Sunday, September 15, 2013

Amarbayasgalant Khiid: Part II

The main temple sits amid the ruins of old, dilapidated structures strewn with prayer flags and stacks of clay roofing tile to be installed for the restoration. The grass grows untended and haphazardly softens the rough edges of the landscape. As we cross the threshold the rhythmic chanting seeps quickly into my soul.

It is cool in the main temple and the lamas are wrapped in crimson robes. Their blue cuffs flit about as they adjust and re-adjust as fidgety kids are known to do. The grace in the sweeping crimson wool and the tide of the chanting quiet my thoughts. Sweeping toward the sky in the center of the temple colorful drapes accentuate the rise toward the blue sky and suddenly, two small wren fly through the main door and up towards the eaves. Delicate chirps and the quick flitting flash of their flight do not slow the chanting and only distract my mind with an upward gaze and a deep, honest smile. I could have stayed there for hours, watching the boys wrestle with each other, wiggle in their seats and play with their prayer books. They are children, acting like children, smiling and goofing and coming into the practice that will define their life. They are children, wrapped in crimson, drinking milk tea laced with protein rich curd following ancient rituals. They are children, with their sniffles and their coughs and their honest, welcoming eyes. When you focus on just one, it is their voice you hear, louder than the others, crisp, clear, and determined. At one point the chanting stopped and the cymbals clashed, drum was beat and conch shells blown in an orchestral ruckus fitting of the boyhood that underlies this cloistered practice. Breathing deeply in the sound and the dusty cool of the temple I found a breath of peace deep in a valley in the Mongolian countryside.

Wrapped prayer books inside the temple

Amarbayasgalant Khiid: Part I

According to Lonely Planet, there are three top Buddhist institutions in Mongolia. Now, I have visited all three. After our first week of work, the team rented a van, forded two brooks and headed off to visit this special monastery in an isolated valley. The day was absolutely gorgeous. The photos tell some of the story of our day – a dusty drive, a prosperous valley full of grazing animals, the temple at the end of the box canyon, the hilltop Buddha and the hilltop stupa … the captions sort it all out.

"Part II" includes some thoughts on my time in the main temple, listening to the young lamas chanting. We were informed after we had taken a few, that photos of the lamas was not allowed. Excuse my manner as I have posted some of the forbidden photos. They were beautiful children and I can’t resist sharing.

On the road to Amarbayasgalant

Our driver
Herding sheep


My company heading toward the Buddha

View to the stupa from the Buddha

Buddhas and flags around the stupa


Lunch guest

JQ asked the monks to say a prayer for me:-)
View from stupa

Holding hands with Buddha

He carried her all the way up the stairs, on his back. That is Love.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Happy Birthday Carter!!!

My favorite super hero Carter!!!

(Fair warning: this has nothing to do with my medical travel work but is a shameless plug for one of my favorite charities)

When Carter came into my life, exactly 4 years ago today, he was only a few hours old, tiny, beautiful, and born with the challenge of sacral agenesis. Unable to use his legs like most of us, and facing complex chronic medical and surgical challenges, Carter is a superhero of unbelievable courage. An active four year old, he loves the water and is taking swim lessons. After his first lesson, the coach suggested he join the swim team as he recognized the special strength and determination in this amazing child.

For the past two years, I have participated in the Challenged Athletes Foundation triathlon as the swimmer on the “Carter’s Angels” team. My contribution of one little mile in the La Jolla Cove left me plenty of time to enjoy the festivities at the event while my teammates conquered the 44-mile bike and 10-mile run. Each year, I am overcome by the inspiring athletes and the mission of this foundation. I have vowed to participate in this event every year that I am capable.

When it came time to register for the 2013 race, my teammates were unsure they could commit and my alternate recruiting efforts failed. I will be doing the whole race this year. (As a funny side note, I honestly thought this was an Olympic distance race … until I started training for a shorter distance and it was gently pointed out that this is most definitely longer than an Olympic distance.) So, I am learning to bike, and run and am thankful to my family of coaches who think I might be able to pull this off.

In addition to Carter and I pursuing our athletic endeavors, this year marks the 20th Anniversary of the Challenged Athletes Foundation San Diego Triathlon Challenge. What better year to donate to this amazing group! Check them out at: Their grants support equipment and training for challenged athletes. They will be offering assistance to those effected by the Boston marathon bombing and are determined to help anyone and everyone nurture their inner athlete. Please consider supporting this amazing foundation and this inspiring event.

I look forward to the day I get to swim the cove WITH Carter, but until then, I will carry him in my heart on October 20th. Happy 4th Birthday Carter! Happy 20th Birthday CAF! Thank you for your support! Love, Suzy

Saturday, September 7, 2013


Oscar and I scrub for team Go Global ... look at our uniforms :-)
Oscar and I are both making the same point here .... look at our hands :-)

We have completed one week of surgery training here in Darkhan. As with previous adventures, the bumps in the road have taught us the most and clarified our goals for the next week. Mostly, it’s about patience ….

There is an urgency in the way our trainees are operating. Quick movements, impatient transitions between tasks, dogged focus on small portions of a goal …. we can work with that, but they need to make some changes.

Oscar and I have repeatedly emphasized that by slowing things down, they will actually be more effective with their movements and ultimately more efficient at completing the operation. We have pointed out the tension planes and more effective ways of retracting. We have repeatedly shifted their focus away from one detail to addressing the bigger operation as a whole. We have emphasized the safe places to work toward the more difficult parts of the case. We have repeated these mantras over and over in hopes that when we leave, they will still hear our voices guiding them through when they are faced with more difficult operations.

Our nursing team has found the same – shortcuts to decrease turn over times ended up being inappropriate solutions that we were able to address. The three hours we spent separating all the instruments and creating new sets will ultimately save them time and be more effective for their continuation of the laparoscopic program.

So here we are, venturing into week two in Darkhan, Mongolia conquering quick movements, impatient transitions, and dogged focus on small details with Patience. It is not lost on me that there is a bigger lesson there. Not lost at all ….

Thursday Night

Bulga, one of the surgeons we are training here in Darkhan, arranged a trip to a ger for our team Thursday night. The pictures tell the story best. I could not capture the night sky as we left but that one is etched in my memory. 

JQ and Eric modeling Mongolian fashion

Eric drinking milk team 

Our hostesses at the door of the ger

Chad trying to teach me to ride


Team Photo

Bulga sang for us

Okoo and JQ