happiness is...

happiness is...
kenya 2010

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Earthquake ramblings, part 3- Reaching the village

The first thing I saw as I reached the road at the bottom of the hill leading up to my village made my heart sink. The earthquake hit just before noon on a Saturday, which in Nepal is the time that Christians in the country are in church. The small church, perched on the cliff nearly 1000 feet above the river below, was destroyed- the back side was missing and through the open door I could see nothing but the gorge below. I knew the likelihood that the 50 people I had met 2 weeks before in that welcoming space were dead was high. I started the 30 minute trek up the mountain trail with a heavy heart, but also with anticipation of seeing people I have come to know and to care about over the last 7 months. The trip seemed to take forever.

The church- perched 1000 feet above the river below. The back wall and much of the floor is goneThe church- perched 1000 feet above the river below. The back wall and much of the floor is gone

I crested the hill and began walking up the road that goes through the center of the village. In all my other trips up, the first house I came to was the house of Dorje Tamang, whose family took me in and hosted me for 5 days during my first "vision trip" there. This time, as I looked to my left toward that house, I saw open space above the trees. It was gone...but as I rushed around the small fence that separates their property from the road, I saw them- the entire family- sitting on the ground huddled together in the area that used to be the cow shed. Dorje's mother looked up and I yelled "aamaa!" (which means "mother!"). Her face broke into a smile and I broke into a run. They looked absolutely incredulous as I appeared out of nowhere. Our group was the first to reach the village since the quake, 5 days before. When I saw them, I was overcome with emotion and could barely speak. Someone asked me, awed, "What are you doing here? Why did you come?" and through my tears I could honestly say, "Because I care about you. I was worried about you. I was scared and had no way of knowing if you were all right. You are my village- my people. I have been praying for you and I couldn't rest until I was sure you were okay." As sorrowful as I had been for the previous 5 days, I was now filled with such relief and joy. Don't get me wrong- the village was completely devastated and there was nothing but rubble as far as the eye could see, but the people were what mattered and this family was alive. It turns out that nearly everyone in the village was alive. Out of 200-250 villagers (my estimate), only 2 had died. In the village, no one (except church members) is inside at 12pm. Everyone is out in the field, or tending the animals, or sorting grain on mats in the sun. On the day of the quake, even the church members had finished early and left the building before noon. Only 7 remained inside when it hit, and were miraculously able to get far enough over in the room to avoid plunging into the river below when the back of the building and the floor gave way.

My "host family" for my first trip to the village- alive and wellMy "host family" for my first trip to the village- alive and well

As I walked down the road, further into the village, I was met by cries of "Karunaa!!" (my Nepali name) and hugs by adults and children, alike. I was given flowers by some little girls who had first given me flowers the night I stayed in my new house a few weeks ago. Over and over again people asked me what compelled me to come, and over and over again I answered that this was now my home, my village, and they were now my "family". I told them that I had been praying for them and that God had answered my prayers by helping me to reach them. I have no words to describe the bridge that this day built between my heart and theirs. For the longest time, I stood in the field in the middle of the shelter camp they had erected and people came to hug me. It started with a young woman from church whose parents were the ones killed in their home. She clung to me and sobbed into my chest while I kissed the top of her head (God made me tall for a reason) and she poured out her heart to me- though much of it I couldn't hear nor understand. Then others came. They would latch on and hold tight and let me hug them. Then those would peel off and others would come. It was one of the most powerful moments of my life.

I had heard that there was only one house standing in the village (a few others were still upright but badly damaged). Somehow, I knew it was mine. And I was right. At the far edge of the village, perched on the side of the hill overlooking the valley below, I found my house standing intact and undamaged. Supplies such as rice and lentils and "group food" were being stored in it to keep it dry and safe from animals. I found my landlord, who was living above the church and whose belongings were now in the river, and begged her to take my house back. Amazingly, she wouldn't. She said that she believed it was God's plan that I live in the village and in her house. She had been praying for me and for my return, and this was my home. She said that she and her daughter would move into one of the rooms, and that the other room and kitchen would be mine. Then she hugged me fiercely and repeated, "Yo parameshwarko yojanaa chha." ("This is God's plan."). I don't know what God intends to do through me, or to me, in this village- but I firmly believe he called me there and has a plan.

Walking down the road through the village.Walking down the road through the village.

I had to return from the village that day since the team (and bus) I had come with was leaving- but the plan is to return once the aftershocks and landslides have subsided a bit, and take personal items for the people in the village. Food, a medical team, and some supplies were sent in the day after we visited, and yesterday I was able to help arrange to have much-needed tarps sent (with the help of my roommate who works with another organization here in Nepal, helping with relief efforts) so they can have shelter against the coming monsoons. It doesn't seem like enough- but they are such strong, resilient, resourceful people that I know they will be okay. WE will be okay.

One last note... For all its faults, I am in love with Facebook right now. Immediately after the earthquake they devised an amazing app called "Safe Nepal". Anyone with Nepal listed as their location was flagged and people could mark them safe if they had made contact with them. I accidentally found another use. I took pictures of people in the village and posted them on Facebook when I returned home. Two of those people have Facebook accounts, and though I know they don't have any access to internet or electricity right now, I decided to tag them so that eventually they could see the pics. What I didn't consider was that since I was the first one to arrive in that village after the earthquake, no one from the outside had any idea if they were safe, or injured, or dead- and I began receiving messages from their friends and family thanking me for letting them see their family, giving them information, and also asking about others in the village, etc... Through FB I have been able to give information on when aid arrived, their status, their health, etc... and bring peace to very worried people. I love that!

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