Monthly Archives: May 2015

The one about the girl on the rock

Yesterday, Knows-a-thing-or-two-Wendy suggested a walk in the bush. As often Sign Nine Milehappens when Knows-a-thing-or-two-Wendy makes a suggestion, there was resistance. To-Do-Wendy pointed out all the other things that were more pressing. Couldn’t-be-bothered Wendy…couldn’t be bothered. Earthquake-survivor-Wendy (she’s a new one) had concerns about the possibility of the earth moving out there without anyone knowing where she was. But Knows-a-thing-or-two Wendy played her trump card.  There is something out there just for you she said.

At that, Needing-Found-Objects-for-the-latest-creation Wendy laced up everyone’sNine Mile 1 runners and said Let’s go.

It’s been a month since I was in Nepal running out of buildings. I ran from the Samunnat building at least 6 times over 3 days and lost count of how many times we ran from Kopila’s house. We slept on the ground. I slept in hearing aids!

The overwhelming sense for me was there is absolutely NOTHING I can do. Yes, I Nine Mile Rockcould run from the building (and I do know there’s some debate about the wisdom of this but I wasn’t going to risk being crushed) but even that didn’t guarantee I would not be knocked out by debris or swallowed up by cracks that we feared would appear in our safe haven paddy. We could do nothing except try to balance, hold one another and wait for the earth to stop pitching. And we did this several times.

The first earthquake was unexpected. With all the aftershocks there was fear plus the effects of lack of sleep and sustained hyper vigilance.  We had a cup of water on the table, watching for any signs that we needed to down tools and run. Some watched the endlessly repeated images of collapsing buildings or grieving families. Others circulated the rumours, the horrible, horrible rumours of the next massive quake…it will be at 7.00, or be centred at Ilam or will measure over 9 on the Richter scale.

There’s nothing like a good rumour to add to the tension.

I became the sour faced Yes, there may well be another one but we don’t know when girl. Like that helped.

I feel fragile. Arriving home before the second spate of earthquakes I felt guilty.Roos Events are BE* or AE*. I note the time elapsed since the earthquake. Friends report that I startle easily and I flinch at rumbling trucks or certain musical beats. I don’t sleep well and it still occurs to me that an earthquake might happen while I’m in the shower.  I reflected on all this as I walked in the ancient, scrubby country I’ve grown to love. Every now and then I’d wander up a rough roo track searching for the something I knew I’d find. Eventually, the sun broke through glowering clouds and I sat on a rock and thought I’m going to cry. But I didn’t.

Instead, I did find something…a sense of peace about how I am now. I know it is not normal normal. But two well-timed emails from others who’d had a similar experience (one far worse!) helped me to see that it is normal considering what’s happened.   I know things will improve. They already are. I slept better last night. Maybe soon I’ll get back to emails…..

*Before the Earthquake/ After the Earthquake


Full moon rising

Last night, lying under my mosquito net and an energetic overhead fan, I watched as a beautiful The Danu Sherpa and Higgins familiespurnima, full moon rose outside my window.  I reflected on the fact that it is just under 40 years since my first trip to this country when I travelled as a teenager trekking with my adventurous parents and sister. In astonishing flared jeans.  I’d really just wanted to go to Norah Head again to swim!

Instead, we trekked from Pokhara because at that stage there was no road beyond it, and I fell in love with this place. I came back to Australia, read weighty Nepali anthropological tomes by Christoph von Furer-Haimendorf and determined to live here one day.  Which I did eventually and still do…albeit intermittently.

It is now the very small hours of the morning on May 4.  In a few hours I will begin my journey back to broken Kathmandu and, all things being equal, home.  The new normal. Yesterday, I farewelled the incredible ladies with whose lives mine has become so intertwined.  We cried, we laughed, weOur lovely Sherpanis planned. We discussed the marvel of having a husband (in my case!) who cooks and cleans and encourages from afar. Aphle pakaune!  We discussed hot flushes, recipes, internal organs, and looked at videos of mero natini, Zoe.  We ate sweets and we talked about courage, about doing things even when you are scared. About being open, awake and strong and we talked again about a quote by Frank L. Baum my mum sent me earlier in the week:

All you need is confidence in yourself. There is no living thing that is not afraid when it faces            danger. The true courage is in facing danger when you are afraid, and that kind of courage you have in plenty.

So, in these wee small hours, nothing profound, just deep joy to be alive.


Nepalis aren’t just sitting and waiting

I lived in Nepal for nearly four years and continue to visit for months each year. I’ve been here in eastern Nepal through the earthquakes and the initial response. This part of the country has not been devastated but people have been extremely scared and very saddened by what has happened elsewhere. We have mostly had an internet connection and have been able to follow the coverage from Australia and around the world. And I must say, it has concerned me. I almost felt physically ill when I read about Hugh Sheridan and a film crew flying over for the celebrity reunion. And I am concerned about the message people are getting. Australians could be forgiven for thinking that Nepalis are sitting hopelessly, waiting for international aid to save them under a government that is corrupt and obstructive. This is not true.

At one level Nepal was not prepared for the earthquake, but at another level, Nepalis are very well prepared. As another Australian in Nepal, Steve, wrote to me:

The Nepali people are resourceful people… They normally live with a poor electricity supply… They live with an overwhelmed mobile phone system and intermittent internet – they are used to gas shortages, bus strikes, monsoon rains, bad roads, noisy streets and hard beds. They don’t ‘tolerate’ these things, they simply live like this. Before there was any earthquake to make things bad – they already lived like this. They live like this and rarely complain, rarely get angry. The water supply dries up regularly, the drains block regularly, the monsoon stretches everyone in every direction. But this is all normal for them. Sharing a bed is not rare. Sleeping on the floor is common. Making do, when things don’t work out is normal daily living. There is nowhere in the world that I have been that is better prepared for an earthquake than Nepal.

Let me tell you what has been really happening in eastern Nepal.

Very poor people are being very generous. Where I work, women overcoming poverty and violence are donating everything they can. Their cooperative is donating thousands of rupees. Instead of getting frustrated about international donations of food and supplies getting stuck at the airport due to Customs processing, people are doing it themselves. Within days, my Nepali bhai Binod and friends had collected money, contacted locals on the ground, found out what was required, bought it and delivered it. 250 tents went to Gorkha. Food parcels and blankets to Kavre. Tomorrow, he and friends are travelling on a truck loaded with family food parcels. Not impractical things but 25kg bags of rice, sugar, salt, oil, chura (beaten rice) and biscuits. Their food parcels are what the locals want and know how to use. Not tuna fish and mayonnaise. The trucks and relief vehicles will go to the track heads, as far as they can. They are being met by locals, often part of JCI or Rotary groups, who then take them, on foot if necessary, to where they need to go. Targeted locations. People know they were sent and know they are coming. The people in unaffected areas buy the stuff and the people in affected areas tell them what they want. Then they deliver.

These stories are happening all over Nepal.

Any of us who have lived here know that Nepalis are extremely resourceful people. The scale of this disaster is huge and shattering. But the problems are not unknown here and the country has been through this before. They are not solely dependent on foreign governments and international aid organisations to bail them out. They don’t need unorganised volunteers and foreign media taking up seats on helicopters and using precious time and resources. They don’t need rescue and aid efforts that are driven by what outsiders want to supply rather than what they need. These things are delivered best by using existing networks and the considerable local knowledge of local people. I have seen how Nepalis can mobilise and work things out in a crisis – and that is what many Nepalis are doing right now.