I hate waiting. I feel so useless just sitting around waiting. I feel like I should be doing something right now. So many people lives are literally falling apart right now and I’m just sitting here drinking tea as if it was just another day in Kathmandu. Except no one has showered or slept in days and every time there is a loud noise everyone jumps. We all sit outside in the driveway because no one wants to go back into the house.
Luckily our house is sturdy and withstood the earthquake well, but as one friend points out it doesn’t matter if your house is strong if the house next to you is weak…There is a 7 storey hotel next door that has disconcerting cracks all over the bottom floor and some of the interior has collapsed. I’m not worried about our house but I keep eyeing the hotel next door every time we feel a rumble under our feet (which is every few minutes). Some houses fell over at both ends of our street but the most buildings all around us are still standing. We were extremely lucky. Other areas of Kathmandu have been flattened. Ten minutes away, my friend and his family are camped outside. Their house is still standing but unsafe to move back into. Most of his neighbourhood have lost their homes. We camped with them on the first night in someone’s vegetable field. The raised beds made it terribly uncomfortable and impossible to sleep. I huddled with my friends – 5 of us - under one blanket. One friend beside me was shivering uncontrollably. “I’m so cold!! I think I have hypothermia,” he tells me. I don’t think so. I think he probably is just in shock.
My friend, Natasha, and I were very lucky. We were at the house when the earthquake happened. We didn’t see any of the devastation. Our friends however, were not as sheltered as us. They were at Swayambunath when the earthquake hit. Many people were gathering there that day for a special cultural program that was supposed to start that afternoon. Natasha and I were supposed to go meet them there, but a miscommunication delayed us at the house. Luckily our friends were in the parking lot when a side of the temple collapsed. That night, huddled in the dark under the blanket my friend whispers to me “We saw lots of things. One little girl couldn’t find her father. Another woman was searching for her husband and children.” Coming back down the hill they passed several houses that had fallen down. In one house a family had gathered for puja when the house came down on them; no one survived. Describing the scene my friend says “The blood was just running out.” (A few days later a rescue team from India dug under the rubble of that house and found a little girl who was badly injured but still alive).
Throughout the night we are shaken by aftershocks. Each time, a panic rises in the camp. People start to scream, cry and pray. We all watch the buildings around us for any sign of potential danger. In the morning people start to roll up their blankets and head home when we are hit by yet another big aftershock. Everyone came running back in a panic. We drink some tea and eat some biscuits before heading back to our home. During the day we stay at our house, it is better than being in the camps. At least here we have water, an outside kitchen were we can cook food, and proper toilets (no water for flushing but it’s still more sanitary than the makeshift toilets in the camps). We stock up on rice, lentils and drinking water. Most water tanks (which are on the rooftops in Nepal) were knocked down, broken and emptied during the earthquake so we can already predict that there will be a water shortage soon in Kathmandu and the prices for food will skyrocket in the next few days.
At night we pack up our valuables, some snacks and water, blankets and sleeping bags and head for an open field to spend the night in. We lock up the house but the neighbourhood has organised a watch because with everyone out of their houses the likelihood of theft has increased. Already on the first night, neighbours caught a thief in our area. On the second night, they break up a fight between a couple of drunks. One man brags, “we are better than the Nepali police!” Indeed, their level of organisation and ability towork together and look out for each other in these difficult times amazes and humbles me. The second night, we go to another camp in a field. At least here the ground is flat and soft so we can lie down comfortably. However, minutes after arriving someone tells us that thunderstorms are expected that night. We don’t have a tarp, tent or even a plastic sheet to cover ourselves with. We try to find some shelter but if another shock comes there is the risk that our shelter could collapse or someone could get crushed in the rush to try to get out (we aren’t the only ones looking for shelter). In the end we decide to tough it out in the rain. In the rain we might get wet but at least we will still be alive…We spent a miserable night wet and cold.
