This morning I did the deed. I walked into the Jet Airways office on Lazimpat and changed my departure plan for Wed, the 20th. That will put me on a flight 8 days early and will put me in BKK the next morning at 7am and on a bus for Pattaya soon after. I will bask, or more likely roast, for a week there before I return to BKK to catch the final flights home. Warm water, good street food, tropical ambience, creature comforts.
I cannot even really imagine what that will feel like. As it is, the moment I walked out of the airline office to get back on my scooter, I felt a rush of..I don’t know….relief, remorse, grief, guilt….all of it. Some variation of guilt for being one of the privileged who can leave. Like being the only survivor of a plane crash. Remorse for not being among the remaining brothers and sisters who are giving so much to aid their fellow citizens, the spontaneous arising of their powerful moral voice scrambling and risking and tirelessly seeking and making deals with a magnificent resourcefulness to get whatever they can to offer succor to so many who are struggling and living on nothing or barely anything, needing so much and so quickly.
A deeper sorrow for the whole of the nation living on an edge so much of the time and for so long, enduring one tragedy after another, the massacre of the royal family, the Maoist rebellion and 10 years of civil war and landslides, avalanches and floods and ineffectual governmental institutions who remain at such impasse as to be earning the mistrust of so many citizens….and now this. Not just any earthquake but one that robs them of their historic treasures and not just temples but museum artifacts of all kinds as well. An earthquake that lays bare all their shortcomings and vulnerabilities. A nation that stewards some of the most treasured land on the entire planet, yet has to import most of its everyday necessities from India. A nation that next to the north and south poles, holds the largest freshwater reserves anywhere, yet can’t seem to provide reliable electric power every day and for all its people.
This is a nation that is seeing a vast outpouring of generosity not only from its local citizens but from Nepalis abroad, of which there are millions, who are raising untold sums to pour into seat of the pants relief efforts by so many ad hoc relief groups as well as the veteran outfits that have been here for 20 years or more. There is also an enormous amount of money being raised through social media from Americans who have either been here, know about this place or who are simply expressing a basic empathy to whatever degree is within their capacity.
Just this morning I had a conversation with an American who has been here many times, has contacts on the ground in Gorkha and has managed to pull together enough money for a whole truckload of supplies to be transported there today. And this is from her contacts in the US who have no real clue what it is like in this 3rd world country or how things work, yet who have persisted through the administrative hoops to get funds to this place through what we in the West would regard as archaic methods.
This is also a nation that is seeing the ugly underside of poverty and scarcity and greed meeting opportunity and abundance. There are tales of looting of supplies, hijacking relief vehicles in rural areas, deceit and profiteering by the low as well as the high and mighty. Someone I have been close to here entered into some dealings yesterday that smelled wrong. He came back later with the police and turned in three respectable business types for illegally selling relief supplies. They are now under arrest. The story made the TV news. The police are investigating the source of the materials being sold and my friend has had his life threatened by the families of the accused.
But aside from all that, I am seeing the engine of resilience rise up in many forms and ideas and creative short and long-term solutions to widespread suffering. Olive Nepal will be providing 300 toilets to rural communities. This will happen in the next couple of weeks. They are already planning and seeking support for rebuilding 2 schools, one among a community of dalits (untouchables) in Gorkha that could turn into a three-year project and another high school much closer to Kathmandu.
There are other massive issues looming: widespread PTSD, the need for water filters, and the monsoon. School children are having a tough time concentrating. Many people remain outdoors as I mentioned in the previous post. There is resignation afoot. The golf course–as incongruous a development as one could possibly find here– near the airport is littered with tents. (From the looks of things, no green is sacred.) Many have moved back indoors, but open spaces near major roads are still settled. The river bank in some parts of the city remains a popular campsite.
Unless temporary structures can be erected very soon in rural areas, the monsoon will bring further devastation, landslides and blow away anything not secure. Everyone who is doing any critical thinking at this stage is aware of this. So there is much more to do, and fast. And most of this is still the initial response phase. Along with sanitation, protection of the water supply would seem to be a basic required public health measure. Then there is the longer term issue of food security. The planting season is interrupted and may be missed entirely by rural communities.
As for me, I’ve had a flurry of ideas for how to continue being supportive to Olive Nepal and CCL Nepal, a group of people of whom I have grown very fond and whom I respect so much for their passion, simple natural selflessness and effectiveness. We’ll see how that pans out in due time. I could say that I’ve fallen in love with this place. If true, it’s a crazy, inexplicable kind of love. I have come to know some people I will always consider my friends. But I’ve made my decision to leave early. It’s the kind of decision everyone knows about, deliberating and finally turning a difficult corner, instantly knowing you are doing the right thing and can’t look back. I couldn’t feel better about that. I also couldn’t feel worse.