Tuesday, April 28, 2015

What You Should Know and Can Do in the Aftermath of Nepal's Massive Earthquake

If you are interested in how you can help Nepal, skip to the end of this article. This is one of my longer and more preachy posts, and I'd rather you spend your precious time aiding the beautiful country that I called home for so many months. 

First off: I'm okay! For my loyal readers who might not realize it, I had been back in the United States for three weeks when the earthquake struck. However, I have family and friends who are there right now - some sleeping in US Embassy eating MREs, and others sleeping in hastily constructed tents.

My mom woke me up Saturday morning with news of the 7.8-magnitude quake. It hit me like a bullet to the heart. My dad had some Vonage credit left on his phone and after a few crossed lines, I was able to reach my aamaa, who assured me that my host family is safe. I don't know anything about the state of their house or village, but safe was the only word that mattered.

I haven't had contact with my aamaa since Saturday, so unfortunately, the answer to many of the questions many of you may have in your heads is "I don't know." I don't know anything about my students. I don't know anything about my school. I don't know anything about the teachers. What I do know is that Nepal is going to need a lot of help- but that it will pull through.

The people of Nepal are not worriers. When something bad happens, they simply say: "Ke garne?" "What can you do?" It's their version of "So it goes" or "Sh*t happens." When misfortune strikes, they look forward rather than backward. Change occurs through deliberate action, not wishful thinking. Where this philosophy came from, I don't know. It may be religious. It may come from Nepal's long history of independence and self-sufficiency. Whatever it is, it's engraved in the heart of the people.

There is a paradox here, however, which the earthquake has exploited. Much of Nepal's identity comes from its sense of past history. The destroyed, ancient temples that you have no doubt seen photographs of were sites of current and active worship until 11:59am Nepal time. Nepal is a country built on tradition and faith. Births, weddings, funerals...all adhere to very specific customs. For example, after the death of a parent, the body is cremated next to a river. The son is then expected to fast for 10 days, and to wear mourning white for one year. With the sheer number of deaths, and probable destruction of the funeral ghats, these rituals have been disrupted. You can imagine how distressing this must be for the Nepali people. Money can't fix their emotional and spiritual pain. We can only hope that prayers will help with that.

It is also worth mentioning that the media has been primarily showing the earthquake's effects on Kathmandu. This is not meant to downplay the tragedy in Nepal's capital, but elsewhere, the destruction is even more horrific. As you know, three of the other Fulbrighters were stationed in Gorkha district - the epicenter of the quake. Emily's host father told her that a friend ran out to her host grandmother's village. It was gone, and every one of its citizens was dead.

Your brain will try to numb itself as you read that last sentence. Our brain has a defense mechanism against such distressing events (read about it here). For one minute, fight your neurochemistry. Imagine not just the death of a distant loved one, but the deaths of their entire community in one terrible instant. Reports are just starting to come in about villages where over 90% of buildings have collapsed, leaving any survivors without shelter. I cannot easily convey to you how remote most places and villages are in Nepal once you move away from Kathmandu. There are few or no paved roads, and the ones that are there may have been blocked by landslides. The only way to reach survivors is by foot or by helicopter.

And speaking of remote, think also of everyone trapped at Everest Base Camp. EBC is located 39 miles from the nearest airport, and is inaccessible by any vehicle other than helicopter. I walked to Base Camp with people who are still there now (although dead or alive, I don't know). This is the worst possible time for a massive avalanche to sweep Everest, due to it being the peak of trekking and climbing season. Please don't join the school of: "They knew it was risky, so it's not as sad." Many people don't visit Sagarmatha (the Nepali name for Everest) for the thrill of it. It's a celebration of life, a journey of learning, a victory over physical and mental obstacles, a tribute to nature...or for some, the best job for supporting their families. No one visits Everest to die.

Nepal's last major earthquake hit in 1934, which was 16 years before the country opened its borders to the rest of the world. Even though over 10,000 people died and Kathmandu was effectively flattened, Nepal survived. Eighty years later, Nepal now has a web of loving global neighbors and the benefit of modern medicine and technology. It will survive again.

You should know, though, that Nepal is on the fourth and lowest tier of the Human Development Index. It is a poor, poor country, which my many photos from around Kathmandu Valley fail to convey. Please, if you have done me the service of reading my blog over the last nine months, consider donating to one of the following charities. It sounds like a cliche, but in Nepal, even a small sum goes a long, long way. Dherai dhanyabad. 

Catholic Relief Services - I have a special place in my heart for CRS. You see, they have a relationship with Mahaguthi, the fair trade company from which I bought most of the gifts I brought back to America.
Donate here.

Save the Children - I think my reasons for this are obvious.
Donate here.

Seva - At my school, I had the opportunity to work with a blind teacher that I adored. Seva normally benefits people living with blindness in Nepal, but they have set up a fund aiding victims of the earthquake.
Donate here.

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