Well, I'm back from a week on the eastern end of the country. A wonderful, exhausting, heartfelt and heartbreaking week all at the same time. As many of you have been wondering as to my wherabouts in the past week, lets just say the media access is a little harder to find in the country .
Ten of us took a bumpy, close your eyes and hang on kind of bus ride five days ago through the countryside, around Lake Issyk-Kul (which is really more of a salt water sea, it's HUGE) to the city of Karakol (about 60,000 people with a lot of small villages within 10-15 minutes away). It was nice to get out of the city and see things other than traffic. The landscape on the ride was much like driving through northern Idaho and Montana, mountains, forests, into badlands, and back into mountains. We arrived in town and took up house in our soviet concrete apartment block...10 of us with one bathroom, and remarkably we all came back still liking each other. For the past five days we've been seeing patients (I actually did physical therapy in a yurt!).
Parents brought kids in with the hope that we could heal them, most with CP or dislocated hips as babies that turned into deformities as they started to grow, spinal cord injuries, and muscular dystrophy. Many had had surgeries that didn't work, and may or may not have been performed by actual doctors. We found that sometimes there were actually things that we could do and some easy physical therapy that we could teach the parents to do at home with their kids. It was a shoot from the hip kind of PT (go tape some cardboard to the bottom of your shoe to help with that leg length problem). Many times, the most important role we had was to educate. There was such a lack of understanding about disability and why it happened that it was no wonder parents kept hoping someone could make it all go away. I hope that what we had to offer made a difference, and the feedback we got was that it did. Mostly, we were told, we brought hope to an area in desperate need of early intervention and proper medical care, and gratefulness that we saw these people with disabilities as people, not invalids.
So let me tell you a little bit about Karakol itself. Apparently there are mountains there. Big beautiful mountains. 24,000 foot tall mountains. We don't really know, we never actually saw them. It was some combination of rainy/cloudy/dusty every day that we were there, and our interpreter kept promising we would see them tomorrow. It's tomorrow...still didn't see the big beautiful mountains, but I'll buy a postcard and pretend. We did get a chance to go hiking in said mountains for an afternoon, and left covered in ticks but happy to be outside. Kyrgyz ticks are a lot smaller than US ticks, so I tended to do a lot less jumping around and screaming when I had to pick about 30 off of me.
The bus ride back took about 9 hours, we went around the other side of the lake, and are now back in Bishkek, with a day to relax. Tomorrow, we get to tour the only prosthetics center in the country. It should be interesting, since the Minister set the trip up for us. Until next time.....