Print Edition - 2015-06-27  |  On Saturday

Bent, not broken

  • The people are poor. The government is corrupt. The roads are narrow. Disasters keep coming. The economy is weak. But then, if you look at the core of our being there are so many lessons we can learn from it
- Chahana Sigdel
Bent, not broken

Jun 26, 2015-

From the corners of my eyes, which were hidden behind the newspaper I was reading (or trying to read), I peeked out to see if I could spot signs of an impending disaster; falling rocks that could rain down on us or perhaps chunks of brittle ledges that could plunge me and my travel companions straight into the flowing river many metres below. Actually, I didn’t have to peek and could have just looked out and pretended

to be deep in thought but by resorting to concealing my face behind the newspapers, I was trying to hide from myself—from the fears that I was living with in the days after the Great Quake.

En route to Gorkha, we had just entered Naubise, where we came across a number of massive hills that were said to have been ‘loosened’, making them extremely prone to landslides. As the road turned more and more snakelike, slithering with numerous twists and turns, I had to put the paper down.

We were headed for Gorkha, the epicentre of the April 25 earthquake, 45 days after the disaster. It was my first trip outside the Capital after the quake. I had made shorter trips before, but this time my sister had warned me to be more careful as it was the Tuesday when some jyotishi had predicted that “something could happen.” As much as I tried to coax my mind, it had been hard to embrace the new normal—living in constant fear.

After four hours of driving along the better parts of the motorway, we got on an off-road track, and after three bumpy hours, we reached our destination—Jaubari VDC.

Jaubari is a VDC that neighbours Barpak, the epicentre of the Great Quake. The death toll here was below 10, I was told, but most of the houses were uninhabitable and all the community structures had been destroyed.   

But in the hills of the villages, I witnessed firsthand the courage and resilience of a populations’ trying to get their lives back together. In everyone I talked to at Jaubari—barring a few wannabe local leaders who wanted to paint a picture of absolute misery, in order to, perhaps, filch relief money—I found a spirit of stoicism.  It reminded me of the saying by the philosopher Marcus Aurelius: “The pain is not due to the thing itself but to your own estimate of it; and this you have the power to revoke at any moment”. I realised that help was needed here not because the people were wallowing in despair, but because they needed help with emerging from the tragedy they were already coping with.

We visited four schools that day—all had been reduced to piles of rubble. The houses around them had also been damaged and were probably beyond repair—perhaps another mild jolt could bring them all crashing.

At one of the schools, the entire structure had come down except for three walls, where blackboards had been built into the walls.

On one of the blackboards there were still lessons—perhaps from class the day before.

“Thank God it occurred on a Saturday. I hear that at least 20 times a day here,” said a teacher from one of the schools. “People here are really thankful for that, and I think this belief that they were lucky to have survived thus gives them strength.”

The first makeshift school we stopped at was operating from under tin sheds. On top of the shed, branches and leaves had been placed to avoid direct sunlight from meeting the zinc sheets. In the middle of our tour, we suddenly heard a rumbling sound. While most of us looked around, trying to figure out the source of the commotion, a group of students—younger kids—were already hurtling towards an open field, and a few seconds later, they told us that a helicopter carrying relief goods had landed.

“Bideshi Ayo, Bideshi Ayo,” yelped some children as they ran towards the helicopter. True enough, a few foreigners who looked liked volunteers emerged from the chopper and made their way towards the makeshift health centres. Some of the children even clapped as the helicopter lifted off the ground and flew away. The school principal said that for the first few days after the quake, helicopter sightings used to frighten the children but that they now looked forward to their appearing. “I think it symbolises the new normal,” he said. “Not saying we should always expect helicopters, but you know so much has changed recently.”

At another school, where a group of engineers had built a primary school, there was a programme going on—the official handover of the keys to the school principal by the donors and volunteers who had erected a primary school in six days. The mothers of the children who attended the school sang songs and prepared food, and from a makeshift stage, the school’s principal emceed the programme, introducing acts, plays and dances, all about the earthquake and the lessons it had taught. I took in the performance from underneath a Banyan tree. Sitting next to me was the school principal from the earlier school. Spotting him, a few parents ran towards us with a garland of pink buds. He politely refused, but the mothers insisted. “Sir, please lagaunaiparcha. Aja to khusiko din ho,” she said, draping him.

Every day, many of these women would cook for the volunteers and watch them repair and construct buildings. A few lads from the village had even picked up on their technique and said that they would try and use it to build other infrastructure. The school principal said aloud what I was thinking to myself that day. “We aren’t as bad as we thought we were,” he remarked. “The earthquake did shake us up but it also seems to have woken a more resilient aspect in us.” I nodded in agreement. Nepal is in shambles, we hear. The people are poor. The government is corrupt. The roads are narrow. Disasters keep coming. The economy is weak. But then, if you look at the core of our being there are so many lessons we can learn from it. We are a people who embody patience and resilience, and the villagers I met that day epitomised this human quality. They have taught me how to move on.

Published: 27-06-2015 08:24

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