Nepal Earthquake – Kathmandu – April 2015

IMG_4174The First 24 hours

After a long day of shopping and sightseeing and saying goodbye to friends, we decided to have a lazy day.  We are staying with a local family in the Chandol area of Kathmandu and mama plans to teach us how to make mo mos this afternoon.  It was just about noon and Kristi was facetiming with her mom while I was doing a whole lot of my usual nothingness that I do when I’m on the internet.  Then I feel it.  “Earthquake!” I yell out and head for the doorway.  My earthquake survival skills have not been practiced since high school which was at least 11 years ago but I was pretty sure I wanted to be in the nearest doorway.  Then we hear Yogen yell “RUN! RUN! RUN!”  Panic starts to set in as I head down the stairs.  I turn to see Kristi has fallen (not literally) behind so I stop in the middle of the stairs to wait.  The house is shaking so hard it threw me forward up over the railing (almost at the bottom so it was only about a 6 foot fall.  It would have hurt but I would have been okay).  I somehow manage to hold on and pull myself back to the proper side of the railing as Kristi reaches me.  We get to the main level and stop in the doorway with Yogen and Sha Buh, all of us holding each other. It lasted about 2 minutes total but it felt like a lifetime.  We watched across the street as a water tank came crashing down, we could hear bricks falling and a lot of damage happening. IMG_3874

When the earthquake stopped, we quickly went into the main house to check on Yogen’s mom, uncle and aunt.  They’re all huddled under the bed in their room, rattled but okay.  We scramble out of the house to find that we cannot open the front gate. The earthquake rattled it so hard it’s now jammed. We found a brick on the ground and used that to smash the lock open. We then fled to an open field down the alley way. People are panicking and terrified.  We sit in the field and wait as we get hit with tremor after tremor.  Each one causing people in the area to scream in fear.  I can’t help but notice a big crack in the house right in front of us and the water tank propped up on the roof of the house in front of us. We’re told by some people that we need to wait in the field until 4pm and then it will be okay.  For 4 hours, we got into the habit of watching the birds.  If a bunch of birds took off all at once, you could be sure a tremor was right behind it.  So at 4pm we headed back to the house.  I don’t know much about earthquakes, so I wasn’t sure what to expect.  I half thought all of this would be over in a few hours.  Foolishly we went back upstairs assuming it was over.  Sure enough we were hit with another hard tremor by 4:45pm.  We bolt back downstairs and hear from Yogen’s uncle that they are expecting a big aftershock between 6-7pm.  We quickly eat dinner and head back down to the field around 5:30pm.  A dog in the area appeared to be standing guard barking at anyone coming or going.  However, if you approached him, he was very friendly and happy to be given any attention.  I imagine this is just as stressful for him as it is for us.  As we gave him some attention, he came and laid down beside me.  I knew that as long as he was calm, we were okay.  Sure enough at 6:45pm he popped up out of nowhere and started barking and whimpering… shortly after we were hit with a light tremor.  Hopefully that was the big one we were warned about.  We went back up to the house with the intention of cooking but quickly changed our minds when we were hit with another tremor.

We went over to the neighbors area where they had a fire built and cooked our dinner there. While we were cooking dinner, the adults were clearly talking about us as we understand their word for tourist and they said “Canadian” a few times.  Yogen told me they were saying that Kristi and I are very unlucky to come to Nepal and have to deal with this.  I couldn’t help but think that we were the lucky ones.  We have all these people looking out for us, making sure we’re fed and have somewhere safe to sleep.  We don’t stand to lose our house or our family members or friends.  As long as we can stay alive, we have it good.  We have families that can get us home if we lose our money. IMG_3875

