Thoughts about Nepal’s earthquake 11 months on

This is just a random collection of thoughts I’ve had about the earthquake’s aftermath.

I’ve told you already about my dismay when I saw some of the damage done by the earthquake to the various world heritage sites in Kathmandu. These are historical and culturally important monuments which are receiving justifiable attention. As a result, assistance is being given to enable their careful reconstruction. The world at large cares enough. The Nepali government realizes also that thousands of visitors come each year expecting to see these places in all their glory. There is national and international motivation to get these treasures up and beautiful again so we can come and take our pictures and be awed by the loveliness.

I’ve also told you about the large tent city we drove past on our way out of town. Think refugee camp and you might get a reasonablely clear picture. These tents are pretty ragged though. Poles covered by tattered layers of tarp and plastic, open at one or both ends to the elements. I have no idea of what the status is of the inhabitants of this camp. How long will they continue to live there? What is the sanitation like? Can they still get to school or employment? Where do they get their cooking and drinking water? Are they dry when it rains? It looked pretty grim.

The first big tremor happened at around noon on Saturday 25 April. Tendi and his cousin Dawa were leaving their apartment building and their wives were coming back from the market. All four grabbed each other for stability as the ground rolled and buildings around and above them shook and rumbled. After the initial shock subsided they mobilized, got a two person tent and set off to find safe haven. Part of the wall of the palace had fallen down so they entered this sanctuary through the gap into a beautiful clean and peaceful garden where they set up camp. Twelve of them in a two person tent. Dawa showed me a picture he’d taken with his cell phone. Nima and Phulu were collected from school the next day and in the picture they both look truly dispondant and in shock. It’s disturbing. Today Tendi tells the story with his habitual good natured laugh. “We lived in the King’s palace gardens for 10 days. It was a very nice quiet clean place.” That is very close to an exact quote. They were lucky. They were able to move back into their apartments which were relatively unscathed.

I’ve told you about the relief I felt each time I met one of my friends around Thamal. I plan to catch up with them all when I get back to Kathmandu. They may or may not share with me their personal experiences. Most people I’ve met seem willing to talk about how the quake was for them. This holds for complete strangers. Walking through Kharkikhola the other day I saw a new house being built next to a destroyed one. I took a picture. When I went around the corner I saw a man painting the window sill of the new house. So I stopped and talked to him. He happily told me that the tumbled down house was where his parents lived and this is the new house he’s built for them. I asked him how his parents were and was told they were out in the field working when the house fell down so they are just fine. The new house is small and beautifully designed. I said this to him and he seemed really pleased as it is quite different from the prevailing style – he explained that it’s construction is such that it won’t fall down.

Our guest house owner (Pemba) for the night we stayed in Bubsa is an experienced high altitude mountain guide. He’s climbed many of Nepal’s tallest and most challenging peaks. Everest is just one of them. On the day of the earthquake he was resting in his tent at base camp having just returned from camp II. The Avalanche came with such swiftness  he and several others in the tent were simply lifted up and tossed around in a bundle of soon to be torn tent material and ruptured sleeping bags. He sustained serious head injuries and remembers little of what happened other than being airlifted the next day to hospital in Kathmandu. This is now the peak of the climbing season for the guides and porters preparing the routes and ladders of the foreign climbers to follow and cross. Pemba is not there this year. He’s home managing his guest house and making momos for hungry Trekkers like me. I asked him if he’d go back next season and he looked thoughtful for several moments, quietly touched his forehead, shook his head, leaned down and picked up his cute chubby baby boy, “I don’t know if this is possible. More tea?”

In the area where I’m trekking most of the houses are made of stone with timber framed roofs covered with either slate, or wood shingles or metal. The door and window frames are wood. The construction looks solid but clearly that is not always the case when an eathequake such as this strikes. Many of these buildings were either unscathed or just sustained minor damage. Those that were damaged either collapsed completely into great mounds of stone and rubble, or became dangerously cracked with bowed out unstable walls and in some cases there were partial collapses. People whose homes were completely destroyed are actually better off than those whose homes are still sort of standing but too dangerous to live in. Those people need to go to the time and expense to tear down the dangerous structure before they can rebuild. Land is precious and is used to farm crops. Urban sprawl even at the village level isn’t really a viable option.

There are still people living in tents. I’ve seen German Red Cross tents and Canadian government tents in particular. But between the tents and the piles of rubble and destroyed homes there is a great deal of rebuilding. Some homes are being built in the traditional way of hand hewed stone and hand cut and chiseled frames but there is a new style as well. Wood framed homes covered with gray sheet metal.  Sounds ugly but these builders have pride and skill and the new dwellings are attractive, as well as being safer structures to live in. I wonder about insulation though.  Stone walls that are over a foot thick have a greater insulating quality than this new sheet metal construction. I have a sense that economics plays a role in this new method of construction as well as I’m pretty sure these houses go up much quicker and thus cheaper than the old stone variety.

Signs of the earthquake are evident every day everywhere. The natural environment took a beating too with massive land slides and trail upheavals. And I keep in mind that this area is much less affected than the Lang Tang region for instance where a whole large town was completely obliterated! Inhabitants and buildings buried beneath tones of rock and mud. The other lasting aftermath is the sharp reduction in tourist. Income. This country needs us to survive.

One last thought. I was thinking what it would be like if we on the west coast suffered such a devastating disaster. The simple response is that the rest of the province and the rest of the country would be able to come to our aid. We would not be mostly reliant on haphazard foreign assistance. We would be looked after by our own nation. We would have insurance and assurance that we’d be taken care of. That did not happen here because the entire country was affected by this quake.  So I leave you with this thought. Imagine for a moment our entire country being devastated in one moment of time by a massive natural disaster. Imagine a circumstance when not one of us had the resource to help ourselves or our neighbours beyond the most minimal immediate needs of survival. If you can fathom that eventuality, then perhaps you can understand what it must have been like here on 25 April 2015 and in the coming days and weeks and indeed during this past hard long year. I’m sad to say I lack the capacity to fully comprehend what the Nepali people have endured and continue to contend with.

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