The moment I heard about the earthquake in Nepal,I was deeply heartbroken.I felt nostalgic remembering my friends and the people I had met during my amazing time in Nepal. I was very concerned about the well-being of all of my friends back there in Nepal. I breathed a sigh of relief when I got the news that all of them were fine ,one friend had a broken wrist, but physically they were all good. I was moved by the agony in the messages and I decided to go back to Nepal. As I boarded the plane in Paro to fly to Kathmandu, my mind was brimmed with emotions. I felt uncertain, anticipated, sad and so many other things at the same time.
When I arrived back in Kathmandu, where there should have been numerous commercial planes, there were multiple defense force planes from various countries, as well as the tarmac littered with multiple pallets of aid materials. Walking through the airport building there were a few places where the earthquake had had an impact, but overall it looked fine structurally. Gone were the lines in immigration that I had lined up in on my first stop in Nepal in March, less staff, more somber, and a quick and easy transition.
A friend visited me in the airport and we drove directly to a place named Bouddha where I was supposed to stay over the next couple of months. Upon reaching Green Hotel in Bouddha, I felt relieved to see that the place I would be staying was completely undamaged by the earthquake. Soon after settling my luggage, I, along with my friend, rushed out to check a safe path to send relief materials to the villages which has been devastated by the earthquake. The impact of the earthquake became more and more visible as we began to head out to Kathmandu. People were seeking shelter under tarps, scrap iron, anything they could find that would provide some sort of shelter. Unfortunately, our bike broke down in a place where there was no phone service. After waiting for couple of hours, a truck eventually came by to help us. What a relief! The guys were extremely helpful and they helped us load our bike and took us back to Kathmandu where we were able to drop the bike off to a mechanic and get a taxi back to Bouddha. Well, the day ended on a good note because I got to meet two more friends Norbu, and Pemba who had been my guides for Everest.
Over the next few days, I was constantly in touch with Tashi(the lead guide for Everest) and he even introduced me to some of his friends who were conducting relief works. We were trying to reach out to people in Kavre where most of the villages were severely affected. We were able to fill the trucks with food ,supplies and funds and head out to Kavre. What I witnessed on the way was heart-breaking. People were in desperate need of medical attention and food supplies. A number of children were left homeless and they had nowhere else to go as their schools were also in the same state. I talked with few kids who spoke english and we talked about the earthquake and the chances of getting another one. As the kids began to feel a little more comfortable around me we were able to start some hide and seek games, as well as chasey. Then came the dancing, and let me tell you, some of the kids had some very impressive moves. Despite of the terror and worries, the smiles on their faces just made my day. This was something that became a goal of mine over the next couple of months, getting the children to smile, play, laugh, to just be kids.
Things started getting back to normal slowly with the pace of time. People began to feel more safe and were returning back to their houses after camping outside for several days. However, any feeling of safety that had begun to return was cruelly ripped away, when on the 12th of May, a second earthquake struck. I was at a cafe in Bouddha with my friend Kabin when the ground started to shake. Initially we thought it was a minor aftershock but when when the shaking continued and became more violent, we moved towards an open space. People were terrified, children were crying in fear and as we made it to the car park, we watched as a man jumped from the roof above us, landing hard and showing severe pain on his face. People have asked me what an earthquake feels like and I liken it too trying to walk on a boat while it’s going fast across a choppy ocean, and then standing on a boat that is still but where the swell is still very decent. On my way back to the hotel, I saw hundreds of people standing in the middle of the street, terror, agony and tears in their faces, shopkeepers who had just gone back to work rushing to lock their shops and I assume learn about the whereabouts of their family. At the hotel, staff and guests were assembled in an open space nearby, where we sat for some time, and stayed a while longer after an aftershock added to everyone’s anxiety. I was lucky enough to get a post on Facebook before the network went, as a woman from New Zealand told me it had already made news there, so it was safe to say that it would be news in Australia. Later on when network was back, I saw messages from my family and friends suggesting that I should return back. At that time, even though there had been a very significant earthquake, I still couldn’t comprehend leaving, and when I was able to FaceTime my parents later I said to them, if I leave, and everyone who is here to help leaves, who is left? After seeing me in the flesh I think my parents were much more relaxed and okay with my decision to stay (at least that what I told myself).
