I’m sitting in my bamboo temple oasis, cross-legged on my thin foam mattress, blanketed by a hanging mosquito net. Other volunteers are scattered about in their own designated areas, either sleeping, reading, or documenting the day’s events in a journal. The tapestries we assembled to the bamboo the night before sway in the breeze and the sun is finally peering out.
From an outside perspective, we look peaceful; at ease. But there’s something looming. About an hour ago we were told that another earthquake is expected at noon. While we don’t know how reputable this source is, we don’t question the suggestion to hunker down.
While no local bus ride can be considered “normal,” the beginning of yesterday’s ride to Kathmandu seemed pretty standard: having to elbow your way on, hoping that the person sitting down doesn’t mind you practically straddling them as you fly down the potholed road.
As the ride continues, passengers start to file out, until eventually there is some breathing room between riders. We momentarily brake at the bus stop on the main road to let some more passengers out. Jesse, one of KRMEF’s volunteers, steps out of the bus in order to let others off. I watch him about to pull himself on, when suddenly, the bus starts to shake violently from side to side.
For a moment, I think that we are being pushed – that a group of people have surrounded our bus and are rocking it from side-to-side in some sort of riot-like protest. I look out the window to see Jesse retreating to the sidewalk, crouching down. It quickly registers that we are instead being jostled by the Earth.
Nepali passengers begin to say prayers. I turn around to find Manon, our newest French volunteer, gripping hold of the bars, in an attempt to stabilize her swaying. Her eyes wider than I’ve ever seen them, she says, “Motherfucker!” (Which in a French accent came out like “Muuzerfookair!”).
After what felt like a minute, the bus stops shaking. Forcing our way out of the bus, we join Jesse on the side of the street. A Californian, Jesse is well-versed in earthquakes, a fact that is extremely comforting. At this point, no one seems to be panicking. Pedestrians, both local and foreign, are in an equal state of confusion.
Wary of the tangled power wires that hang overhead, we decide to carefully make our way to the open town square. Once there, we consider walking down a small side street to another part of town. While walking, I notice a flock of birds fly in the opposite direction overhead. Everyone is looking up and shouting, and suddenly, the Nepali’s in the street bolt in the direction that the birds are flying towards. Bombarded by people yelling a language I don’t understand, I begin to run with them, heart pounding.
We choose to stay put in the square. Sitting in a circle for about an hour, we experience a smaller quake, and a few minor aftershocks. Jesse has a data plan, and within minutes we discover that we experienced a 7.8 earthquake, followed by a 6.6.
When we deem it safe, we manage to get a taxi back to the foundation. During the ride, we see signs of the devastation that the first earthquake had caused to various buildings. When we eventually make it to our village, we are confronted with the aftermath. Some storefronts that we pass by every day have caved in, the entrance ways covered with fallen bricks. Locals sit in circles in the fields, looking as dumbfounded as we feel. Along the hill up to KRMEF’s entrance, we see a house with only one wall left standing. Amazingly, the various bottle buildings seem to be fairly secure, with only a few cracks that look threatening.
Around the back of the foundation, we are reunited with our KRMEF family. The back boasts a biodynamic farm, a chicken coop, a couple of cows, Krishna’s parent’s house, a bottle house, and a veranda-like bamboo temple. We’re told that the temple is the safest place to be, since it is unclear how stable the guest house is. We quickly get to making it a habitable place to be for the night.
The sun began to set on a day that none of us could have prepared for. Ahead, locals are placing tarps over the bamboo playground, where they plan to sleep that night.
We gather in the temple around 8p.m., all of us in need of an early bedtime. We are able to tell when an aftershock is heading our way by the low rumble in the distance, which quickly makes its physical way towards us.
At 10:45 p.m. I awake to screams. I turn to Christy for translation, and she says that there is a thief in the village. Apparently a man, seeing this natural disaster as an opportunity, decided to loot a house and then bolt up Champa Devi Mountain. I stand outside and watch five men, yielding large sticks and flash lights, run past me, yelling “Thief!” in Nepali.
Not surprisingly, I’m unable to sleep after this incident. Four of us sit outside the temple, drinking tea, eating biscuits, and telling stories to calm our nerves. We hear news that another earthquake will occur around midnight. It’s 11:30 p.m.
12:50 a.m. and the quake strikes. It’s the type that is big enough to wake you from your sleep.
2 a.m. rolls around and I have just closed my eyes. They’re suddenly open again when I hear dogs barking and screams coming from a neighboring village. Another aftershock occurs.
Being next to the chicken coop means that the rooster acts as an abrupt alarm clock in the early hours. Despite the noise, I can sleep easier now that I know the night is ending.
Drinking tea at 8 a.m., I pick up today’s newspaper. As expected, photos documenting the tragedy cover every page. People covered in thick, gray soot. Other clutching onto phones, sobbing. The temples I visited last month now reduced to a pile of rubble.
This tragedy has conjured too many feelings to put into words for a country that I have come to love and call home for two months. The terror I felt in the bus and the events that followed is nothing compared to the emotions pulsating through all of Nepal right now and for the recovery period to come.
The natural disaster itself serves as a reminder that we are a miniscule part in nature’s grand plan. We do not own the Earth, but rather the opposite, despite our daily actions that try to prove otherwise.
I leave Nepal tomorrow with a heavy heart. The past 24 hours have highlighted how fragile our time is and how people on every corner of the Earth have the capability for love, compassion, and perseverance. I am so grateful for the outpouring of concern for my well-being via social media, as well as the love shown for each other at KRMEF. It troubles me that I am leaving at a time when I am needed most. However the help that can be given does not necessarily have to be in physical labor. While I am leaving for an unspecified amount of time, I have no doubt that I will make my way back to the land of mountain ranges, dahl baht, and people who have the most beautiful spirit you will ever encounter.
I’m going to take this opportunity to give some acknowledgements:
The hugest thank you to Krishna, Leela, and Christy Gurung for their incredible hospitality and compassion. KRMEF has taught me lessons about my industry, myself, and the power of sustainable innovation. You are an outstanding family.
Thank you to Loren Intolubbe-Chmil, whose guidance and belief in me led me to this wild adventure. I will forever be grateful.
To my parents, thank you for letting me follow my dreams, even though they often take me half way across the world…and you know, put me in the path of the occasional earthquake…
To the volunteers at KRMEF, you know who you are and how special you are all to me. You made Nepal quickly become “om sweet om.”
To Holly and Bradly, whose friendship knows no miles or time difference. You two are my rocks.