Kathmandu, Nepal: March 22, 2002: Royal Nepal Airlines flight #202 departed Bombay at 5:20 p.m. destined for Nepal. Stepping off the airplane in Kathmandu was like a breath of fresh air after being in India for nearly ten days. No longer was the temperature 104 degrees Fahrenheit. There was actually a cool evening breeze wafting through the valley nestled at the foot of the Himalayan range and the great Mt. Everest.
Equally refreshing was the quickly consummated friendship with Dr. Zimmerman and his Irish-born wife Deirdre. They were at the terminal holding up a sign for us as we walked out of security after having cleared customs. Once in the auto it didn’t take long for us to realize that by traveling into Kathmandu we had jumped right into another of the world’s political “hot spots.” Fourteen “Maoist rebels” had been shot to death by Nepalese soldiers the day before.
In 1996 the radical leftist party in Nepal, called the Nepal Communist Party-Maoist or NCP-M, became frustrated with not being able to seize more power within the structure of the government of Nepal. They had decided to launch a guerrilla terrorist movement against the people and the government, styled after the model of China’s revolutionary leader Mao Tse-tung. Their goal was to topple the constitutional monarchy by hiding out in Nepal’s mountainous locations and performing deadly attacks of terror on government leaders, civil facilities, military outposts, and other high profile targets.
As was always the case, militant groups fed on their own terrorist activities, and the violence always escalated into more frequent and more severe atrocities. The militant’s army of terrorists had grown to over 4,000 strong, and they had equipped themselves with sophisticated weapons by raiding small and poorly protected military outposts and arsenals.
In November, the Nepalese government had declared a state of emergency. The rebels stepped up their violence, and instead of staying mostly in western sections, their planned attacks were aimed at Kathmandu, other major cities and tourist areas, and base camps near Mt. Everest. By the beginning of the year hundreds of people were being killed in surprise attacks by the Maoists. The guerrillas would declare a “strike” in Kathmandu or other cities and completely shut down commerce, transportation, government services, and the movement of people in, to, and from the city for a day at a time. If shopkeepers left their doors unlocked and continued business, those establishments would be stoned, shot up, or burned. If taxis or buses entered the streets, the drivers were beaten, and the vehicles burned.
Just a week before we arrived the violence had ratcheted up another notch. The Maoists attacked and took over one of the city airports. They almost simultaneously then set fire to buildings and fired at police in the town of Mangalsen. Forty-nine police were killed. Twenty-seven more were killed in another airport takeover. Shortly afterward another 48 Royal Nepalese Army officers were killed. The night we arrived in Kathmandu the Maoist rebels burned a large number of government vehicles and some buildings and killed another twelve people in the city.
To add to the civil unrest and instability, Nepal had gone through another shocker in June 2001. King Binendra, Nepal’s monarch, and eight other members of the royal family, including Queen Aiswarya, were fatally shot in the Royal Palace in Kathmandu. All evidence pointed to Crown Prince Dipendra as the mass killer. He then botched his own suicide attempt and died a short time later at the hospital. An official investigation was conducted later, which confirmed that the crown prince did perform the massacre in a drunken rage of anger. His uncle, Gyanendra Bir Bikram, was the only royal family member left, upon whom the title of regent of Nepal was bestowed. With that opening of confusion and insecurity, the Maoists intensified their onslaughts of violence to try to topple Nepal’s government.
The Zimmermans had chosen a quaint Nepalese hotel in the Patan area of Kathmandu for us to stay. We were perfectly safe there, and the cool night and our tired bodies successfully promoted the thought that we skip dinner and go straight to bed.
Saturday, March 23
The birds were singing, the flowers were blooming and the leaves were beginning to bud out on the trees. We awoke to springtime in Nepal! Even by then the negative aspects of our India experience were beginning to fade into historical perspective. We had been at the right place at the right time speaking to the right people. God had blessed us and protected us.
We took a little local taxi from our Summit Hotel and met Dr. Zimmerman and Deirdre at the front gates of the Patan Hospital. They took us to the ancient Hindu Temple of Patan, which was the center of one of four kingdom state cities and sat on the present site of Kathmandu. Much of the sprawling temple had been turned into a Hindu museum with a quaint little restaurant attached, where we went for lunch. After lunch Anna Marie and I walked the narrow streets of Katmandu absorbing all the sights, sounds, and smells of the city that some claimed to be 10,000 years old.
Dr. Zimmerman had finished his medical education at some prestigious schools in the eastern US. He had traveled to Africa during his medical school days to do a short stint there. He agreed to go to Nepal for three to six months to help out before he started his practice in America. He went to Nepal and stuck. He had been there for 15 years and had become the medical director of the Patan Hospital.
When Nepal opened up to the world in the l950s it was decided that there would not be just an influx of humanitarian and religious groups allowed in the Hindu kingdom. Instead, it was agreed that the Methodists, Presbyterian, etc. groups would be allowed to jointly open one medical venture in Kathmandu. Eventually, that effort became known as the United Mission of Nepal, and they were allowed to open a hospital in an old palace where even the patient wards boasted of crystal chandeliers.
