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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 airportmeets 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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 façade 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.
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.