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Nepal Newsletter

June 28, 2002
Mark and Deirdre Zimmerman 28 July 2002
United Mission to Nepal
Box 126
Kathmandu, Nepal

I said to the Lord, "You are my Lord; apart from you I have no good thing"
Psalm 16:2
Dear Friends,

Life has changed dramatically since we last wrote. No, the Maoist situation has not altered much, although they have been remarkably (suspiciously) quiet in the last few months despite a crisis in government. Nor am I talking about the delayed arrival of the monsoon rains, now thundering down as I write. The change is one that happens to thousands of people around the world every day: a baby has been born.

It was a week that began in great tension, and ended in answered prayers filled with great blessing and joy. Already 3 days overdue, my obstetrician had given us just 5 more days until she would induce labor. At Patan Hospital an experienced team of doctors oversee the delivery of 5000 babies a year in the busy and frequently overcrowded 30-bed maternity ward. We however hoped to deliver in the small birthing center located outside the main building, where the low-tech facilities run by midwives offer a quieter and more private experience. The possible need for medical intervention began to threaten this operation. Now the days at home stretched interminably, with each 24-hour period taking on the proportions of the previous 9 months. Going out for walks to keep active and break the monotony was a mixed experience: Nepali women do not go out much in their final weeks of pregnancy, and the sight of a large expatriate woman in ballooning maternity dresses brought unrestrained staring and remarks of exclamation. My neighbour regularly commented incredulously on the fact that I was "still walking!" while our landlord's daughter was shocked to meet me at a conference center some days after I was due. "But you could go into labor at any moment!" she cried, looking as if she expected me to deliver in minutes before her very eyes. I refrained from telling her the more shocking truth that I was there to dip myself and my very large tummy into the swimming pool.

By Wednesday, I was feeling quite discouraged, despite my pastor's wife's assurances that their prayers and a traditional meal of yogurt and beaten rice would do the trick. That evening, I half-heartedly asked people at our midweek Bible study to pray for the onset of labor in the next 2 hours. Little did I expect that just hours later a nervous taxi driver would be driving us gingerly around the potholes along the quarter of a mile to the hospital. With a bedding roll for Mark and a mosquito repeller at the ready, we headed into the dimly lit, almost empty birthing center and took up occupancy of one of the simple cubicles. There, after a short and intense labor, the expert hands of 2 Nepali nurse-midwives helped our little son make his way into the world and his father cut the cord, releasing him into a new existence. Life had changed for all of us, all three of us.

That day was one of very mixed emotions: hours spent pondering the awe and joy of having this perfect package from heaven straight into our unworthy arms, tearful moments of emptiness at having him spend time away from us on oxygen in the nursery. As he needed to complete a 7-day course of antibiotics, we set up camp in a room on the private ward. Its airy proportions and view over the nearby hills provided an excellent place for rest and a gentle easing into our new parental role. Immediately Nepali friends began to deliver rice meals to us, supplemented with generous helpings of meat as is the custom for newly delivered mothers, and all spiced with the tiny seed 'jwaano' to stimulate breastmilk production. As the room filled with gifts, cards and visitors, an expatriate friend organized a meal rota for our first week at home.

Of course, being recipients of people's love and generosity also brings with it its fair share of advice, and Nepalis are no exception. "All his smiles are a windy tummy", the common expatriate refrain, was replaced by Nepali concerns about the apparent lack of clothing on Zachary. New Nepali babies and mothers are wrapped in layers of clothing, even in pre-monsoon when temperatures are over 30C (86F), and a hat is essential wear for both at all time (we soon learned the trick of having a hat to hand which we quickly popped on when a Nepali visitor appeared!). Being subject to advice from 2 different cultures can be quite a challenge: one afternoon an expatriate friend, concerned that Zachary was too sleepy to feed, undressed him completely before setting him at my breast. A Nepali friend looked on anxiously and a few minutes later, as I switched him to the other side, snatched him up and reclothed him, adding two more blankets, before returning him to me! None of this was helped by the fact that Zachary frequently gets the hiccups which to the Nepalis are a sign of being cold, and he would always start just as I would be explaining that he was too warm for me to put another layer on. However a Sherpa friend has now assured us that his hiccups are actually good because the baby grows a little with each hiccup! (this is proven by how long Zachary is!)

With a new baby, I once again attract much unwanted attention when out walking. With two small legs hanging down out of a baby pouch on my front, people on both sides of the road stop and stare, exclaiming at how such a small baby could be out. It doesn't help that Zachary has quite pale skin, and the little hair he has is golden red, a stark contrast to the shock of jet-black hair on most Nepali babies. Small babies are never carried upright and even burping them in that position is frowned on. As much as possible, new Nepali mothers and babies stay indoors for the first month or two. Frequently they return to the mother's parental home for a time, where they can rest and be given special food and care such as oil massages in the sun. In the bazaar, the vegetable sellers freely give me advice as to what I should and should not be eating so as not to contaminate my breastmilk: green pumpkin, oranges, and tomatoes are all out, although frequently the advice varies with the giver!

Nepalis do believe it is important to follow your own traditions and most are quite gracious when I simply explain that we do things differently. Like all cultural wisdom, some advice is actually quite useful (and some is best taken with a pinch of salt!). We have found that it is indeed best to keep Zachary indoors as much as possible for the time being as he finds the noise, pollution and bright sunlight of the busy streets quite disturbing. Although we didn't travel immediately to my parent's home, we were very glad to have my mother visit in those early weeks for support and encouragement as we learned to "juggle" our new baby. And Nepali friends keenly approve of our plan to go to Dublin for a few weeks break at the end of August.

Now, with almost 3 months of this new adventure behind us, our somewhat spindly newborn has filled out to become a real bundle of energy. Although feisty when disgruntled, he is full of laughter and shouts of delight for much of the day, and his large blue eyes now seem to recognize his Mum and Dad. We try not to take it personally that his most animated behavior is saved for a row of plastic bears on his bouncy chair with whom he has an especially close relationship! He and I are gradually settling into a routine at home, although routines never stay the same for long with a growing baby. I now join the rest of the neighborhood each morning on our flat roofs to hang out the washing, theirs a flutter of multi-colored clothes, mine the white flags of a line of nappies. We then settle into a daily round of breastfeeds, playtimes and naps, chorused all the time by the chanted rote learning of the three schools surrounding our flat (Zach and I are becoming champion spellers in line with this!) Excitement always builds towards 5:00 PM as we await the arrival of "Pop"... we are very grateful that the hospital workload has been well shared across a team of people, allowing Mark to have plenty of time for family life.

Both our families, and friends from the UK, will gather with us in Dublin for a baptism for Zachary on August 25th. Please join us that day in giving thanks for the gift of him, and in dedicating him to God's care. We also ask for your continued prayers for our new role as parents, the political situation in Nepal, and the future leadership and governance of Patan Hospital.

With love,
Deirdre, Mark and Zachary Zimmerman

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