happiness is...

happiness is...
kenya 2010

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Earthquake ramblings, part 2

One of the things I have learned while living in Nepal is to be patient. Well, okay- I am usually not patient, but I have learned that regardless of whether I am patient or impatient, things will work out in their own time and they will, in the end, work. That is what happened on Day 3 of trying to reach the village (Marming). The morning started out a little chaotic and with several group members vocalizing different plans and ideas for how the day should go. All I wanted was to head toward Marming, but I also had to realize that others had their own ties and their own agendas, which were no less valid than mine. That said, I was determined to do what I could to get there and knew I wouldn't stop until I had exhausted all hope. We were told by our host's family member that the road to Marming was completely covered in landslide and impassable, and that they had traveled to where we now were from that area the day before, and it had taken over 13 hours to cross that distance on foot, through the mountains. My heart sank because a 13 hour trek for a Nepali is usually double for a foreigner. Nepalis have the most amazing genetics that allow them to traverse the mountains like mountain goats. They are not only strong and have unlimited endurance, they also have incredible balance and the ability to walk on trails that none of the rest of us would consider trails. If the only route to Marming was a 13 hour footpath (for a Nepali), I wouldn't make it. That didn't stop me from insisting that we go as far as we could in that direction so that I could see, for myself, whether or not it was worth attempting. I didn't want to be reckless and I didn't want to be stupid, so if it looked impossible, I would accept that- but not until I was satisfied that I had done all I could to get there. I wouldn't be able to live with myself if I didn't do my best.

We set out with a plan to head in the direction of Bahrabise, which is the last reported village reachable by road, and then assess the  situation once we arrived. We stopped at several smaller villages en route, and set up makeshift treatment clinics. Most of the patients we saw had already been seen and treated for their larger injuries at a nearby health post or hospital, but many needed follow up care like wound cleaning, bandaging, and medication for pain or infection. We had a young Nepali physician with us, and he and I made do with the supplies we had brought with us. We laid down a tarp I had grabbed from my earthquake kit (thank you TEAM for requiring me to keep one ready) and sat the patients on that while we assessed and treated them. Though we treated several people, we were pleased with the lack of need for acute medical care. Again, things seemed to be largely under control. This was really encouraging. Of the patients I saw, one was a young girl who had an infected abrasion on her forearm. I had to scrub her wound to remove the infected tissue, which must have been very painful but she was really brave and stoic. When I was getting ready to leave, she (and about 10 of her young friends/family members) brought me a flower as a thank you. So sweet! That was the best payment, ever.
 Treating head wounds in a tent camp in Khadichaur.Treating head wounds in a tent camp in Khadichaur.

Finally, we were headed to Bahrabise. That is the village where I had planned to live while doing research in Marming, until a few weeks ago when I actually found a vacant house in Marming itself. I was shocked at the damage there. In Kathmandu, many of the older village-style homes and buildings made of brick or rock were destroyed in the earthquake, but many of the newer cement buildings (like my apartment) were fine. Bahrabise is a fairly large village and has quite a few cement structures, especially in the bazaar area, so I imagined that many of them would be standing. I was wrong. Being the epicenter of the 2nd aftershock, the intensity of the quake in this area must have been much stronger than it was in Kathmandu because the entire bazaar was destroyed. As we drove through the rubble, in the direction of Marming, I was beginning to lose hope that I would get much further down the road or that I would find many people alive in Marming if I did get there. We parked at the far edge of town, near a police outpost, and looked down the highway toward Marming. Several massive landslides could be seen and from the angle I was looking, it appeared that the highway was buried underneath. Intending to ask the police about the situation, we headed for the police outpost and one of the people on our team saw someone they knew from the area- and he was with a group standing by the "Last Resort" bus- which is an adventure camp located at the foot of the hill below Marming. He said that the road had been cleared until a few kilometers before the camp and that he was leading a group to Marming to assess the damage and the needs. Praise God!! I asked if I could join them, and 2 minutes later I was bouncing down the road toward my village.

That trip was the scariest of my life. Not just the part on foot, which we'll get to, but the ride. Five minutes down the road, we had to stop. 2 large front loaders were digging bodies out from beneath a huge landslide, and people were wrapping them in plastic and laying them by the side of the road near our bus. We had to wait for about an hour, all the while looking up at the steep hills above us and praying that the ground held firm. As we finally made our way past, and down the road, the reality of the enormity of this disaster began to sink in. Boulders the size of trucks littered the road. The usually green, lush hills were brown where the earth had given way and everything slid off the mountainside and either onto the road or into the river below. Trees were toppled and houses were nothing but piles of stone or brick. In most places, people crouched by these piles, not sure where to go or what to do- everything they owned (and perhaps people they loved) were trapped underneath. It was really sobering. For months I have said that if there is ever an earthquake, I hoped I'd be in the village and not in Kathmandu with the tall, crowded buildings. I was wrong.

We made it by bus until about 2Km before the village, where we had to stop and proceed on foot. In that 2 kilometers, there were 8 or 10 huge rock falls/boulder fields. The ground in this area is full of shale and it had sheared off in massive quantities and covered the road (and anyone on the road) when it fell. We had to climb over these which was daunting at best. I was particulary scared, for several reasons. One, I am scared of heights. The higher I climbed on these piles, the scarier they became. Second, there remains a possibility that the "slide" will again slide out from under you so I couldn't relax until I was safely up and over... but safely up and over isn't exactly true, either. New rock falls and landslides were happening all over the district and there was a very real possibility that another could come down while we were underneath. We passed a car that had been on the road during the quake and was literally smashed flat. Completely flat. The person/people inside had thankfully been removed before we passed by. Right before reaching Marming, the smell of death was strong and we were informed by the locals that 40 people had tried to flee via the road after the first earthquake, and were covered in landslide during the second one. Twenty people were killed and most were still trapped underneath. Please know that we were being safe, though. As desperately as I wanted to reach Marming, I wasn't going to walk knowingly into a death trap. Each step was measured, each route was assessed, and each phase was analyzed to determine if we should keep going. I wore a "Bob the Builder"-type hard had to protect against falling rocks. It wasn't without risk but it wasn't crazy. And someone had to reach them. After about 40 minutes on the road (and days of agonizing), we did it. We reached Marming.

(stay tuned for part 3)
Rock fall en route to Marming. That is a car in the center.Rock fall en route to Marming. That is a car in the center.
Aftermath of a landslide on the road leading from Marming.Aftermath of a landslide on the road leading from Marming.

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