After dinner, Kristi wisely suggests we put together a grab bag to put by the door.  Armed with a couple snacks, contacts, deodorant, rain jackets and layers of clothing we’re set.   After speaking with the neighbors, Uncle decided we would sleep in an area across from our house.  Most of the brick wall had fallen and we weren’t at risk of things falling on us.  It also had a really shitty outdoor, but covered, toilet that we could use.  It didn’t look very sturdy… I wouldn’t want to be caught shitting in here when the big aftershock hits. I laid there fully clothed, rain jacket and all, covered in blankets as the night got darker.  It seemed like we were hit with a tremor  every 10 minutes and I’m not even certain that the ground ever stopped rumbling.  The men had a radio and were listening to it at an obnoxiously loud level.  Then after about 2 hours they turned it off and started speaking very quickly.  We’re moving to the field.  They were just told that there is a 10.0 magnitude earthquake coming now! We grab the blankets and run down to the field.  For the first time in all of this I am truly terrified at what will happen next.  As we get hit with tremor after tremor, I’m going over in my mind what it will take to survive this.  What do I have to do to make sure Kristi and I can get home to our families?  Any time I had a negative thought, I stopped myself and repeated under my breath, “I am a survivor! I will get through this!”  Then it started to rain.  Again, some fast speaking in Nepali and everyone is starting to move… “We’re going back to the house now. It’s starting to rain.”  I stand there for a moment to process this information.  “But isn’t there a massive fucking earthquake coming?”  Sha Buh turns back to me and says, “It might but we don’t know for sure.” I’m starting to get frustrated. It’s around midnight now and I’m tired and my adrenaline has hit highs that it hasn’t seen since I played Junior lacrosse.  We were at the house for no more than 25 minutes when another heavy tremor hit and everyone is piling out of the house again.  This time Uncle speaks to the neighbor and they invite us to stay with them.  Assuring us that this is the safe place to stay.  I’m skeptical at best.  All this moving and the constant fear and adrenaline combination is really messing with me.  Kristi has broken down numerous times and I want to do the same.  But I need to stay strong.  I need to make sure we get out of this.  I just want this night to end. I lay on the floor in the tiny “house”.  It’s mostly just 3 brick walls and metal ceiling too low for me to stand up.  I don’t feel safe here. The family is doing their best to make us feel comfortable but it feels more like they are coddling us.  I don’t want to be coddled.  I just want to get through this as quickly as possible. Kristi feels the same. I just quietly accept anything they offer me because I don’t know if I can refuse anything without coming off like an asshole right now.  I lay wide awake on the floor in this shack counting the minutes.  Anticipating jumping up and running again.  Kristi isn’t sleeping either.  I still feel like the ground is constantly moving. I don’t know if it actually is moving or if it’s just my brain feeling like I’m still moving because of everything that’s happened today.  Same feeling you get after spending a day on roller coasters or a boat and you get off but still feel like you’re moving on it. I’ve had to pee for like 2 hours now.  I don’t know where the toilet is here and don’t want to wake anyone.  Kristi is just as awake as me.  Finally she says she has to pee too.  We wake up Yogen and tell him we both need to go.  Thinking we would run into the house quickly and come back, I am caught off guard when the rest of the family followed us up carrying blankets.  Again I take a moment to process the information presented before me and ask what’s going on.  They say we are going to sleep in the house again… I just don’t get it.  First the house is safe, then it isn’t. Then the area across the street is safe, then it isn’t.  Then the field, then it rained so we can’t stay there… now we’re back in the house?  I’m frustrated and upset.  All of the information I am given is 2nd and 3rd hand and I can’t hear anything from the source in English.  Uncomfortable, I comply again.  Knowing full well we’re gonna need to get the hell out of the house again soon, I’m hoping I’m wrong.  If a magnitude 10+ earthquake hits and we’re stuck here, all I can think is we’ll be fucked.  Sure enough we get hit hard again around 5am.  We refuge back in the neighbors house and I really just want to yell at someone.  I understand that they want what’s best for the family but this isn’t working for me.  I keep cool and continue to follow order.  Showing disrespect to an elder really won’t help anything in this situation.  The best thing for me then happened: Uncle and Auntie headed back for their home.  Auntie is supposed to fly to London tomorrow so they need to go back.  I plan to take over as much as I can with some structure and logic.  We will get through this!

