Monthly Archives: May 2014

(A Brief) On Sanitary Napkins in Rural India

Anyone that has talked to me in the last year and a half (or anyone who has read this blog) knows that I am deeply passionate about women’s health and the improvement of women’s lives worldwide. This past year and a half, I have spent my time working on various projects involving women. From my employment on the Native CARS Study, work with survivors of sex-trafficking through Save a Survivor’s Smile, my acceptance into an MD/MPH program where I plan to pursue women’s health, to the development of my non-profit organization SHELTER International, which aims to improve the lives of widows in rural Andhra Pradesh, India, it’s a wonder I ever made it outside (but I am so thankful that I did as there is just so much to hike…)!

Today, May 28th, is Menstrual Hygiene Day. As females in the developed world, menstruation is still a pain, but we simply have to make a trip to the drug store to cheaply purchase feminine hygiene products to manage our menses. In rural India (and many other parts of the world), menstruation is a whole different fiasco. Imagine having to travel a significant distance to a town large enough to have a market where they can sell feminine hygiene products. Now imagine spending half-a-week’s (or thereabouts) salary on expensive and imported sanitary napkins. Obviously, most women in this situation spend their hard-earned cash on food or school for their children and simply do without this “luxury.”

Instead of using a hygienic product, women use bits of old cloth and sometimes even newspapers or sand to manage their menses. Due to embarrassment (as I am sure you can imagine), these cloths are rarely cleaned or sanitized and have been reported to increase the incidence of disease in the reproductive track. As these solutions can hardly be considered solutions, women and girls often have to stay home from school or work so that they can manage their menses. In turn, women have just one more reason to make less money and girls often fall behind their male peers in school.

IndiegogoSo, in an effort to help the area’s widows as well as pursue my passion for feminine hygiene (I realized feminine hygiene was a problem for many Indian women when I taught health and hygiene to girls in Tamil Nadu, India), my organization is trying to raise funds to purchase a machine to manufacture sanitary napkins. The machine will employ 10-20 widows and the low-cost product will be sold to women and girls in the area. I have wanted to get this project going for a year and a half and, after much research and planning, it is happening! We (SHELTER International) are also very fortunate to have several graduate students from Pacific University heading to the project site this summer to oversee and study the project’s implementation. I personally cannot wait to go back to India at my earliest availability to see the project in action!

Anyways, after spending so much time and energy working towards something, I am ecstatic to see a project that I am so passionate about finally coming through. Check out the Indiegogo campaign page, read about widows, learn more about the importance of menstrual hygiene, and women reading this post: be thankful that you are fortuitous enough to manage your menses in a way that doesn’t completely interrupt life!


Solo Adventures on the Kilalaua Trail

I have just returned from a visit to another world–Kilalaua Beach on the Nepali Coast of Kauai. I ventured alone–my first solo backpacking trip–and each step I took, my eyes opened impossibly wide as I questioned myself, “Can this place actually exist?”

It was that fantastic. Mind blowing. Beautiful.

I can see how easy it is too loose (or find) oneself in the mystic Kilalaua valley and beach. The valley is truly sacred.

As this post is rather long, I will break it up into several sections so that my dear reader can peruse only what he or she finds interesting and/or useful.

Topics include:

The Hike Itself
The Locals
Advice for Future Hikers

The Hike Itself


Looking back at the Napali Coast


I began the trip with myself, a 65 liter backpack loaded to an estimated 40 lbs with my tent, thermarest, silk sleeping sack, steripen, various other items, nutritious but heavy and calorie dense foods, and my old pair of trekking boots that at this point must have seen thousands of miles (and the tread, or lack thereof, shows). I had my injured right ankle (oh the pain it gave me only a week ago as I hiked through the streets of NYC!) wrapped in a brace. Because of my injury, I have been unable to do much in the way of my normal physical activity since March and so was hesitant to do the trek. With the possibilities of being out of shape and reinjuring my ankle, I set off cautiously a little after 8 am.


At least I'm wearing sunscreen!


A glorious portion of the trail

The eleven mile hike, with about 5000 ft of elevation gain up and down the valleys of the Nepali coast, took about 6.5 hours. I swore my pack became heavier with each step (surely my sweat had to go somewhere!). Despite my physical excursion, I smiled most of the way and, when I made it to the beach, I felt like running. How gorgeous it was!

My trek out, I felt so much lighter in every sense of the word and my pace reflected this lightness–I flew through the trail in just 5.5 hours. The hike out was fantastic. The weather was great and I could not help but smile and thank the world for providing me with such a wonderful life.

The Locals

I met very few locals and am far from an expert on the subject. I am just providing my most interesting experiences and I am sure that the majority of people living at Kilalaua are not mentally ill or addicted to hard drugs. I myself can see the allure of living so close to nature in such a beautiful place.

