We are still safe here in Birtamod. I grieve for Nepal but have a sense that while devastating, it could have been much worse. The trip home may be…um…interesting. And when I am in Broken Hill again, forgive me if it takes a while to realise I don’t have to run from the room at the 6.45 blasts.
This is a very sad and hard post to write and I am writing it in case people are checking in here to see that I am OK and that my darling friends and family over here are safe. First of all, yes we are. We were terribly frightened here in the east and can only begin to imagine how much more terrifying it must have been closer to the epicentre. We experienced two major quakes which caused power poles to sway and we all ran out of the building where we were working. Some of the ladies here must have supersonic quake detectors and we were out of that building faster than you can imagine. At the first mere rumble, which could have been a bike going past, two or three shouted Earthquake to the rest of us and we were downstairs and out. With the people from all the houses around us, we watched and waited. People texting and messaging to see what was happening and where the epicentre was.
It felt like being on a ship in really rough seas and seemed to go on for a long time but obviously was shorter than it felt! We returned to work after the first quake but after the second one, every one was too jumpy and nervous so we all went home to watch the tragedy unfold. People wanted to be with their families if anything else happened.
Last night, we put off going to bed in a way. Some watched the news in horror. Kopila and I tried to busy ourselves with things that needed to be done, orders to write up, talks to prepare, anything to put off going to bed and waiting. We kept reading the Samunnat Facebook page and all the messages of love and support. Cried. We all slept downstairs, piling into two rooms. And this morning, there was that initial sense of Was that a nightmare? and then the horrible reality that in this country I love so much, there is so much loss of life and destruction. The death toll is 1500 and rising and magnificent history crumbled and lost.
I must confess that I am glad I am not heading to Kathmandu immediately. In both the office building and the home here, we have an open field opposite and are not surrounded by high buildings. We will work today. Government offices will be shut for three days but the thought of sitting around fearfully waiting, as one of our supporters on email aptly described it, is too awful. We will keep going and just hope that recovery can be underway soon.
Thank you everyone for caring.
In the past year, I’ve been to three weddings. Two were for for my darling girls and two took place within three weeks. The contrast between these latest two, one in Australia and one in Nepal, was huge. My daughters’ weddings were relatively small, joyful events which were times of celebration and connection. I was often asked how I was coping with the stress of being mother of the bride and I had to answer truthfully. There was none. No stress. These girls were their usual delightful selves throughout the whole process. I think they had taken to heart their father’s oft repeated observation that sometimes the length of a marriage is inversely proportional to the elaborateness of wedding preparations.
Also, they had managed to find delightful blokes to marry without me having to arrange it! In Nepal, the majority of marriages are still most definitely arranged. There is a degree to which a young person can vet a parent’s choice but, especially if you are a woman, too many knock backs and you are in trouble. And if you are a woman whose engagement is broken (for whatever reason)…well, there go your prospects for marriage. It was good that this was not the case in Australia 31 or so years ago.
A Nepali wedding is a horse of a different colour entirely. Some observations:
1. Three days of a wedding is verging on too much of a good thing. And I only went in the afternoon/ evenings.
2. The women really know how to dress for a wedding. It was feast of colour and spangles. Magnificent. And, for all shapes and sizes and ages, saris truly have to be among the most flattering garments on this earth.
3. A Nepali wedding car is a joy to see. Real flowers and led by a group of joyously dancing female relatives
5. Dancing in pre monsoonal Nepal is akin to Bikram yoga. Except that you may be wearing a sari or velvet and jewel encrusted fabric.
6. An Australian woman of a certain age dancing enthusiastically at a Nepali wedding brings great joy to many. One small sweaty action can bring mirth and delight and result in more dancing invitations than age and temperature allowed. (Bring on those Canberra Bollywood dancing classes!!)
7. Many of the rituals centre around welcoming the new daughter in law into the matrimonial home. She is required to serve the large extended family a meal and then has ceremonial introductions to the storerooms, the kitchen equipment (like the grinding stone) and the family mandir (temple) where her regular worship will ensure the sustained good fortune of the family. To a considerable extent, much of her happiness depends not on her husband (who may head off to Kuwait as a labourer although not in this case) but her mother in law.
8. It was a joy and privilege to be a part of all these weddings but especially the ones at home! And clearly, I am wildly biased!
PS I haven’t got good enough connection to upload my little video to You Tube but will do soon!!
Tuesday was New Year’s Day and we, like most of Nepal it seemed, decided to go to Bhedetar, a ridge town north of my old home town of Dharan. We drove but everyone else was on motorbikes. Most of them on the one bike.
We went to Hotel Arun Valley which used to be one of few hotels and lodges on the ridge but is now one of many. In November, you can get views of Kanchendzonga and Makalu (even a glimpse of Everest on a good day) but we went to enjoy the food and get views of several thousand motorbikes. IT was also an excellent place for my darling hosts to take a few (hundred?) selfies with their new selfie stick.
After snacks we had lunch. Some of us thought the snacks were lunch and good golly, you’d think we’d have had that one sorted by now but the snacks seemed so…extensive. Anyway, we ate our lunch and our snacks and then headed up the road to Namje which used to be a tiny little ridge town further up a very poor road. Now it is a rapidly growing ridge town up a slightly better road. The attraction there was the atma basne gau. The place where the spirit rests. A beautiful place of Nepal’s national flower, the laligurans (rhododendron). It was also the place of many people attempting to walk up a path in ridiculously high shoes.
Two more highlights were coming home via Dharan where we lived for four years and going to my beloved veggie line. We bought mushrooms, chillies, saag and limes. Here was one place where not too much had changed. The other was swinging into the Gurkha Department with several thousand others. I bought some tonic (unavailable in Birtamod) to go with my Blue Riband gin. As it turned out, by the time we reached home I rather needed the drink.
To you all, Happy New Year and may 2072 bring health, happiness and joy.
The only predictable thing about the journey from Australia to Birtamod is that it will rarely be predictable. I had been warned that Nepal may be in the grip of a three day national strike on my arrival and indeed as we landed, the fact that I could see no cars on the roads confirmed this. Fortunately I had already planned to walk up to the domestic terminal. Motorcycles were allowed in some places so I was greeted at Biratnagar by mero bhai haru (my Nepali brothers) and a friend on two motorbikes.They escorted me and my bag to Dharan where we would stay over night. Even after over 30 hours of travel, I enjoyed the ride back to the place we’d lived for nearly four years. Suffice it to say, reaching somewhere to lie down was truly excellent.
Over the evening dal bhat we discussed the plan to try to reach Birtamod the next day which included the hire of an ambulance, feigned illness; real prescriptions and a high level of slightly desperate optimism. As it turned out we didn’t have to resort to subterfuge or off road travel as the national strike was stopped after one day. There was some concern regarding our driver who’d had a big night the night before but I comforted myself that he wasn’t attempting to use a mobile phone so was probably functioning similarly to drivers talking on phones. Twice we got a bit nervy when traffic slowed; once when a tree was felled somewhat thoughtlessly and secondly when the police called our driver over and he nervously searched for his license which he had apparently used as a bond to obtain drink the night before. Fortunately, the police didn’t want to see the license but were letting us know about our need for a police escort for a short distance as a different group decided whether they were going to implement strike behaviour. It was a cosy trip given that there were 8 of us in a tiny vehicle but that is pretty normal! I had a bony nine year old on my lap and the driver was totally comfortable.
And now here I am. About to have a mustard oil hair massage, hot milk to drink, and a really long deep sleep!