(The following is something I wrote a week after it happened….)
A week ago, the earth moved under my feet. Not in love, not metaphorically. I live in Kathmandu, and I was minutes away from stepping into the shower, having just completed a few household chores before a plan to meet a friend at the International Tattoo Convention downtown. I never got there.
Standing in my doorway after having just pulled my laundry off the flat roof, I tripped and caught myself with my hand on the step, scraping it. It took long seconds for my mind to register that I wasn’t being clumsy, that everything was moving. I ran for the field outside my house, followed by my dog. In some dim recess of my consciousness I saw one of my cats, who’d been on the lam for several days, running for the house at a dead heat. So much for the wisdom of animals, I thought. But maybe she was looking, as we all were, for safety.
I was fortunate. My rented house—a tiny, one storey affair—still stands. When I made it across town to check on the girls I help take care of, I found them all safe, too. The friends I have been able to contact are alive, safe.
So many others are not.
When the power returned days later and I could finally bear to watch a few minutes of the news, I saw an interview with a woman from an aid organization, doing a show and tell on the type of shelters being flown in by them to Nepal. The news anchor asked her—she’d been here in the past, so presumably she’d know—if she thought the country would, could, recover. At first she skillfully evaded, then said, in so many words: “Things were so bad before, this will be pretty much impossible to recover from.”
Respectfully—and not ignoring the plight of those suffering and the long road still ahead—I’d like to disagree.
Nepalis are among the most resilient people I know. I’ve been here through the quasi civil war and the massacre of the Royal Family, both episodes that shook Nepal to its very core and altered the fabric of people’s psyche forever. And yet they bounced back.
Over the last week, these are some of the things I’ve seen in the streets of Kathmandu, Patan, and my own neighbourhood that give me hope, that have made me smile.
The day after the big one, I drove across town, looking for a friend who lives with her husband and son in his ancestral home, an ancient wood-and-brick affair in the old part of town. Every time I visit her I think the thing will fall around my ears, and I was very afraid for her. When I entered the courtyard her home fronts, I saw it still standing. A small crowd was in the center of the square and my friend detached herself from it and ran up to me, smiling. Her husband also smiled and waved from his place by a large pot, where he and some others were preparing a communal meal for the neighbourhood. They were organized, working together, full of a cheerfulness I hadn’t expected. I left them unexpectedly touched, unaccountably hopeful.
Another friend pitched a tent in an open area near his house, along with many of his neighbours in a more newly built up part of town. “We didn’t even know each other’s names—in fact, I still don’t know them—but we all take turns cooking the meals; if anyone is missing when it’s served, food is saved for them.”
A few days later, the family who owns the plot of land in front of my house showed up to till and plant. Schools are closed, so the whole family was there, and the daughter shyly wandered my way.
“What are you planting?” I asked her.
She struggled for the right word in English and finally found it: “Corn! Do you like corn?”
Then, the question that was really on her mind. “The earthquake, how did you feel?”
“I was scared,” I admitted.
“Me, too!” She smiled broadly and returned to her family.
A few minutes later she returned to ask if I had any drinking water, and her and her family took a break from their planting to drink.
Everywhere I went I saw generosity, giving, sharing. Most often through food.
By the time I made it across town to check on the girls, I had already lived through what felt like a week. After I’d sat for some time, I was asked if I wanted anything to eat.
“No, no, don’t bother. I’m fine.”
“I’ll make some wai wai, we’ve all just had some.”
I tried to refuse again, and eventually relented.
Soon, I was handed a bowl of steaming soup, made from the ubiquitous and much loved Nepali instant noodle and studded with fresh vegetables, so neatly julienned a chef couldn’t have done it better.
I had not eaten all day. I’ve never been so thankful for a meal.
There is a long road ahead. Many are still suffering, villages are still cut off, and years of rebuilding face the country. But the Nepali people will not only survive, they’ll thrive. Nepal’s got good people. No, great ones. That’s what it looks like from where I’m standing.