I am caught stranded on the second floor of my guesthouse. The building is swaying, continuously swaying left to right as if I were aboard an inflatable dinghy caught in an ocean squall. There is silence. Then, suddenly, a jumble of noise. The trembling shout of a mother is drowned out by the shrill cries of children. Pitchy voices competing with the yelps of street dogs. Through the window I see brick walls topple like Jenga towers. I struggle to maintain my balance. My heart is pounding. I’m confused. Slowly I wrangle control of my thoughts. This is an earthquake. Should I stand under the door frame or hide under the table? Instinctively I rush for the exit and career down the endless staircase. Crouched, I manage to escape to an open green space. I capture my breath. I notice my own trembling: the coldness. I huddle together with other frightened but relieved survivors. The swaying has stopped for now.
I had only arrived in Boudhanath today after a four day exile at Kopan Monastery. Before Nepal I had been wandering aimlessly throughout the world. Travelling had become a meaningless, tick-in-the- box adventure. The Pyramids – seen them. The Great Wall – walked it. The Grand Canyon – spectacular at sunset. Nepal was to be different.
I try to phone Sansar, a non-government organisation, at whose learning centre in Pokhara I had lived for three weeks. I hear a familiar voice but they can’t hear me. The line goes dead. Another unsuccessful attempt. The eight Nepali children living there with their carers, have come from remote villages to be closer to schools and have access to books, pencils and electric lights. Daily activities were arranged to bond with the children. Through painting, running, and basketball I shared with them the world I come from. The children, eager to learn, engaged in the activities wholeheartedly, with huge smiles on their faces. Education here is not an entitlement but a privilege.
They taught me too, and not just how to prepare chapatis or steam momos. By sitting down to communal evening meals, I gained a deeper insight into simple, family values and observed the genuine predisposition of the children to care for each other. They did not own over a hundred T-shirts or a wardrobe full of branded shoes, but instead they simply enjoyed each other’s company and looked out for each other. As a Filipino-born Australian, these family values had been instilled in me too. When did I forget them?
As I move away from the huddled mass on the green, to survey the cracks within the guesthouse walls, I cast a look back over the crowd. I see mothers cradling children; fathers comforting elders. Although homes were lost, concern is focused on the well-being of others. Genuine love and compassion is shared amongst family, friends, and strangers. The earthquake had not prompted these values in the Nepali people. These values, as I had learnt, were ingrained since birth.
The earth begins to rumble again. Without hesitation I return to the comfort of the flock. Silent, shaking and scared we wait.
~ Jesse Gerwien
25 April 2015 Nepal Earthquake