Anyone who has experienced an earthquake understands the terror shaking the earth is as frightening as the terror shaking one’s soul. This natural disaster is a recipe to change people, yet three survivors have rallied together to ensure this dreadful experience changes them, and the Nepalese people they interact with, for the better. This inspiration comes from the Sapkota family where Samed, Lauren and Hallie (LouLou) met as airbnbers at Dil’s Homestays.
We invite you to support Dil’s Family Here: NEPAL HOSPITALITY- Rebuilding Dil’s Leveled Village Jyamrunz
The outpouring of hospitality Dil Sapkota, his family, and all the Nepalese people have shared with us is beyond words. At the instance of the first 7.9 quake, Lauren and Hallie were just settling down for a nap at Dil’s house after a 24 hour journey from Rishikesh, India to Katmandu, Nepal. Samed, was cliff side en route to a mountain village located near Gorkha, the epicenter, when the tremors began. While Diwas, Dil’s son, bravely escorted Lauren and me out of the house to safety in a nearby field, Samed garnered the courage to make a ten hour trek with strangers back to Dil’s house. The three of us united after dark underneath the makeshift shelter where 100 neighbors piled on top of each other for the long night ahead. From that moment on, we endured 79 more hours of aftershocks, two of which registered 6.7 and 5.2 on the Richter scale. From our experience surviving this devastating quake and interacting with the resilient Nepali people, these are our 7.9 ‘quake-aways’ for the better:
Some people panic in life threatening situations- which is understandable. But we quickly learned if we remained calm, took deep breaths, and smiled through the tremors, people around us would calm too.
Dil’s family could not have gone father out of their way to make sure Lauren, Samed and I were comfortable. Only 5 hours after the first quake hit, under the makeshift tent shelter, Madhu, Dil’s wife, and our Nepalese mother equivalent, served us dinner as if we were seated at the living room table. This hospitable attitude and sacrifice in the kitchen to provide us an outrageously delicious meal leaves us speechless. Her willpower to bring us beyond the earthquake and to experience Nepalese food, despite the conditions, inspired us. This ability to carry on life as usual, and even smile, and share dinner embodies willpower in the highest form.
Never in our lives had we worried where the next meal was coming from, and thanks to Dil’s family, we did not have to worry this time either. However, post-quake two million homeless Kathmandu families now had to search for food that would not be prepared in their home kitchens. The Nepali government took over three days to start serving food and providing aid. Walking through the city, we understood what hunger felt like and vowed to be grateful for the food in front of us. Even a week later, villages which have been leveled, such as Jyamrunz where Dil grew up, have yet to receive food and water.
With electricity out for days, no water pump, and only 500 gallons of water, we adapted to not showering. We joked about the plethora of products stored in our home showers. We thanked dill profusely for the water bucket he set aside for each of us. We doused ourselves in deodorant and perfume, and we enjoyed being with each other, pheromones flowing, because that’s all that really matters. Dil’s daughter Manisha turned 17 three days post-quake. For her birthday, Dil boiled water, so she could take a warm bath and feel clean: A gift which humbled us all.
We are all humans. We all need food, water, and sleep to survive. The beauty which comes from disaster is that this human element awakens when you are all relying on each other in survival mode, and this was especially apparent that first night, when sleep fell upon us all. All the neighbors came together…literally. Under a makeshift tarp and bamboo tent, we “slept”100 bodies twisted and spooned across a 250 sq. ft. area. If you need to be warm do this: Grab a partner, sit on your knees in thunderbolt pose… Have your partner sit facing you, but directly to your side then both collapse to your inside, resting your heads on each other’s knees and hips. Your internal organs are protected and heat radiates between you despite the chili outside air. Everyone spooning you on other sides helps too. If you are warm, your mind is left to the hierarchy of other thoughts. And something special happens when an entire village is touching. We will never again take space for granted, and remember this night warm and safe with each other.
As backpackers, Lauren, Samed and I already had an understanding of minimalism; Survivalism was new to us however. When it was safe to head back into the house, we efficiently packed survival packs to grab in case another quake hit and all of our “stuff” would be gone. How many times had we sat in a bar and asked friends, so if you were stranded on an island…what would you bring? Acting this out in real life is a sinking feeling. In my small backpack I fit mixed nuts, biscuits, and shaved coconut (all the food on me), a liter of water (all the water on me), a sweater, 2 shawls, wool socks, (hot during day, cold at night) deodorant, toothbrush, toothpaste, and perfume (seriously, I have the coco mademoiselle travel container and every ounce of my being loves smelling nice) my journals, a pen, my iPhone, the money I had left, and my passport. You learn to make do with little that you have. We all have a new found joy of possessions. Possessions can be meaningful to you, especially in an instance of survival. Whether you have a lot or have a little, appreciating what you have makes all the difference.
All we could think of post-quake was how can we help? We wanted to help make dinner, we wanted to help rebuild the brick wall that had fallen, we wanted to comfort the crying babies, and we wanted to help in the mountains where entire villages collapsed. Part of this helplessness feeling stemmed from having zero information. All power and communications were down. Anything to help would take our minds off of this scary situation. We were still guests in everyone’s minds and despite the earth shattering event that had just ravaged their country; these Nepalese people were trying to please us. The next day, 12 hours post-quake, we walked into the city. We passed UNICEF, and as grateful as they were to have willing American volunteers show up, they turned us away due to liability and training issues. At the US embassy they let us know USAID and the American Red Cross would probably be coming in a couple days, but for now, just return to your safe place. Helplessness settled in. So we passed a hospital. We felt somewhat glorified purchasing glucose and water from a local pharmacy and just making rounds serving “glucose pané”in the front lawns where injured families waited with their loved ones. As we served them this energy concoction, we felt somewhat relieved as we were contributing to society in some positive way. I know it’s tough for people to understand, but we did everything we could to help on foot, and sometimes just succumbing to helplessness in a time like this and letting the powers that be take over, is all you can do. We needed time to process our own emotions of surviving the longest recorded earthquake in history too.
Children are wildly resilient. We can learn from the kid that starts kicking the ball back and forth minutes post-quake or the group of younger ones focused on chess. Dwelling on what happened, or even worse, what could happen (and did), couldn’t change anything. We did our best to help in town at the hospital, but it was through moving forward with life that we realized we were helping most. When we arrived in Pokhara, the usually bustling tourist heaven was turned ghost town overnight. Countless Nepalese people thanked us for being there and contributing to society. Our big dinners and paragliding experiences were not only helping us process the tragedy, but continuing to fuel the economy in a town that needed it more than ever. When we arrived in Pokhara our jeep driver said, yes, I have lost my house, but it will be rebuilt, and we must move on. Extraordinary!