Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Suffering in Nepal

This is a tiny village in Nepal, Tenge, in the Mustang area where I trekked.  It is a couple hundred miles from the epicenter of the huge earthquake of Saturday. It looks idyllic, with those incredible mountains in the background (I'm not sure of the direction from which the photo was taken, but I think they are the Annapurnas) I was in many small villages like this which could only be reached on foot (or horseback). I have been in many, even smaller villages on the tourist trek-track toward Mt. Everest. They were nestled in the forested more southerly mountains. I have no idea if Tenge was badly damaged, I suspect it was. I am certain the villages on the track to Everest were destroyed as that was the epicenter of the quake and its almost as terrible after shocks. 

When I trekked there I greatly admired the young men who were "our" sherpas and the sidar (head Sherpa), Potasi. Totally professional, personable, very hard working. One of our small group, a woman of about 65 who probably weighted 165, had a mild stroke the morning we were to return from Thengboche Monastery to Namche Bazaar (a sizable tourist town  also probably now destroyed). Her condition was deemed not serious enough to need immediate med evac, so two young Sherpas (each probably no more than 110 pounds) carried her piggy-back (taking turns) all day to Namche from which she was helicoptered to Kathmandu (there was an Army encampment at Namche).  I can't even conceive the strength to carry such a load, let alone up and down rough mountain tracks.

I met so many people, and in the Mustang area, especially was deeply pained by their isolation and poverty.  In Lo Monthang, the capital, a walled city with a king whose lineage went back to 1230 -- a kingdom that had not been "at war" in nine centuries (can any Westerner imagine that?) three ancient temples were decorated inside with Newari painted mural from about 1300. They were being slowly restored as they were crumbling. But bigger problems: one of the three had a wide crack in its outer (plaster/adobe) wall from roof to ground and another had a roof about to cave in shored up with a maze of scaffolding. It is hard to imagine those ancient buildings withstanding the earthquake. 

In the Kathmandu Valley, I visited a third century shrine in Patan, dark, smoky, still in use; and in Bakhatapur saw several centuries old pagodas shaped shrines which I understand are now collapsed and that the ancient wood is being thrown willy-nilly into rubble piles. They will never be reconstructed. Such things are easy to grasp in the imagination.  The thousands and thousands of people who have died, the many more thousands who have lost families and homes and all forms of livelihood, who are sleeping in streets (it's cold that high up at night!) who have nothing to eat, where there is no electricity, where safe water is disappearing ... this is so heartbreaking one recoils from trying to imagine the suffering. 

I wrote on a social network site that this is filling my thoughts because I see faces and building and mountains in my memory.  I know that people who have not been there read it and file it in their  bits of current knowledge the way I have done with earthquakes in other parts of the world, Turkey, China, Peru, countries I have visited but not "on the ground" in the way one visits Nepal. The world is too big, there are too many people suffering in too many part of it for anyone other than a saint to begin to grasp, to have the stamina to care.


barbara judge said...

June -- When I heard the first words about the disaster in the Nepal area I thought of you and your posts where you have mentioned visiting Nepal. I could feel your attachment to this area when you wrote. I surely can understand how difficult it must be for you to hear this news as you certainly were aware of the wonderful and many poor of the place. My heart goes out to you and the people that are suffering. Difficult to realize the high death toll and those having no homes to sleep in at night. -- barbara

June Calender said...

Thank you Barbara. No place to sleep, no heat, water not always available (fear of cholera), everything lost. And so many irreplacable ancient buildings, many with precious murals and art. Faces and places pass through my mind.