Day 2

We were hit with a mild tremor around 10am and all seemed to be calm.  We relaxed in the house again, ate breakfast but I couldn’t take my eyes off of the clock.  Something is gonna happen, I can feel it.  As I sat around, anticipating… I had this awful feeling in the pit of my stomach.  I’m pretty sure it was just stress and lack of sleep, the intervals of running and feeling of the ground continuing to move.  I’m sure I’m not the only one feeling this way.  Finally after 3 hours of anticipating the next tremor, we get hit.  This is real.  This is also no tremor, it’s the aftershock.  6.7 magnitude.  The house is swaying.  Yogen and Sha Buh panic and run from the door way but they stop just outside the gate.  I tell Kristi we gotta go.  We run towards them looking around, I see nothing moving ahead and urge them to go forward.  We get to the ally and sprint to the field.  By the time we get there, the earthquake is done.  My guess is it was 30-45 seconds. Speaking with a guy in the field, he thinks it’s about magnitude 7 or higher but grateful that it was shorter in length.  He’s a doctor that lives in the area.  He spent a few hours at the hospital this morning but came back to make sure people weren’t in need here in the area.  He said to me, “Thank God this happened on a Saturday.  The weather wasn’t very nice so there were no kids at school and not many people had left their homes.” Another guy comes running down to the field yelling something out.  Sha Buh translates for me, “Another earthquake is coming and it’s going to be over 8.0.  Spread the word!”  Great! Last night it was 10.0, today it’s 8.0… when does it stop? Where are these people getting their information from? The Nepali news was reporting that the earthquake was 7.4 when it was 7.9… I don’t know how much information we should take seriously and how much is people spreading fear. Some people are setting up tarps in the field.  This looks like a smart plan as it’s likely the safest place to sleep.  Where can we get a tarp?  I tell Yogen and Sha Buh that the safest place for us to sleep is in the field.  They agree and we set off to find something.  We get some unused plastic for free but it’s long and narrow.  Luckily someone else was setting up a tarp and said we could stay under with them.  As I watched the local men start to set up the tarp, I tried to explain to Yogen that it wouldn’t work right.  They were sloping it the opposite way that the ground is running and I’m certain to get wet if it rains tonight.  Yogen tries to tell them but they don’t listen.  I just walk away.  IMG_3879Mama is frustrated.  There are very few stores open but the ones that are have been denying selling certain items or raising the prices 200-300%.  Some people’s true colors show. That night poured on us.  Yogen acted quickly and got our thin, long plastic set up all around the sides to protect us a bit but the poor tarp set up had it pooling and leaking through the small holes in it.  To add to the fun, we were hit with a handful of tremors throughout the night. That would be night number 2 without sleep.  I’ve maybe dozed off a total of 3 hours in the past 48 hours.  Exhausted but unable to drift off, I imagine this is how insomniacs feel.

Day 3

The next day, we were supplied with a new tarp and it was set up so much better.  Yogen, Sha Buh and I set up the plastic to protect us from the wind and rain coming in at an angle.  I also got to call my mom and check in with her to let her know we were safe.  We had a tame day with very light tremors, most of which we didn’t even feel.  We walked around the neighborhood checking out the damage.IMG_3895IMG_3928 Most of the area was standing though many of the buildings had some pretty serious cracks in them.  We did come across one big building that had collapsed.  It was an office, restaurant and home and there were people trapped inside.  We heard that the house collapsed yesterday and here we were at 4pm the following day and SAR was just showing up now.  It really put things into perspective that there’s just no good place to start right now.  The power came back on today and we were able to watch the news.  IMG_3941I found BBC so I was able to watch a little bit in English.  There didn’t seem to be any more warnings and there were hints that it was safe to go back to the house as long as you’re alert.  I figure another night in the field won’t hurt. The death toll at this point is 2700 and estimated to hit 8000.  I figure it will probably be closer to 10,000 because of how limited hospital supplies are and the fact that most patients aren’t even being treated inside.  IMG_3891

We need to wait 72 hours before we’re safe according to the information people in the field had. As the sun fell, I did my best to close my eyes and try to relax.  I wish I’d spent some time today removing bigger rocks from under the mat we were sleeping on.  As I started to doze off, we were hit with another tremor.  After it’s done, I close my eyes and try to relax again.  My body is beyond exhausted.  I doze off for about 30 minutes.  I wake up and there’s something beside me.  A puppy has snuck in and cuddled up next to me.  His warmth and calmness put me at complete ease, I dozed off and had the best sleep in 3 nights.  I think I got about 5 hours this night but it helped that there weren’t any tremors to wake me.

Day 4

In the morning I enjoyed puppy kisses.  Then he got up and left.  I didn’t even get his name.  We had breakfast back at the house and we managed to go tremor free all day.  I even had a very quick, ice cold shower.  Noon was our 72 hour mark.  Around 2pm, we were hit with some pretty heavy rain.  We decided to hang out under our tarp so we wouldn’t have to run in the rain if anything happened.  As the rain stopped a lady who owned the field came by and basically told everyone that it’s over and to go home.  I didn’t realize she was an expert on survival situations.  I told Yogen it’s fine to go back but the tarps should be left up for another 48 hours in case something does happen.  That night was the first night I actually got a full 7 hours of sleep. I sat up waiting to see if anything would happen.  9:45pm was the 24 hour mark without a tremor and I sat up waiting, just watching the clock.  I fell asleep around 11pm and woke up at 6am… our first uneventful night. Maybe it is over.