The medical work built a strong reputation throughout Nepal and soon outgrew the old royal facilities. What amazed me about Patan Hospital was that with such ecumenical diversity they could work together and achieve such success. My attention was captured. I was eager to learn more about the hospital and its mission.
Sunday, March 24
More violence and killing by the Maoists in Nepal. We were also following the newspaper reports from India regarding the increased murders and torchings right where we had been just hours before.
Sunday morning Anna Marie and I spent some quiet time together in devotions at the Summit Hotel. Our verandah looked north toward the majestic Himalayan mountain range. I tried to point out to her where on earlier trips I had been at the village camps near the foot of the great Mt. Everest and also showed her on a map where I had crossed over the scary summits of the Himalayas when I traveled from India’s Kulu Valley over into Tibet.
At 10 a.m. Anna Marie and I arrived at the Patan Hospital to perform Project C.U.R.E.’s needs assessment study. Their little “palace hospital” had grown up to be a full-fledged 300 bed facility with eight specialty teams in surgery, pediatrics, medicine, OB-GYN, ICU-anesthesia, outpatient/trauma, orthopedics, dentistry, radiology, and pathology.
There were other hospitals in Kathmandu, but Patan Hospital had earned a splendid reputation and was doing some great medical work. Last year they had treated 266,000 outpatients, 33,000 emergency cases, 20,000 dental patients, and cared for 17,000 inpatients. I told the CEO, B.B. Khawas, and other staff members just how very proud Project C.U.R.E. was to be considering working alongside the Patan Hospital.
The way Project C.U.R.E. had become involved with the Kathmandu project was so very typical of how we became involved in projects all over the world. We never advertised, and we never went where we had not been invited. Now, that still meant that the word had to get out some way.
In the Nepal case, a wonderful couple, Mr. and Mrs. Jim Hecht who lived in Denver, had been introduced to the Patan Hospital and traveled to Kathmandu to visit. Montview Presbyterian Church in Denver, Colorado, had gotten excited about the work of the hospital and raised $160,000, which they sent to Nepal for Patan Hospital to build a pediatric department. Even the women of the church got busy and quilted blankets to be sent.
It just so happens … Jim Hecht was a good friend of Jim Peters, with whom I traveled to Belgrade, Yugoslavia. (Jim Peters was also a dear friend of my friend, Nick Muller, executive at Samsonite International). Project C.U.R.E. had pumped nearly a million dollars in medical goods into Yugoslavia and Serbia. You are smart enough to figure out “the rest of the story.”
The Patan Hospital was a natural for Project C.U.R.E.’s involvement. I went away from the needs assessment really excited about what could be done in the future to help 22 million Nepalese in the only country in the world that considered itself an official Hindu state. We pledged together that we would start immediately to work on the possibilities of getting Project C.U.R.E. involved with the Patan Hospital on a long-term basis. Anything that Project C.U.R.E. would put into the Patan project would pay great dividends both now and forever more.
Monday, March 25
Anna Marie and I were both exhausted. I needed some time to complete all the paperwork that had resulted from the days in India and Nepal. Monday morning was spent trying to catch up. That evening we took Dr. Zimmerman and Deirdre out to dinner in Kathmandu. There we heard the story of how she was born and raised in Ireland and eventually had decided to go to Africa on a mission. But providence dictated otherwise and she ended up going to the Patan Hospital as their dietitian. Of course, she met this handsome young doctor from the US who was the medical director at the Patan Hospital. He got a taste for the dietitian, and she figured the union would make for a well-balanced program, so they got hitched. It was a beautiful love story.
Tuesday/Wednesday, March 26, 27
It was time to go home! Tuesday morning, we were to catch our flight from Nepal back to Bangkok Thailand. . . . Reality Check . . . We still needed to get back to the Kathmandu airport. That meant picking our way back through all the Maoist terrorists squads who were presently holding strategic parts of the city hostage. The local news was buzzing with reports of overnight murders of both Nepalese soldiers and Maoist terrorists. “Will this incessant worldwide civil strife ever end?” The terrorists were focusing their efforts this morning on trying to shut down the main Kathmandu airport. Dr. Zimmerman contacted us and said he would personally be in charge of getting us delivered safely to the airport.
When he came to pick us up he was driving a well-marked ambulance from the Patan Hospital. They had collected a couple of white bed sheets from the hospital. He carefully drove through the streets of Kathmandu and right through the troops of terrorists. His friend was sitting in the passenger side of the ambulance leaning out and waving the white flag. Dr. Zimmerman was driving and waving the white flag out the driver’s window. We drove up very close to the front entry doors of the terminal. Dr. Zimmerman jumped out and personally escorted us until we walked through the doors of the waiting aircraft and found our seats.
Our trip had taken us completely around the world from Denver to Frankfurt to India to Nepal, to Bangkok, to Tokyo, to Seattle, and finally to Denver and Evergreen. As you know, we had the privilege of living March 27 twice on our way home. But sometimes you need that when you are slow learners and need another day to play catch-up!
Having Anna Marie on the trip had been as wonderful as I had imagined it would be. She was such a trooper and every day God had allowed me to be with her made me appreciate all the more every single day of the past 42 years that we had been married. Faithfully following God was paying great dividends and as everyone in the world with half a brain and one eye would know, we certainly did live a blessed and protected life.