May 19, 2015
My Trip to Nepal: A Firsthand Look at the Aftermath
Post by Sarla, South Asia Director for Christian Aid Mission and a Native of Nepal
When I boarded my 13-hour flight to Nepal, all kinds of thoughts raced through my mind. What would Kathmandu, the place I'd lived for years, look like? I had a connecting flight in Dubai where I met several Nepalese returning home because of the earthquake. Most of them were workers in the Gulf countries. Likely they'd left the country, along with many others, due to the 16-year insurgency.
They talked about whether their houses were still standing and if they'd lost any family members. Worry etched their faces as they contemplated what might await them back home.
Exactly one week after the deadly earthquake, I arrived in Nepal, and observed that much of the international relief aid was still at the airport, held up in customs. The government was still working out the details of its delivery to different affected areas.
As I drove to Kathmandu, I saw a tent city in what used to be a golf course. Some of the tents had been provided by international relief agencies, but some were just tarps on bamboo sticks.
Though the destruction was relatively minimal in this area, the inner city was in shambles. Houses had been leveled. All shops were closed and most neighborhoods were without power. An eerie silence blanketed the once bustling capital city. Most traffic had stopped. A thick haze of dust hung in the air as if a tornado had just passed through. It felt as though the city itself was in mourning.
The next day I visited one of the camps for displaced people in Bhaktapur with one of the ministries that Christian Aid Mission supports. They had packed two truckloads of food to bring to this camp, where 1,700 people lived together in make-shift shelters.
Several people I talked to in the camp shared their stories. . . the experience of running out in the streets while the earth moved violently beneath them, or just staying put in their fields where they were working. Everyone had a story to tell. Nani Maiya Nakarmi, whose house was completely destroyed, has an 8-year-old son and 18-month-old daughter. She was thankful her family was spared.
Next to this camp was the site for mass cremation. The burnt logs and ashes were reminders of the tragedy this community had faced. In startling contrast, I saw children in the camp playing games with sticks and a few empty water bottles.
The unique architecture of Bhaktapur is something every Nepali and foreign visitor had admired. Its buildings and structures, once the pride of Nepal and protected as world heritage sites, had been reduced to piles of rubble. I saw temples and idols lying on the ground, with no one to worship or bring them offerings. The only churches in Bhaktapur were on the outskirts of the city—none within city limits.
Lane after lane of houses, some older than 100 years, were nothing more than a mass of bricks now, like bodies whose spirits had departed.
The strong smell of death still lingered in many parts.
I spoke to the old, the young, men, women and children about their experiences. They all gave account of a sudden tragedy they didn't know was on the way. What amazed me was the resilience of the people, who only wanted to look ahead and move forward. Communities had come together to help one another.
I saw women distributing snacks, randomly, to people in the streets. They cooked, sharing their fried sweets. Another group of women sat around in what used to be a vegetable market. I approached an elderly lady who was silently making a broom out of bamboo sticks, deep in thought. I wondered how they could still smile while talking to me, a total stranger!
The following day, we headed out to Sindupalchowk. This district had the highest number of deaths, close to 4,000. We were only eight people in two trucks and a small car, bringing relief to one of the hardest hit areas.
The drive was treacherous as the highway had been partially destroyed by rocks and boulders from a landslide triggered by the earthquake. We drove through beautiful hills and winding roads, seeing many IDP camps in the villages we passed.
After four bumpy hours, we reached our destination, where Christian Aid Mission assists a village pastor. At one point, the army stopped us and offered protection. I was initially puzzled, but learned that, because people were so tired of waiting for relief to come, they looted the first truck that brought supplies. We declined their offer and went on with our team.
The first thing I did upon reaching that village was to visit the church that had been leveled, where 17 believers lost their lives. I saw the mass grave just behind where the church used to be. . . and a shoe, a piece of someone's scarf. . . a broken guitar that must've been used to accompany worship that fateful morning.
Despite the lives lost, the Christians shared with me stories of God's mercy on the children who escaped unharmed.
After the visit to the church, we went back to distribute the supplies we'd brought. A group of about 100 people, mostly women, had already gathered around our trucks. They were lamenting how their village had been completely forgotten by different aid organizations, and they were still waiting for relief after 10 days. We gave out rice, lentils, oil, salt, spices, and bars of soap to 77 families from four villages. Most of them had lost their homes. Close to 40,000 homes, out of 66,000, were destroyed.
I looked up to the hills and saw only terraced land. The houses had been wiped out. An elderly woman cried as she told me how she lives alone and has to fend for herself, as all of her grown children have left the village. She said the calamity might just shorten her life as she didn't think she had the strength to rebuild what was lost. All I could do was hug her as tears rolled down my cheeks. I handed her a sack of rice and other supplies.
How many, Lord, are suffering like this woman? And will they perish before they have the chance to hear the gospel?
The next day, I visited one of the ministries that works in North Gorkha, one of the most unreached areas of the country.
Houses leaned precariously in various directions. Telephone poles had been toppled. Water tanks hung dangerously overhead, ready to fall on someone. Practically everyone wore surgical masks to avoid breathing in the thick dust.
I learned of weddings that had been canceled. Celebrations suddenly seemed inappropriate and irreverent to a country that had just lost 8,000 of its own.
The ministry in North Gorkha has a children's home in the capital city. Two of the children lost family members. Because the area is located near the epicenter, Internet and phone service was down and the ministry leaders were unable to contact their coworkers.
Pastor Caleb's hair was messy. It appeared he hadn't showered or changed his clothes in days. Helpless to get in touch with his coworkers and unable to reach them because of the debris-blocked roads, he looked frustrated.
He had moved all of the children to the yard under a tent because of the strong aftershocks. They were traumatized, not knowing when the next one might strike. During the week after the earthquake, Nepal experienced more than 100 aftershocks, some ranging between 4 and 5 on the Richter scale.
The only way relief could be delivered to this area was by helicopter. This was the way a few international agencies rescued some people from a camp near the children's home. When we visited the people at the camp, we learned a nearby monastery was feeding them.
It appeared every neighborhood had a camp or at least some tents where people congregated. Even people whose homes were still standing slept outside in fear of the aftershocks.
I experienced so many emotions during my week-long trip. Sorrow for lives lost. Gratitude for miraculous demonstrations of God's protection.
How does one reconcile a loss so great? Close to a million people have been affected by this disaster, and my heart cried out for the many without eternal hope. I wanted to ask them if their gods gave them the assurance we have in Christ. I wanted to tell them the time has come for us to repent as a people.
I looked death and destruction right in the face, and it's made me more determined than ever to advocate for my people that they may hear the gospel and not perish.
To help indigenous ministries in Nepal share Christ's love with the needy and desperate, visit www.christianaid.org/Nepal.