How lucky we are so safely tucked into a relatively unaffected part of Nepal during what, as far as I can tell, might stand as the largest natural disaster of this year. Buildings we were standing on lay in rubble, the death toll sits at over 8000 and rises daily and all the while we have glided through the storm so unscathed. From the first moments that seemed somewhat exciting each day has layered gravity to the circumstances of Nepal and with it we have ridden the wave. While we have managed through good fortune to crest the tumbling waters so much of Nepal churns still in the frothing abyss with fates still so uncertain. The mountains restrained in their destruction, Pokhara shielded us but there’s no avoiding a glancing visit back into Kathmandu to finally farewell Nepal. How easily we can book a taxi, check bags and simply walk away, if only it were that easy for the millions still stricken and homeless. Bodily we leave but our minds will stay in those churning waters for some time still, not yet freed from the tumult that connects us in some way to the lives of those millions.
So distant has been the destruction borne on our fortune of locality but the last legs of our bus ride into Kathmandu tear away the blissful ignorance so unceremoniously. We’d heard that 180 buildings were destroyed, relatively a measurable number in a sprawling city like Kathmandu. That estimate was conservative. Building upon building lies in rubble to line the road in loss while the rebuilding effort awaits a clean up that still has a long time to run. A man sits chipping mortar off bricks he might hope to reuse, a woman pulls away rubble from what was her home; we see no wailing or tears from these stoic people to whom fortune has often been unkind.
In this bravery and resilience Nepalis continue to amaze and inspire. Kathmandu is undoubtedly a squalid mess in many ways but strangely enough from a tourists point of view this is an improvement from the pre 2008 change to a government from a kingdom. Charlie travelled here 13 years ago and his impression is one of generally improved conditions; I shudder to think of the starting point that can paint this world as being on an upswing. Surprising it might have seemed on day one but three weeks in Nepal has left me with no uncertainty that Nepal will take little time to wallow before the rebuild takes full swing, slowly and manually; the only way it knows how.
Brave, stoic, resilient; all these words sit so comfortably on the shoulders of the Nepali people but those words alone would sit as an insult of sorts. It may seem a little glib but an insight comes to us through food. So often within means that permit nothing but the most basic of food we were treated with culinary delight. It’s just food perhaps but ingenuity, ambition and the love of life delivers such a clear symbol of not being content to just survive. A wonder it is to me why so many countries with such access to varied ingredients and influences often produce such rubbish food while a lady plonked in mountain wilderness can walk past us to rip a few leaves from her garden and in twenty or so minutes produces a salivating feast on the most basic wood fire. Against so many odds the need to survive is blown away as Nepalis strive and invent in the face of challenges that seem to not permit such adventure. It’s just food on the plate I keep thinking but how it got there speaks of so much more.
We take our final day in Kathmandu spending as much money as we can to shop keepers desperate to keep trading and feed families. We’ve donated clothes and money but the rationale that we can’t help everyone is cold comfort when staring into the eyes of the ever-brave now made a little less so. Our formerly bustling guest house rings to the sound of emptiness, Ram and his family have tough times ahead but still he farewells us with warm thanks as he ties a traditional white scarf about our necks for safe voyage. His city, his country is in ruins, his livelihood has all but evaporated yet with a stoic smile his thoughts are for our safe journey as we leave him behind in a world that now seems so less than safe. I sadly have to acknowledge I am unfamiliar with that sort of bravery and grace. My heart bursts in my chest for sadness and respect but it bursts in vain, it’s trapped inside me and I am unable to reach out suitably, he speaks a language of bravery I’m guiltily happy I’m yet to learn.
And so we leave, we take our ticket to safety leaving behind the greatest of tasks to those so undeservingly suited to the challenge. Nepal will build again and as strange as it is to say, I feel that the Nepalis will make minimal fuss in tackling a challenge they are so undeserving of. Of course no one deserves any sort of disaster like this however it’s hard not to feel a particular pang of tragedy for a people who’s lives are so often shrouded in struggle. the common expression: if I could save every one I would, has never quite made sense to me quite like it does in Kathmandu airport on the cusp of our easy escape. We’ll be on a plane soon and far away but our hearts will stay behind for a time. Nepal; we know you don’t need the wishes, you’ll get on in the way you know how but the world bares white scarves on our hearts as we wish for you a safe journey to safety once more.