cover that topic too!
My month in India marks the closest I have ever come to being a vegetarian. Other than a few servings of eggs, 2 trips to McDonald’s (driven by a need for protein), and one fantastic dinner of lamb in garlic sauce, I did not eat any animal products other than butter (which I applied liberally to everything possible, just to get something other than starch in my diet) and some other dairy (only during the first week) for the entire 4 weeks.
First off, social norms in India dictate that you MUST eat everything on your plate because wasting food is a major faux pas, for obvious reasons. Initially, my host family served us plates already filled with food, which meant that I had no choice but to eat what I was given and then get seconds of what I actually wanted to eat. This also meant that I ate copious amounts of wheat and dairy for the first few days. They soon observed that we liked some foods more than others, so then started allowing us to serve ourselves. After the first few days of eating dairy at every meal, I started to have some pain in my right ear, where I am sometimes prone to infections. At this point I stopped eating dairy entirely, and the pain disappeared. Wheat was harder to avoid, since it was the staple food in every meal!
A “typical” meal consisted of: rice, chapati bread, dal (made from one of: peas, lentils, chick peas, black eyed peas, mung beans, gram, kidney beans, soy cakes), and a vegetable (usually some combination of potato, cauliflower, eggplant, peppers). Sometimes there would also be raita, which is yogurt mixed with spices and chunks of vegetables (often cucumber). Breakfast would be a bit different. While living with my host family, we had “sprouts” a few times, which was tomato, onion, cucumber, and lentils or beans that had been soaked and started to sprout. This was my favourite breakfast because it was refreshing and not so starchy. However, usually we would have poha, a rice paper, cabbage, pepper, and peanut casserole type thing that I also liked and would be eaten with “snack sauce” which was essentially ketchup. If we didn’t have one of the above dishes, breakfast would consist of bread and butter, and maybe a piece of fruit. The fruit in India was amazing! Bananas, mango, musk melon, watermelon, and pineapple were the most common, always fresh and so delicious! I ate more mangos than I ever have before and I still wanted more!
The most notable physical effect was that I lost 10 pounds in just under 3 weeks, most of that no doubt being muscle. My clothes were literally falling off me when I left the country and most people told me I looked way too thin when I got home. I attribute this drastic weight loss to the change in diet (major deficiency of protein), the heat (eliminated my appetite), constant walking/hiking, and just plain day to day stress of culture shock, getting around, over-stimulation, etc. In the 4th week I consciously tried to eat more and gained back a couple pounds and then gained back the rest in my first week home!
Considering how much wheat I ate, I survived remarkably well! I think this is thanks to much healing achieved in the last year or two via BTD, homeopathy, and a consistently healthy lifestyle. I took Polyflora and Deflect daily, which kept my digestive system working as usual. I was fortunate enough to avoid any GI sickness for the whole 4 weeks while most (if not all?) other students in my program got sick (either with full-blown food poisoning or at least chronic diarrhea)! Most people resorted to Immodium and/or Cipro (broad-spectrum antibiotics) at some point, but I didn’t even bring those with me.
I wasn’t very anal about what I ate, excluding one day when I washed mangoes (bought on the street) and my knife (also bought on the street) with Purell before cutting them up to eat… I ate quite a few mysterious things, including what I guessed to be cornstarch/fat/sugar/spice balls given to us in a village by a family hosting a wedding the next day. These things were literally dripping with fat, but I was so hungry that I ended up eating many of them (I lost count) on an empty stomach and I STILL had no problem digesting them! And they sure were delicious…
However, I did come down with a pretty nasty respiratory infection in the 3rd week, while we were in the city where the air was extremely smoggy. I think I managed to just narrowly prevent full-blown pneumonia. I possibly had “walking pneumonia”, since I felt fine, but had the most extreme chest congestion I’ve ever experienced plus lots of strange noises (popping, crackling, wheezing) when I breathed deeply. Anyway, I DID NOT want to complain to any of the doctors I was preceptoring with that week since although I liked all of them a lot and respected them as professionals, I knew that as soon as they examined me they would pump me full of antibiotics and I would have little say in the matter. So, I managed to hang in until the end of that week, not getting better or worse. The 4th week we moved to a small village in the Himalayas (quiet, clean air, more exercise, yoga/meditation daily) and I immediately started to get much better, although it still took a full week for me to breath without crazy noises!
