Saturday, September 5, 2015

Hanging with my hominis: making peace with parasites

Sounds disgusting right? Your immediate reaction is “well I sure as hell don’t have parasites!” The reality is you may not actually ever know – rather they may (and often) – manifest themselves as other “diseases” such as irritable bowel syndrome or leaky gut to name two examples if they have been left long enough.  Many people with parasites exhibit no symptoms what so ever until they have become so invasive that they begin to create secondary illnesses.
I recently returned from Nepal where I picked up a severe diarrhea for a week. It seemed to settle down to a manageable stage by the time I flew out to new Zealand (thankfully), but within two days of arriving back home it returned with a vengeance and in fact was so bad I ended up in hospital on fluids and electrolytes.  I literally could not keep anything inside me and I could not be away from a bathroom - seriously. After a stool sample came back negative and they started me on an antimicrobial “just in case” I started to notice my mindset. I was in so much pain in my gut that I knew a negative stool sample was wrong. The “just-in-case” treatment continued and I appeared to again come right, albeit with a sore bloated tummy but I put that down to being on a course on antimicrobials (I am not a fan of conventional medicine but being as sick as I was I decided to give them a go).  I diligently ate pro-biotics and started drinking water kefir again, doing everything I could to ensure my gut health was restored as soon as possible.
A few days after I had completed my course of antimicrobials I started to experience strong stomach pain and intense waves of nausea, coupled with my stomach becoming incredibly bloated. I ended up taking a week off work and again heading to the doctor who announced after another negative stool sample, that as I had all the symptoms of giardia he would treat me for that. I was to do another sample in a few days.  I held off on the treatment for giardia as I wanted to consult my naturopath and he tested me for parasites, which came back very strong in the large intestine and stomach areas. I started on parasitic treatment and left the antimicrobials aside.  
A few days later my third stool sample came back with a positive for Blastocystis Hominis – a commonly contracted protozoa that can be transmitted through faecal contamination; given my digging in foul-smelling soil in earthquake flattened Sankhu in Nepal, I wasn’t surprised.  

So the big question remained – to take or not to take the antimicrobials! I did some reading about this B.Hominis and found out that not a lot is known about it at all; in fact several studies cite the effectiveness of metronidazole (the treatment drug of choice) as being 0-100% eradication in those treated … well, that’s a pretty big range!
There is so little known about this parasite (even though it is extremely common in those who exhibit the signs of ‘travellers diarrhea') that treatment is hit and miss and more often than not researchers have even questioned if it is in fact a normal part of intestinal flora … I doubt that.
Back to my statement about mindset.  I was so focused on this monster in my belly that I started to feel as if I was making it worse by focusing on it. Yes I feel ill; yes I get intense waves of nausea like I have never experienced; yes I have heaved in the mornings as if I am pregnant (goodness knows I look pregnant!); yes I have a continual epi-gastric pain that will just not let up and yes I spend a lot of time with a wheat bag strapped to my guts lying on the couch watching movies … it is what it is.  I watched a documentary on medical technologies of the future the other day as I was lounging about.  The angle was not at all mechanistic in its approach but rather considering the body holistically – no mind/body Cartesian split, which we all know now is archaic in thinking.  This documentary looked deeply into the power of positive thinking and manifesting energy for healing.  It cited cases of people healing their various afflictions.  This really got me thinking.  In my training (indoctrination) as a midwife and sport scientist, I read a lot of research. Typically in studies that are trialling a new drug, a control group (the group that does not get the drug tested on them) will be ascribed a placebo drug (usually a sugar pill of some sort).  Neither the drug group nor the control group know if they have been given the drug.  The effect of the treatment drug can then be observed in a non-biased manner against the people who are the control (or normal) group to measure any worthwhile changes.  Interestingly there are often positive changes that occur in the group given a placebo drug.  Such observed benefits have been called “the placebo effect” - which we have all heard of.  These changes get left out of medical research – why? Because there is no money in a placebo - no one can patent the power of positive thinking!  I have actively shunned the medical mechanistic way of viewing the body for a while now.  I know my body has the ability to intuitively heal itself. I also know that when we give something energy – be it positive or negative – that energy will grow.  Have you ever noticed that if you focus on something that is really bugging you, it starts to become an all-consuming monster and just gets bigger and bigger and worse and worse? 
By focusing on the parasites in my digestive tract in a negative manner, I figured I was going to make it more intense; so much like the placebo effect, I decided to change my approach to these little critters that are making my life misery. I have welcomed them along for the ride – but like any ride it is going to come to an end.  I am focusing on directing healing energy into my digestive system; I am focusing on what I can do to feel more comfortable; mindfully choosing foods which sooth my stomach rather than irritate it (I have certainly been off my food since having this although you would not know as my stomach is so distended!); and I am positively encouraging B. Hominis to vacate the premises!