IMG_3942
Evacuation helicopters

Day 5

In the morning, we spoke with Kristi’s mom.  She had been talking with the Canadian consulate and they have a cargo flight that can get us out of here.  But there’s a catch.  The flight only takes us to New Delhi, India and from there we’re on our own.  They also don’t know if the plane will leave this afternoon, tonight or tomorrow.  Due to the rushed time frame and the stress of not having a plan or a flight out of India, we opted to stay here and wait for a commercial flight.  It’s interesting that we’re donating 5 million dollars to help in Nepal but there doesn’t seem to be any plan to help the Canadian people get home.  India isn’t home and we can’t leave the airport without proof of a flight home or by paying for a Visa.  We spent most of the day relaxing and putting things back up in the house.  Mama had gone out earlier and when she came back, she had masks for all of us.  She got word that there is swine flu passing through Kathmandu now.  Great! Now we’re being attacked by diseases that are irrelevant in the rest of the world.  What’s next? SARS?  Later we went to the supermarket and Kristi and I bought groceries for the house.  We we came back I went to put stuff in the fridge and found that it wasn’t on.  Yogen tells me it’s broken so I ask for how long?  He tells me one month.  I ask how much a new fridge should cost and he says 1500 rupees which is $150usd.  After speaking with Kristi, we pulled Yogen and Sha Buh aside from mama and told them they need a new fridge.  Sha Buh and Yogen picked out a nice Whirlpool from the same supermarket and brought that home to surprise mama. IMG_3991The new fridge looks good.  We told them it’s our way of saying “thank you!” for being so amazing to us.  I still don’t think it’s enough.  We’re just happy to be able to give them something that they need and can use. I personally hate materialistic things and avoid these gifts when I can.    That night we sat in a circle on the living room floor and made chicken momos! The power cut out about 30 minutes in so we made them by candlelight.  Mama makes them so quick and perfect while Kristi’s look like balls of mush.  Mine look even worse.  As we continue to make them it seems like an endless amount.  I think we made 200 momos.  IMG_3999Hearing noises and the dogs continuous barking has us on edge.  The family is worried about thieves but I’m more worried about the houses just giving out.  They’ve taken a lot of abuse over the past 4 days and every time a plane or helicopter flies over us, the house shakes.  Mama wakes up at 11:30pm and rushes to the doorway thinking she felt a tremor.  Nobody else felt it but I’m awake again.  Another sleepless night, I sat up until 5am and drifted off as the sun started to come up and wide awake by 6:30am.

Day 6

I attempted to get some laundry done but the lady wanted to change me 900 rupees.  I’m yet to pay more than 300 rupees.  She finally gets down to 300 but tells me it will be ready tomorrow.  I say if I have to wait for tomorrow I only want to pay 200 rupees.  We agree on 300 rupees and it will be ready after 5pm.  As we get back to the house, Yogen gets a phone call.  She won’t do it for 300 rupees.  We walk back to get the laundry and she is telling Yogen she has to charge us 500 rupees because they have to pay for water and electric and whatever else.  He simply says “Thank you!” and we leave.  He’s much more polite than me.  I would have told her it will be hard to pay for all that shit without customers and maybe if she had reasonable prices, business would be better.  I was also offering to buy new towels from her and willing to spend around 3000 rupees but she’s lost that sale now too.  We received a call from Foreign Affairs asking if we wanted to get on another cargo plane leaving for India sometime today or tomorrow.  We again decline as Kristi’s mom may have found us a flight out on Sunday or Monday that will bring us home.  We’d also rather make sure the family is okay and hopefully wait long enough for the father to return.  He’s safe but stranded outside of Kathmandu.   We spent the day out in town where I was able to get fitted for a couple suits that will be ready in a couple days. When we came home, we were able to pick up a really weak WiFi signal so I was able to check emails but it wasn’t good enough to respond.  It’s a start. That night I drifted off early around 10:30pm but we were woken up to a rumble at 3am.  We quickly got to the doorway and waited for 60 seconds.  We took a quick look around outside and made our way back to bed.  I was able to fall back to sleep but Kristi didn’t.

