Medical Mission to Tibet with Conscious Journeys by Lisa Nystrom
It was a spur of the moment decision. It was March of this year; I had just been on a pilgrimage to Lhasa with Conscious Journeys in September 2016 but when I saw the Facebook post from Tamdin looking for a nurse to go on a medical mission in June, I immediately replied with a resounding “yes!” I am a Tibetan Buddhist nun but an oncology nurse by trade, having spent over 25 years in nursing. I had no idea what to expect and it turned out to be one of the best adventures of my life.
June was here before I knew it and I was flying off to Chengdu to meet up with my team: Dr. John, his granddaughter Beethoven (a premed student at Berkeley), engineer Ralph and fellow nurse Martha and the wonderful team from Conscious Journeys: Tenpa, Chatue, Lhamo and Namlha. I got there a day late after a seriously crazy delay in Shanghai but I made it.
We left Chengdu the next morning and headed up over the mountains to Kangding. It was cool and overcast as we headed out. The drive was beautiful and we made stops along the way for lunch and photos. Arrived at dinner time, had a wonderful Tibetan meal then checked into our rooms. It would be our last hotel for a while, as we would be doing home stays from here on. Up early the next morning for a bit of sightseeing around Kangding then back on the road and up over the mountains (14,440 feet up!) to Tagong. Arrived there just in time for a delicious dinner of thuk-pa (noodle soup) made by Ama-la, our home stay host. Lovely home but unfortunately, some plumbing problems so no running water meant no shower for a few days. Welcome to Tibet, where things never quite go as planned but turn out wonderful anyway!
Next day, visited and made offerings at the Sakya monastery across the street then time to get to work. Short drive to the Tagong Ani Gompa (nunnery) where we met with the nuns who run a clinic there. Martha and Lhamo met with the menpa (Tibetan doctor and one of the nuns), discussed women’s health issues then Dr. John did some teaching on TB diagnosis and prevention. Lots of picture taking then back to Ama-la’s for dinner and sleep.
Next morning was our visit to the local orphanage in Tagong. About 60 or so young men reside there. They were so sweet and attentive. Such beautiful faces, I wanted to take every one of them home with me. Their teacher is doing an amazing job raising them. We taught them oral hygiene (brushing their teeth!) as well as the importance of handwashing. We gave out toothbrushes, toothpaste, and bars of soap as well as some candy and money. Tenpa shot some hoops with the boys while Dr. John reviewed first aid with their teacher. We left teaching materials and first aid kits with them.
Next stop, the village of Dora. Another beautiful drive along a river filled with millions of Mani stones and prayer flags – every inch of this country is blessed. While in Dora, we stayed at Tenpa’s lovely home (with hot showers!). Did some sightseeing then met with the village women and did an extensive presentation on women’s health issues. Gave out more toothbrushes, toothpaste, soap, sanitary products, first aid kits and teaching materials. The women of Dora are beautiful and so kind and receptive to us. When word got out that we had an American doctor with us, our teaching session became a mini-clinic. Dr. John and myself spent several hours assessing, diagnosing and treating (as best we could with limited medical equipment and meds) every type of ailment you could imagine.
After a few days in Dora, it was on to Yoloshi. All of the places we visited were beautiful but this was by far, my favorite. It’s hard to put into words just how breathtaking this part of Tibet is (but I have over 800 pictures on my camera to prove it!) While here, we stayed at Chatue’s beautiful home. Routine was similar in Yoloshi – the local women (again, so beautiful and kind) came for women’s health education. Handed out more supplies and again, ended up with a mini clinic to treat what we could. One last day of sightseeing, a hike up into the mountains, some photo ops with the local yaks and it was time to head back to Kangding and then Chengdu and finally home.
Two weeks went by in a flash. I wish we could have stayed longer and done so much more but I know I will go back again soon and will do whatever I can to be of the greatest benefit to the Tibetans. I live in the San Francisco Bay area so one could say my heart is in San Francisco, but in reality, I left my heart in Tibet.