The access to remote villages was even more difficult due to the landslides following the latest earthquake. I contacted Fionna, the co-founder of First Step Himalayas whom I had met randomly in Bhutan. Fionna instantly introduced me with a guy named Roshan who was more than happy to have someone assist him to get shelter supplies , such as tarps, mats and blankets out to many villages that had been severely affected.Basically, the idea was to get schools back up and running ASAP and get whatever materials we could to schools and students. Apart from that, I even continued to be involved in some work with my brothers and sisters for the Ex-Police School Student Society, whom Tashi had introduced me too. This involved assessing a school that was to be rebuilt and also building temporary shelters for families whose homes had been left as nothing more than piles of rubble. Fionna had also asked me to join First Step Himalayas to help once Durga(the other co-founder of First Steps Himalaya, who is from Sindhupalchowk) is back from New Zealand.
Once Durga was back, we went to Mulkhara, village which was wiped out by the earthquake. We arrived armed with tents and all of our own shelter and supplies. However, upon reaching there, Gyan, a local school principle insisted us to stay with him and his family in their cottage. There cottage was 2 rooms built out of timber and iron recovered from what was once their house, of course I tried to decline, but in true Nepalese hospitality they insisted.
The initial days in Sindhupalchowk were spent fixing schools, meeting with principal, teachers and students. People were traumatized and we knew that it was not going to be easy. Not at all. Basically, my work was to help them overcome the whole situation. Despite of going through such a rough time and being traumatized, people were still grateful to us and were offering us smile and foods. They were thankful to us. It was amazing to see such a courteous gesture even in the worst of situation. Their endurance and humbleness made me speechless. It motivated me and I put every ounce of energy I had into counselling the teachers, students and then attending meetings, buying supplies, driving big distances on roads that many in the western world would look at in disgust. The encouragement and support of Durga, Fionna and my family in Mulkharka, especially my bahini (little sister) Sumi really uplifted my spirit.
There were tough times but as they say tough times only makes us stronger. I think the most important thing is to be optimistic and reflect on the positives. The spectacular view of the sunrise in the Himalayas was definitely worth the pain. There were few kids running every morning and afternoon to the edge of the road to call out “hi”, “bye” or “namaste”. This was enough to plaster a big smile on my face and realize how truly lucky I was to have an opportunity to be able to help these beautiful people.
Departures are always painful. I had a hard time bidding farewell to beautiful Simi and her family. I am sure that I will meet them again along with many other gorgeous kids I met at many schools in Sindhupalchowk.
My last week in Nepal was pretty amazing too as I got to spend quality time with my friends in Nepal. I want to thank each and everyone of them for welcoming me with so much love and for making my stay in Nepal so convenient. Nepal felt like a home to me because of these guys. I would like to pass on a reflection that one of the children in one of the schools got me to contemplate. This delightful, bright and very inquisitive young girl asked me if I liked Nepal when I was there trekking before the earthquake and my response was “of course I really really love Nepal” and then she asked me if I like Nepal after the earthquake to which I responded saying “I love it even more after” and when she asked me why (she should be a journalist) I thought again and told her that before the earthquake everyone I met was so lovely, and I spent time in the mountains which I loved, and after the earthquake I love them even more because even though people are running short of everything, they still offer it to me. I fell in love with their generosity and kindness.
If you are reading this blog and you want to help in any small way possible, I would like to inform you that there are two organizations that has been doing tremendous work to rebuild Nepal. They are namely : First Step Himalaya and Khumbila Foundation. As I have continued to travel since leaving Nepal, I have told nearly everyone I’ve met that the biggest favour they can do for themselves (especially the keen travellers) is to visit Nepal in their life time.