Nepal earthquake that shook me in the UK

First published on March 30, 2015

In the aftermath of the earthquake that shook the whole of Nepal and measured 7.8~7.9 in the Richter scale, I am engulfed with mixed emotions- I am mourning for the deceased; sympathetic to those who were injured, lost their beloved ones, lost their home; and sceptic to the country’s future. I have a gut feeling that we can ‘bounce-back’, that too in a stronger form, but the way does not look that easy. It has to go through grievance, the recollection of strength, action plans and finally (re)construction.

It was 7:11 am LST, (11:56 NST) on the 25th of April, my wife woke me up with this terrifying news from Nepal, news about one of the greatest natural disaster in more than 80 years. With my half-open eyes, I grabbed my phone and opened Facebook, the first post that appeared was the ruins of our magnificent Dharahara tower, which was enough to shake me and seize all the sleep I was planning for a lazy Saturday morning. Next came the pictures of the devastation of the Kathmandu Durbar Square and many more followed it. I and my wife were already shedding silent tears, I was recalling all the wonderful times I spent in those premises, I am sure my wife was haunted by the same memories. In fact, it was our best place we choose to hang out.

The exact scale of the quake was not published yet and I started praying for my country, I was praying for the destruction to be as minimum as possible.  It was my wife’s cousin who called my wife and told the news first hand. We came to know everyone in my in-law’s family was safe. But I had to spend hours trying to contact my family. I called my dad, who was on his way home from Kathmandu, his phone was out of reach. Again tried to reach my brother who was in Kathmandu, I was unsuccessful in establishing a connection. After almost an hour of struggle, my mom’s phone was ringing, but no one answered the call, which was even more painful. After almost 3 hours of struggle, I finally could speak with my brother and knew he was safe but had no information about the home. He was explaining the horrifying scene he saw after the quake. In an hour or so, my mom finally called me back and told me she along with my sister’s family were safe and dad is safe as well. I asked her the reason for not answering my previous call, she said she forgot about the phone when she ran out of the house after the quack started. Those 3~4 hours were the longest hours in my life, I can not explain what was going in my head, I was fearing the worst. All in our family were safe, we were fortunate than those hundreds of thousands of people.

Minutes after minutes, I was stuck with the news channel and social media. The extent of the destruction was surfacing and was indicating a massive loss of lives and property. Every hour, the death counts soared along with the number of people injured. Buildings with cultural, religious and historical importance collapsed. Many houses were gutted and many thousands of people were buried under the rubble. The rapid response and recovery operation carried out by the people and all security forces in every form possible helped rescue so many trapped survivors, which was encouraging.

Social media was flooded with horrifying pictures and posts, I guess people were not giving any thought about the sensitiveness of the pictures they were posting. Despite a few of those who were insensitive, many posts were giving me some energy, to cope with the stress and tension I was building within. Those pictures showed how people were helping each other, helping those unknown and rescuing those who were trapped/injured. People formed their own groups to collect relief materials and went to help the affected ones. That scene of togetherness, humanity, support, care and love made me think we the Nepalese have these peculiar characteristics, our richness of social capital and the level of resilience we have to face any adversity.

My house sustained substantial damage, which requires a rebuild (nothing compared to what others are suffering). Thankfully everyone in my and my wife’s family was safe. They were terrified with so many large aftershocks and were living outside in the make-shift tents. Despite the fear, they had to move in due to heavy rain and now after the after-shocks fading out, they are trying to start normal life routines. But at the same time unfortunately few friends of mine have lost their precious life in a painful way, many have become homeless, and injured. 

I cannot express how helplessly I am following the news and updates from the impacted sites. It is really painful to stay abroad and be a witness of the damage and have no power to do anything.

The deadline to submit the progression paper for my PhD was just two days away. I was planning to utilize the weekend and finalize it, I could not even think about it. I wrote an email to my supervisor stating the psychological trauma I was passing through and requested an extension. Everyone in the university came forward and expressed their care and sympathy, they helped me tackle the situation. I am really thankful to the staff of Durham University and colleagues here for being so nice and for consoling me. Without all these, I would have gone through a depressive phase and could not think about the role I can take in the (re)construction of my nation. 

Following the experience from the Haiti earthquake and the role international agencies played, there is no doubt about the complete failure of their modality. I am now planning to be watchful of the work donors are doing or planning to do in Nepal. I plan to regularly and vigilantly look at how they work, after all, I do not want to see my people suffer and my country takes the same path as Haiti did.

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