How to build a temporary shelter in Nepal

It's over 4 months since the two big quakes smacked into this little country, rocking what was already a fragile infrastructure into an amalgamation of rubble. Goodness knows how long "the rebuild" will take and if Christchurch is anything to go by (5 years since the start of it all on September 1, 2010), then it could be decades (if at all) before Nepal is back to how it was. In fact it will never be "back to how it was" because many ancient World Heritage Sites have been completely destroyed or have been damaged beyond recognition - they simply cannot just be "rebuilt" as they were before. Christchurch builds cardboard cathedrals but I highly doubt Kathmandu builds cardboard temples ...
Displaced people in Christchurch stayed with family and friends with intact homes; some where in camper vans and in many cases even left the city for good, but where do you go in a badly affected town or village when the next village is just as bad?
Resettlement camps have popped up in Nepal and I saw a few of these in or near Kathmandu and visited one near Bhaktapur that had over 1700 people living there in tents. It reminded me of a New Zealand holiday park at Christmas time - everyone in their tents; the cooking facilities and bathroom facilities open for all to share; happy little kids running about with big wide toothy smiles - only there was no nice relaxing beach or lakefront to recline on during the day; just the noise, dust and bustle of the surrounding city. What happens to these people? Winter comes soon and what becomes of them? What becomes of all the people who live in a thin tent that will offer little protection from the winter elements? I don't hear of people going camping at the beach during a New Zealand winter.

Shelters 4 Nepal 2.0 (S4N 2.0) is a small volunteer group making a BIG impact in some areas, such as like these types of "tent towns". They have been actively engaged in building temporary shelters that offer a family a sense of "home" for a while (who knows in reality how long it will actually be) for families in desperate need of a roof over their head. It is heart-breaking to see the conditions some people are living in - and these people do not complain; they graciously and courageously accept the situation for what it is and I am sure, with a belief they will soon be back in their own homes whether it be rebuilt or built from scratch. The thing is - the people in this situation have nothing - really - nothing! Perhaps they will never have the ability to rebuild their homes or even be re-housed if their home was totally destroyed. Can you imagine that? If you have several generations living in one small tent can you imagine how disheartening it must feel if you know that a new home is not a possibility? 
Shelters 4 Nepal 2.0  can at least offer a temporary solution although the reality is, that for some people these shelters may in fact be their last home. I do not have enough knowledge of how things work in Nepal but I certainly do not think it is close to resembling what we have in New Zealand in terms of looking after people who have been displaced due to natural disaster. Insurance helps.

To build a shelter it costs NZ $500 for the materials. There are volunteers on the ground in Nepal who are researching where the needs are greatest and are completing the build work. Each shelter is constructed "Ikea style" according to American volunteer for S4N 2.0, Chris. He has been working 10 hour days along with French woman Johanna, tirelessly piecing together pre-cut sections and corrugated iron (they do all the cutting work prior to erecting the shelters in-situ) to form the humble constructions. Chris and Johanna are supported behind the scenes in Nepal by what locals they can find and Amanda Summers who has hosted these volunteers (and others) for free at her guesthouse - Starview Guesthouse - in the village of Changunarayan near Kathmandu. Amanda feels it is her way of contributing, highlighting how together a few people can make a huge difference.
So how can YOU make a difference? Why not consider a corporate sponsorship? A business could sponsor the construction of several shelters and in return reap philanthropic recognition. What about as a family donating for the cost of ONE shelter? How about sports clubs or recreation groups getting together and donating for a shelter, for example - hiking or tramping clubs, scout groups, collectives and so on. A fundraiser for a shelter is also a great idea that people could do as individuals or with others - the good old kiwi "sausage sizzle" never fails to please; or perhaps a business breakfast? There are numerous ways people can get involved without feeling pressured to provide for an entire shelter alone. S4N 2.0 has a Givealittle page  - check it out; and also "like" and share their Facebook page. If you are interested in volunteering in Nepal by helping S4N 2.0 directly with their project, then that too is another fantastic option to explore. For further information on what S4N 2.0 is doing, email