Part of what makes the waiting intolerable is that the networks are down so I can’t reach any of my friends. Other than my friends at Green Soldiers, I haven’t heard from any of the girls at Himalayan Adventure Girls or from any of my paddling friends or friends outside of Kathmandu. I want to look for people, but I have no idea where to look, all of them have either left Kathmandu or are staying in camps. I have no idea where they are. I rationalize that at least if I stay put at GS eventually they will come looking for me here. Indeed, on the fourth day, some of the boys from GRG show up at the gate. I am so relieved to see them. The building they stay in is sketchy at the best of times; A tall 6 storey building with a narrow cement staircase without sides on the inside so it often feels like I am going to miss my step and step into the void. The building is in a back alley and surrounded by other tall buildings, there are no open spaces nearby and the whole thing looks incredibly unstable. The boys were on the top floor and when the earthquake started they ran to the rooftop and held on. They rationalized that if the building collapsed at least they would be on top. As soon as the initial shock passed they ran downstairs and towards the big intersection. That day we find Sita on the way to the boat house. She is shook up and afraid but otherwise alright. Her family lives in Pokhara so they are safe. Sita and the boys are all going to leave the next day to return to their families. It isn’t safe in Kathmandu; buildings that have been weakened by the tremors could still fall at any moment and the threat of an epidemic looms over us. The boys ask me to come with them, but I don’t want to leave my friends behind especially since they stuck by me and looked after me throughout the whole ordeal. We have a plan to do some fundraising to buy supplies from the Indian border to help people close to us who have been affected by the earthquake. I decide to stay.
The following day Anu and Radha come to GS. It’s a tearful reunion. The girls have been through so much and I can’t even fathom what it has been like for them. I thank my lucky stars and my army of angels a million times. Anu had to walk 2 hours to get to my guesthouse because the roads are blocked to get to her village so no vehicles can pass. Anu was in Thamel when the earthquake hit and her first thought was that she had to get back to her daughter who was staying with her family on the outskirts of Kathmandu. Her family is safe but everyone in the village has lost their house. The whole community is currently living communally under tarps. They organized themselves to build proper latrines and a cooking space where they all contribute and cook food for everyone. Radha was in Fishling when the earthquake hit. Despite being close to the epicentre of the earthquake, no houses fell down in Fishling and all of our friends there are safe. However, as soon as the first wave hit, Radha got on a bus to try to get back to her family in Kathmandu. On her way back, she narrowly missed being buried under a landslide. She said they saw the rocks fall and if they had passed two minutes later they would have been buried. Like Anu, Radha’s family lost their home but they were able to get out alive. However, Radha’s relatives from her village in Sindupalchowk are still stuck under the rubble and they don’t know if they are dead or alive. No aid or rescue teams have reached that area yet and the fact that the village is very remote makes it difficult to get any help there (there is no road access). We are trying to get food and supplies together to bring to her village as soon as possible.
I haven’t heard from Kamala yet but somehow amidst all the chaos she managed to catch her flight and go to Japan where she has a job working as a raft guide for the summer. Kamala’s village like Radha’s is also in Sindupalchowk and has been destroyed. Her grandparents and one of her uncles died. We have been unable to contact her family and find out what their situation is but we are planning to go find them when we bring supplies to Radha’s village. Aid started arriving in Sukute near Kamala’s village yesterday so hopefully some of that aid has reached her family.
Update on where I am staying, some of my friend’s relatives who lost their home have come to live with us. Luckily, the people who had been staying at the guesthouse (partyers who had come for a trance festival and didn’t stop partying despite the humanitarian crisis happening around them) have left for Pokhara so we have enough space for everybody. Electricity and internet came back yesterday and today we should get running water again and hopefully we will be able to shower (we are all getting a bit smelly). We have enough food and drinking water. We eat two full meals of dahl bhat (rice and lentils) every day and yesterday we were even able to get a bit of chicken. We rarely stop to think about how privileged we really are, but right now none of us can take anything for granted. So many of our friends and neighbours have lost everything they had. I cannot even tell you how grateful I am for all the abundance in my life. I have been blessed with so much and I hope that I will never take that for granted.