While I was in the city I also had some strange eye reactions. One day one of my eyes got very puffy and developed a dark red area below it. Idiotically, I decided to give it a vigourous wash with tap water, which just irritated it further! Then I realized I should probably wash it with bottled water, so then I washed both my eyes with bottled water by basically pouring it into my eyes over the sink (not pleasant!). At this point, both my eyes were red, puffy, and itchy, so I decided I should leave them alone! The next morning my eyes were still pretty puffy and the area between my eyes over my nose had completely flattened out due to the swelling! However, apart from looking kind of strange, I felt OK and decided to just leave well enough alone. Again, this approach seemed to work out and after a few days my eyes were fairly normal again (although they didn’t fully recover until I left the city).
So here I am, back in Canada - healthy and happy!
So, I’m back from my travels to Arizona and India! I have so many things to blog about, I am overwhelmed… IfHI, India, plus I just saw the movie Sicko…
I am also having some sort of streak of luck or good fortune right now that is hard to believe… Opportunities are coming to me in many areas of life and I’m just trying to find a place for all of them.
With my overactive mind, I of course have lots of thoughts and ideas being generated, but I am short of processing time right now. So, I promise blogs eventually… Just wanted y’all to know I am still here!
As of April, I became the student rep for North American Pharmacal at the Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine (CCNM). Considering that even before I started full-time school there I was already known as “that girl who knows a lot about the Blood Type Diet”, this makes a lot of sense!
I have finished my first year at CCNM. We had three exams in April while classes were still going, then seven more exams during the two week exam period! By the last exam, I was pretty exhausted with studying.
I have really enjoyed this past year and have learned a lot. Principally, I have learned that my destiny is in my hands. There are a lot of people at school (classmates, upper year students, administration, professors, etc) who try to tell you what your experience at CCNM will be like. I’ve heard certain phrases many times: “In fourth year, everyone is burnt out/has adrenal fatigue”, “This program takes a major toll on your health”, “People without a science background struggle most”, “It’s impossible to work while going to school”, “There’s no point in going to class, learn from the textbook instead”, “By the end of four years, you will change dramatically”. The only one of these quotes I believe is true for me is the last. Despite having no science background, I have excelled in the science courses. I have learned a lot about maintaining balance in my life and I am not yet burnt out! I have two part-time jobs which not only help me pay the bills, but keep me sane. I go to nearly every single class and study to understand the material and the result has been that my knowledge and marks are higher than I ever expected.
On Thursday morning I am travelling to Arizona to attend IfHI 2007! Last time (2005), I went to this conference not knowing anyone and not even knowing what direction my life was headed in. I went as part of my 2005 plan to figure out what I wanted to do with my life. I met lots of great people and became certain that I wanted to be a naturopathic doctor. This year will obviously be a totally different experience. I am now on my path, know far more people (but haven’t met most of them), and I’m also part of the NAP team. For those of you attending, please come say hello to me if you see me! Hopefully you’ll still recognize me – I have the same face, but I’ve cut most of my hair off.
I am returning to Toronto on May 23rd, then leaving on May 25th for Delhi, India. I am attending a four week program in Northern India called Intro to Traditional Medicine in India in which I will preceptor with doctors in various clinics and learn Naturopathy, Homeopathy, Ayurveda, and Reiki. There are also classes in all these topics as well as yoga! For the first two weeks I will be in Dehra Dun living with a host family, then one week in Rishikesh living in an ashram, then one week in the village of Than Gaon living in a guest house. All my meals are provided – Indian vegetarian diet! Should be interesting…
Anyway, I probably won’t be blogging again until I am back in Canada (late June or early July). Wish me luck!