We spent some time walking through Bhaktapur, one of the worst damaged areas in Kathamandu and home to over 100,000 people; most of it’s residents live well below the poverty line. Buildings in Bhaktapur go back hundreds of years, mud-brick they tower as high as five stories held together with no cement or reenforcing iron; nothing much to hold them together. When the earthquake hit the place was devastated; owners described the buildings as “shaking like leaves in the wind“.
The damage was beyond belief.
As we walked through normally crowded streets, working our way through the rubble of the collapsed buildings, the eerie silence was broken only by the sound of pigeons -who were now the only ones who chose to remain. What homes were not destroyed completely were abandoned by their owners who feared for their lives and fled to one of the many tent cities around the area.
We met a young family who had returned to their home to collect supplies. They shared about their experience; told us of their loved ones that they had lost. They shared the story of Ishika, a young baby who was born on the day of the quake. Now healthy she lives in a tent on the bank of the over polluted, black Hanumante River.
We met an lady and her husband who had returned to their home; while they and their building had escaped with relatively little damage they lamented the loss of two of their neighbors, among them the husbands best friend. They offered us a cup of black tea and two small bowls of boiled potato. As we sat talking with them, eating our boiled potato I was so challenged by the generosity of these people who had so little to spare. In their kitchen wood from a window frame of a collapsed building was being used as fuel for the fire; what other use was it to them now.
We were taken by a family to see their tents set up on the grounds of a local school. Around 100 people had set up make shift homes in the playground. An elderly lady asked me if I knew if it was safe to return to their homes “When will the next earthquake be? Do you know?” she asked, as if being white made me omniscient. I spoke to a few of the families, explained why we had come and that the world knew what was happening in Nepal. I told them that relief, though it may take time, was on it’s way. How do you inspire hope into the lives of people who have lost everything?
As our time ran out and the rain clouds threatened over head and we needed to return home. Working out way back through the maze of streets I saw a sing on a building scratched in English that said “We need help, can you help us?” a cry that summaries for me everything I have seen over the day. Nepal needs our help. They need so much more than 500 bags of food. This earthquake has affected every facet of life. The process of rebuilding the broken ruins is going to be a long one. I have been challenged, I don’t yet know what I am going to do but I feel like I have to do something.