On Shaky Ground

Just before midday on the 25th April I was sat in the garden at my hotel in Pokhara when there was an almighty rumble. I thought it was just a truck about to come past, and when the truck didn’t appear and the rumble didn’t stop my brain couldn’t quite make sense of it and decided it was probably a train then, which would have been a fantastic theory if there were any fucking trains in Pokhara. As I tried to work out what the actual fuck was going on, the family who run the Cherry Garden bolted from the house into the road so I just followed them in bemusement because maybe they knew what was going on and why it was loud enough to make the ground shake and I wanted to see too. Yeah, it briefly crossed my mind that it could have been an earthquake but I promptly dismissed this idea on account of the fact I’m British and earthquakes simply don’t happen to me, but by the time I’d left the garden the ground was actually moving. I’m not even shitting you, it was moving a good few centimetres each way, like I was on a boat or a platform suspended on chains and some twat had pushed it and started it rocking. Seriously, physics, what the actual fuck?! Stop making up new rules!

Everyone just bolted for open ground as soon as the earthquake happened. People in Kathmandu didn’t have this luxury. As they fled their homes the buildings collapsed on top of them.

It was the strangest feeling ever, the ground isn’t meant to move and I’d never been in an earthquake before despite living in New Zealand for two years. I’m not gonna lie, my heart started beating a little bit faster when it went on a bit longer than I was comfortable with, I half expected the road to split and buildings to tumble, but then it just stopped. The whole thing lasted less than a minute. That’s all. And the WiFi had fallen out so we couldn’t find out what it was on the Richter scale, where it had started, or if any damage had been done. We considered contacting folks back home but it probably wouldn’t be in the news, it honestly seemed like a non-event, Lakeside seemed undamaged and for us it was exciting! I joined Annemiek and three English chicks who were staying in our hotel on the lawn, the manager was wary of letting us back in. Nervous locals told us that it was the strongest they’d ever felt and one guy said it had to have been over 6 because he’d been in a 6 earthquake before and this felt stronger. Half an hour after the first earthquake, an aftershock hit, not as big but still big enough to rattle windows. I tried to take a video, it looks like I’m just shaking the camera but hey, you try shooting straight when the fucking ground is moving.

I can’t even stack tarps properly, never mind set one up to shelter a family.

Maybe 20 minutes after the aftershock we got bored of waiting around in the open and buggered off to the main street in search of dal bhat. Everyone had Nepali radio glued to their ears, we were still utterly clueless and still a bit high from the excitement. What an experience ay? To be in an earthquake. It was only when a shopkeeper told us exactly what had happened; 7.9 on the Richter scale, Kathmandu was in ruins, people were dead. Shiiiiit. We had to get back and call our families and yeah, the news had reached Europe within an hour. This shit was way bigger than we’d thought and suddenly it wasn’t so exciting any more.

Since that day the death toll has just gone up and up, to over 9000, and so many people are still missing. Everest Base Camp where I’d been only two and a half weeks before was buried under an avalanche and climbers were stuck on the mountain. Langtang which is the home of Sonam, our trek leader, and the epicentre, Gorkha, were totally destroyed. Another smaller earthquake happened the next day too and a lot of people headed to Kathmandu either to get the fuck out or to try and help somehow. I figured this would be a shit idea; I had no intention of leaving Nepal just yet and I didn’t want to be a tourist in a disaster zone with my complete lack of medical training, generally being a burden to an infrastructure that was already overstretched. So I stayed in Pokhara and tried to work out what to do.

Definitely the most open ground we could think of after the second ‘quake. The fact there’s beer here is a happy bonus.

I can’t even begin to comprehend the level of devastation, not least because everything in Pokhara is still so normal.One friend messaged me to ask if there was food and water and places to stay because that situation was shaky in Kathmandu for a while, and I replied and told her that there was beer and pizza and things to do. I’m not even shitting you, as people in Kathmandu and the villages struggle to rebuild their lives, as they wonder if they have to sleep outside again tonight or will a truck arrive with aid, as they burn their dead and clear the rubble, you can still go to Sarangkot to watch the sunrise or paraglide over the lake or take an ultralight flight to Fishtail, and this is still important. Yes, there are people directly affected by the disaster but there are business owners here who will be indirectly affected, because now tourists won’t come here. Tourism is all Nepal has. Without tourists, thousands of people have no livelihood. As long as you’re here you might as well throw money at the place.

But as lovely as it was chilling by Fewa Lake, watching sunsets and selflessly keeping the economy afloat one beer at a time, I decided to join a group of travellers and locals to help raise funds, buy supplies and send trucks to villages devastated by the earthquake. We send food, blankets, mosquito nets, whatever they ask for. We even have a doctor who goes out every now and then with medical supplies she helps us buy, but mostly what people are asking for is tarps, because the monsoon season is coming and we’re already getting relentless rain in the afternoons with drops of water big enough to give you bloody concussion. If you gave me a tarp I’d probably stare at it blankly for a few seconds before demanding a tent which I’d proceed to pitch incorrectly and end up lying in a pit of rain, misery and failure, but if you give a Nepali a big enough tarp they’ll hang it in such a way that it’d shelter three families in a fucking monsoon.

Truck loading, actually not as easy as you’d think. Fortunately the Nepali guys were skilled in the art of hoisting huge bags of rice onto their shoulders from the floor.

It’s nice to have a purpose and it feels really good to help and know that all the money that people have donated to us is going directly to the villages, and we do have a really good operation going, but two days ago on the 12th of May whilst we were sat in a meeting discussing where we were going to send the next truck and what we were going to put on it, the walls started to shake. There was no denial this time, we looked at each other for a split second before legging it out into the street with everyone else and I swear, it gets scarier every time, maybe because we know what it’s capable of now. I was still shaking long after the ground stopped, earthquakes make you so fucking jumpy, every time someone drops something or a large vehicle goes past you get ready to run for the nearest open space. Someone could slam a door and your adrenaline will start pumping. We abandoned the meeting and made the executive decision to get ruinously pissed by the lake.

Turns out this 7.3 bad boy happened close to Namche Bazaar, a place where we’d spent three amazing nights during the Everest Base Camp trek and I’m so, so gutted that the family that looked after us were more than likely affected. Not many people are feeling too good about being here any more, myself included, so we decided to spend the money we have left and make sure it goes exactly where it’s meant to, probably before the end of the month when all of the key volunteers leave anyway, then back off and let the long term projects take over. Just this morning we sent out a truck full of rice and medical supplies along with a volunteer team of a doctor, a nurse and two pharmacists and tomorrow we’ll send another truck out, and we’ll keep sending trucks until every single penny that was donated to us has gone to the earthquake affected regions.

Stacking up donations and supplies ready to pile onto a truck.

I think we’ve made a difference. I know that the people who donated, including my hugely generous friends and family, have made an enormous difference to people’s lives. It’s all a bit emosh today, guys, I’m not gonna lie to you. My womb is falling out through my vagina, my liver hates me and is threatening to leave me for a nun, and I have to sleep in a bra so I don’t trip over my nipples if there’s an earthquake in the middle of the night and we all have to run outside in our pyjamas. I’m ready to leave now but I want to see this shit through until the end. Yeah, I’m probably gonna need some Valium!

npPokhara, Nepal
Stayed at: Hotel The Cherry Garden

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