Thursday, September 3, 2015

One month on: A reflection

It makes you think really – going to somewhere like Nepal after they have experienced two ruinous earthquakes – about the things in life that are important to value. Things like relationships, wellbeing and creativity. Everything else is just a diversion we get caught up in ... money, possessions, status and identity.  It is interesting going somewhere like Nepal at this time. Natural disasters are great levellers – for a while everyone is on the same footing; for a while (a short while) I am certain a caste system must mean nothing.  My immediate reaction when I came back to New Zealand (my counter-culture shock), was that I did not want to be here – I just wanted to go back to Nepal.  Now, four weeks later it almost feels as if it was a dream.  That’s the funny thing about travel – it transports us (literally) through to an altered dimension in time (being from New Zealand we ALWAYS go back in time!), and it dumps us in to something we know should be recognisable but somehow is as if we are on different planet, not another continent.  For me that feeling did not last long; being an avid collector of books about Nepal and the Himalaya I felt as if I had been there before (in another life perhaps?), and so the adjustment was not so much about the culture but about corporeal aspects - like how my body managed the temperature and humidity of monsoon season (being a winter person).
Being engrossed in the construction of ten temporary shelters for ten different families in a broken town called Sankhu was amazing. It is also incredible how the desire to help is almost primal in nature, stemming perhaps from a realisation that really, we are all connected – help someone … help ourselves.  It is easy to get caught up in the vibe of giving.  No matter what it is that is given – if done so in the authentic spirit of love and connection then the energy derived from that can manifest in on-going dynamism.
The people I met in Nepal were what touched my heart the most.  The big wide-open smiles and genuine affection of the Nepali are unlike any other culture I have experienced.  To find something every day to be happy about amidst so much destruction, has the potential to teach everyone in western cultures a lesson or two about acceptance.  Life just went on.  No one moaned about their situation; there was just a quiet dignified acquiescence – this is how it is.

Other people who opened my heart were volunteers also staying in the same accommodation as I –  Starview Guesthouse – in the small hilltop village of Changunarayan.  Amanda has lived on Nepal for nearly five years and is actively involved in helping volunteers to volunteer! Some of these volunteers had put aside a “normal” life and had chosen to spend their days giving to others. To truly absorb oneself in the act of giving to others, as a way of life is something few people can achieve in reality, as the ego asks us to stay here in the “real’ world. It takes courage to disentangle from the dogma of “normal” and immerse oneself in the spirit of giving.  I truly admired these individuals as there was no sense of self-centredness about how they went about doing what they did.  It was just as if they were sprinkling a touch of fairy dust over the planet as they travelled!
Entrenched back in ‘the daily grind’ of work has not been an easy or seamless transition for me.  I have found it challenging to focus; my head and heart are still in Nepal and I have wrestled with an amoebic infection which jumped on board for the ride from Nepal and has left me feeling nauseas and bloated.  Of course people say “ah well – you shouldn’t have gone to a country like that so what did you expect!”.  They tut-tut and just do not get it.  Nepal is such a world away from what we know in New Zealand; and even going through our own earthquake does not make us as empathetic towards the Nepali as we could be.
As Nepal moves out of the monsoon and into its first winter season since the quakes, my heart and thoughts are with it; with the Nepali who battle on courageously and with the unseen but tangible spirit that dances throughout this glorious country.