Where do I begin? Right from the start where i chanced upon this in a tiny column in the sunday papers? Or in the National Eye Centre where we’d gather on a weekday evening to learn about ‘Refraction’ and ‘Visual Assessment’? How about the part where we step off the plane in Leh, anticipating the first clench of the chest, throb of the head and the dramatic faint from Acute Mountain Sickness?
I guess i could start at any point, and come to same ending.
It was one helluva eye opening experience –with all corny pun intended.
For the first time, the amazing doctors of Global Clinic (http://www.global-clinic.org) took the leap of faith and worked with a team of 9 crazy volunteers who thought it was great idea to trade in Excel charts for reading charts, heels for trekking shoes, beds for sleeping bags, and English for Ladakhi. The mission? To be the outreach team that would bring primary eye care to the remote villages of Ladakh, where the high altitude and lack of cloud cover meant a greater risk of early cataracts. And so with bags of donated sunglasses, reading glasses and eye drops, we ‘Julley-ed’* our way into 5 villages in the Western Himalayas.
*Julley is the awesome all-purpose Ladakhi word which could mean Hello/Goodbye/ Good day/ Thank you.
With each day, we found ourselves getting a better hang of things and by the end of the week with over 1000 villagers screened, we could
1. Crowd control. The arrival of our optometrists was so well publicized that we had to have a bouncer at the door.
2. Do Visual Assessments like pros (almost). Remember the prissy nurse in school who’d make you read off those charts till the very last line? Yes, we did those, and we weren’t even prissy.
3. Dispense reading glasses. +1.50? +2.00? We could figure that out in no time.
4. SPEAK LADAKHI. By the last day, we got pretty comfortable with rattling off instructions on how to use eyedrops in Ladakhi. Sometimes we’d get laughter in response but that’s really because they’re very happy people.
I really could go on forever about the beauty of Ladakh. There’s the endless mountain ranges, at once dry and barren and at another turn lush green. And then there’s the simplicity of life that belie the complex tension of history, culture and identity.
But that’s a story for another time. For now, here are some pictures of my journey, till you take your own.