Monday, May 4, 2015

The Nepal Earthquake Disaster-According to Ama

I wrote this during the crisis but couldn't upload it until now. It sort of feels like old news even though it was just last week. It was the longest week in history for me. I still woke up last night with aftershocks.



As I write this, almost 48 hours from the first earthquake, I can still feel small aftershocks. It was a Saturday and one guest, Yana, wanted to take Kamal’s girls to Bhaktapur for a day out.  I had guests earlier in the week who were vendors at the tattoo convention in Kathmandu, I was on the way to it with Kiran, Kamal's 10 year old son. We got to where the airport  meets the highway and suddenly motorcycles were on the ground and people were sitting on the highway.  It was horrible! The shaking went on and on-not like any other quake I’d been in. We decided to get out of the mini-van and then got back in and back out again while the earth was still shaking, at least 3 minutes. I looked up at the hills and saw plumes of brown smoke and knew houses were collapsing.
“We have to turn around,” I told Prem, our driver. “We have to check on your wife, Kamal and the girls.” I started hysterically telling him to turn around. “Turn around before traffic starts back!” 

Prem had to stop the van several times due to aftershocks and one of those was almost as big as the original quake.  Then we saw broken homes, collapsed homes and places where the highway had cracked or completely buckled as high as 5 feet.

I’m a native San Franciscan so earthquakes are not new to me, but this appeared right away to be on the ‘Biblical scale.’ Feelings began to overwhelm me and then I’d feel no feelings at all. At one point Lisa saw that I had started to look like I was coming apart and whatever she said to me gave me the fix I needed. But I couldn’t get a hold of Kamal or Yana with the girls. I decided right away to text instead of clogging the phone lines and soon got confirmation from Yana that they were fine. They were fortunate to come out unscathed as Bhaktpur did not fare well. The girls watched as even children were carried out on stretchers, many even already dead. As we drove through Bhaktapur we saw Yana and the girls in a taxi ahead of us, but the worst was yet to come.

Changunarayan village looked like it was destroyed. I saw countless homes in various stages of destruction. As we walked home from the village entrance we had to run past some homes because they looked so precarious.

As I came close to my guest house I saw Birbhadoo's home in ruins, but soon found my first reason for smiling. My 14 year old neighbor was safe and unharmed. He started to cry, “My house fall down.”  His tiny, village style home was only half standing with a pile of bricks blocking the road. I assured him that he would get another, better home.

Our other neighbor’s home was in almost the same shape. I looked for the little, tiny lady and was so relieved to see her smiling and waving at me. There is not a building or home in the village without damage of some kind, most older homes have major damage. 

My guest house! Although it was supposed to be up to code to survive a cat. 9 earthquake, I thought the foundation was broken; some of the walls looked to be cracked all the way through. The one that bothered me the most was the wall with the electric box on it. Since that day I’ve had several people tell me it’s fine structurally; I’ve been staying in a bedroom on a lower floor just in case.

The people of the village just took it in stride. They were already outside at the end of the hill setting up make-shift tents by the time we arrived. They welcomed all us tourists and openly shared whatever they had. I made a quick grab at the guest house and brought blankets, mattresses and food for everyone. 

Suddenly one woman broke out in wails of tears. Her 5 year old son had died from the home collapsing. My heart broke for her. Another young man, a cousin of the child who died was carried to the hilltop after his home had fallen on him. He was fortunate to have survived.

Night time was really the worst. We slept under the plastic tarps normally used for harvesting. Kamal and the kids stayed at the bus park camp and I stayed at the hill top with my neighbors. Dogs barked all night and the men at the camp fire who were protecting us talked all night and when the aftershocks came people would cry out. When the aftershocks would come, some people would get on their knees, put their thumbs on the ground and then say in Newari, 'Stop, stop!" The second night it rained until almost midnight. Martin and Lisa, my guests who had come to do some volunteering were wonderful. He helped make the tents and troughs for the rain and we managed, although I got wet and cold throughout the night. Raindrops came in through the roof from tiny holes and the rain would come in from the sides. 

We were told to expect an even bigger earthquake and no one was allowed to go back into their homes. When Kamal came to check on me he told me the people staying at the bus park got terribly wet due to the rain and them being on the brick lined street instead of a hilltop. 
 
The next day Yana and I walked up to the police department to see about getting in contact with the US Consular, but communications were still down. While we were there we experienced the next earthquake, 6.4 and saw buildings in the village collapse and plumes of brown smoke off in the distance.

This was the police station after the first earthquake: 
The Police are still a great protection to us even without a building. So brave.
 Today is finally Wednesday. Tuesday was spent with Yana playing doctor with many of the older women in the camp. She had various types of muscle relaxing creams, cough medicine and such. What started out as a way for her to get to know some of the villagers and pass the time generated into an experience neither she nor the villagers will ever forget. The old ladies came and bared their ailing body parts for her as she gently applied her creams. Not only were they sore from falling bricks and such during the earthquakes, but they were sore from overwork, poverty, old age and neglect. What amazing women they are. Words cannot describe the connections made that day. 

Yana bonded so well with the women that she vowed to help bring in enough money to rebuild as many homes as possible in Changunarayan. Rather than have Changunarayan be built with modern architecture we hope to have the homes look exactly like they did on Saturday morning. We will make the homes with the wonderful rebar pillars, but put an antique fa├žade  on the outside. Well, that’s my dream; Yana’s is more about bringing the needed resources for the people here. Together, we hope to create lasting change in the village and in Nepal. 

Martin and Lisa were amazing, as well. They all left on Wednesday together. Sadly, Martin began to feel ill during this time, but he continued to do all he could to help those around him. These helpers were truly wonderful tourists.
Meal time at the earthquake camp