After arriving at Kilalaua, I decided to take a stroll on the beach. As I ventured from my campsite to the beach, I passed a strung out looking emaciated young man passed out on the beach a few yards from an occupied tent. I had heard that people lived on the beach and in the valley and correctly assumed that this man must be a resident. As I returned from my stroll, the man was sitting up and staring at me as I approached. From far away it looked as though he had somehow painted his face with red paint (oh, hippies…). As I moved closer, I saw that his face was actually swollen and bleeding. So, I ran up to him and asked him what he needed. Up close, his body was so thin and  the swollen lump under his eye provided the only bit of flesh on his face… He saw my water bottle and said he needed my water. I could barely make out his words as he tried to explain that he was beaten up. As I poured him some water, another man approached with some ice. The injured man cowered and mumbled something about not hitting him. The approaching man explained that he was just there to help and wouldn’t hurt him. I left him in the helpers hands and went on my way. A few hours later, a rescue helicopter arrived and the man was flown out on a stretcher. I asked around about why the man was beaten up and managed to learn a little about his background as well.

The man had lived at Kilalaua off and on for several years and, after his first trip out after a bad break-up, has never been the same (some postulated that he took too much ecstasy on the first trip, others claimed that he was possessed). It turns out the man was schizophrenic and would come to Kilalaua when he was having episodes. The night before the attack, he had supposedly been wandering around tent sites asking for heroin.

This man was attacked by one of his old best friends (visiting the beach to see other friends/family living there) because he stole all the beer and food from his ice chest after having been told multiple times to stay away. The young man had gone so far into whatever world, that no longer recognized is friend (who eventually attacked him).

So, the second rescue helicopter of the day was called and the young man was flown out for treatment (a chief or something like it, who helps resolve conflicts, also has a mariners radio that he uses to contact passing boats, who then call in emergencies. The turn around time is pretty quick.).

The first rescue helicopter was called for an episode told to me by the “rescuee,” a rather portly and good humored Kauaian who came to the beach to visit friends. He had found an abandoned kayak on a beach and, after waiting weeks to see if someone claimed it, decided to pack it with beer and supplies and kayak to Kilalaua. Well, several miles in, the boat starting sinking. After swimming alongside the sinking boat, the passengers abandoned it and somehow managed to escape the ocean by climbing up a waterfall (had the boat sank anywhere else along the coast, they would not have had this escape route…). I actually saw the boat from the trail and just assumed that its occupants were snorkeling. A helicopter on tour reported the kayak and determined the situation to be an emergency, as they saw no one and just saw beer floating in the ocean along side the sinking kayak. Luckily, the passengers survived, managed to salvage some of their beer, and hiked the remaining miles into Kilalaua. I really enjoyed passing a rainy afternoon with the survivors and their friends.

Advice For Future Hikers

For those of you wanting to hike the Kilalaua trail, if you are an experienced hiker, it’s much easier than the guidebooks say. If you are fit and travel light, the trail can even be done as a day trip, although lingering on the beach is just so delicious and I would highly recommend staying. For less fit hikers, budget 7-10+ hours and consider breaking up the trip by staying one night at the 6 mile point, Hanakoa, where a man might jump out of the shelter with an “Aloha, wanna smoke some hashhh?”


My site

If you do choose to stay at Kilalaua, try to stay for at least two nights and try to get one of the sites near the waterfall, as they are convenient for getting water and are just so much better than the first sites you reach in the forest. I actually stayed in the forest one night and then moved my tent early the next morning to a freshly cleared prime bit of beach front real estate. It was glorious.


I bathed and drank in the falls...

So linger if you can, for I have traveled a little bit of the world and have seen my fair share of beautiful beaches, and this one might just top that list…

One fellow hiker described the beach as “kinda like a hostel where you camp”. Mingle with other hikers, the locals, hear their stories, and be moved and intrigued by the diversity of man (as well as the beautiful solitude that you should seek and bask in)!


The end of the hike!

On the (few) Downsides of Traveling Alone


So I’m on the road again, in another transitionary phase… I’ve moved out of my little abode in my beloved Portland, OR and am roaming around Arizona, NYC, and now Kauai, as I scramble to finish the biochemistry prerequisite for medical school and move to Texas in June to begin my MD/MPH. It’s been an interesting few months.

Now that we have caught up, I will point out the few disadvantages that I could come up with about traveling alone.

1. No one to share beautiful moments with (other than my glorious self, of course)

2. No one to watch my belongings while I use the restroom, swim, wander about…

3. Cost (my lodging and car rental is twice as expensive…)

4. No one to call for help when/if a rope breaks as I scramble up the side of a muddy, slippery cliff (don’t worry, I’m using my best judgment…)

5. (Most importantly at this moment in time) No one to assist in applying sunscreen, resulting in the sunburn from hell, but only on my backside…

6. Taking selfies while getting said sunburn from hell (or while doing any other various activity in a secluded location)

Other than these six considerations, traveling alone again has been fantastic and I have been getting a lot of much-needed “me time” to indulge in solo hikes and long walks on the beach. Bellisma.

(For more on traveling alone, read “The Solo Traveler“)