Day 7

We officially have a flight booked.  We leave Monday morning (it’s Friday today) and will be home sometime Tuesday.  I am relieved that we are officially able to get out of here.  Because we had a sunny morning, Kristi washed some essentials for us and we hung them up outside to dry.Mama heats up some water for us so Kristi and I can finally enjoy a hot “shower.” It was everything I wanted and needed.  I finally feel clean! After a breakfast of fried egg roti sandwiches, we headed to a nearby cyber cafe in hopes to be able to check and respond to emails and make a call or 2 on Skype.  10 minutes in, the internet cut out.  Just as the guy fixed the internet, the power cut out.  We told him we would come back later.  An hour later we returned. Worst. Internet. Ever! 90 minutes on the computer and I was barely able to check my Facebook notifications.  We went out after lunch and visited Sha Buh’s Dads house.  He wasn’t there but her step mom and half brother were there.  We then headed back into town in hopes of buying some souvenirs. This wasn’t really an option.  Many stores were open but they were all local stores selling clothes or things for their homes so we didn’t end up buying anything.  We walked around the outskirts of Thamel seeing some of the destruction.  We made it as far as Durbar Square… or what’s left of it.  There were lots of military personnel constantly telling people to move back.  IMG_4051IMG_3965

 

 

 

 

 

We did some grocery shopping before heading back to the house.  As we tried to drift off to sleep I hear something.  I look up and notice the hairspray wobbling side to side so Kristi and I hop up into the doorway announcing “earthquake.” The others didn’t feel it.  Mama gets up and turns on the news.  They are saying we’ve been hit with light aftershocks all day but I can’t say I felt any.  I look at the clock – 10:34pm.  I close my eyes and before I know it, I’m popping back out of bed to another rumble.  After waiting a minute or so, I go and make sure our grab bag is ready to go if we need it.  I look at the clock – 11:11pm… make a wish.  I wish this shit would stop. Kristi and I opted not to sleep.  We can sleep in the daytime when nothing seems to happen.  We sat up until 4:30am playing crib. Kristi destroyed me 14-5.  At one point she was only up 4-3… I couldn’t get a cut card after that.  Nothing happened while we were awake but no more than an hour after closing out eyes, we were hit with another light tremor.  Ugh

Day 8

Working off maybe an hour of sleep, we were surprisingly not tired.  Kristi and I made everyone proper omelets this morning.  And when I say “I” I actually mean that I scrambled the eggs and selected music while Kristi did everything else like cut up the onion and pepper, toast the bread and cook.  This little taste of home is really welcome right now.  IMG_4126 We went upstairs to pack the remainder of our bags and figure out what we can bring home and what we should leave behind.  While up there, Kristi’s phone connected to a WiFi network that neither of our tablets could find.  Yogen’s phone found it so he let me use Facebook.  While up there we did a bit of research on earthquakes to try and learn anything that can help cut our nerves down. We found out that tremors can continue months afterwards but as they move farther away from the aftershock, they should become weaker and weaker.  That said, it also suggests that we don’t need to get into a doorway every time we feel something but it’s okay to just stay in bed and put a pillow over our heads.  This should help us sleep better.  Though it still doesn’t get rid of the wobble in my knees every time I think about it.  We went and bought the best aloo paratha in the area to bring home and enjoy with lunch.  This is so good, it’s worth flying back for.  Plus it’s 20 rupees per piece! I could fill up on these for less than a dollar. The old lady was so excited to have tourists here and insisted we take pictures. IMG_3988We napped for about 90 minutes after lunch.  When we woke up there were more people in the house.  Family that had come to check out the damage.  Kristi and I tried to get our flight itineraries printed but the cyber cafe’s printer is broken.  That night, Sha Buh offered to give me a facial so I accepted.  While this was going on, Mama was teaching Kristi how to make roti because she knows it’s my favorite. Yogen approached me and said he has a gift for me.  He pulls out a nice old Gurkha Knife and offers it to me.  It is badass! I want to accept it but there’s a problem, I only plan to have carry on luggage.  I don’t think they’ll allow me to bring this decapitator on to the plane.  I explain it to the family and they understand.  So we do the next best thing: We take pictures! They dressed me up to look like a badass Nepalese man. IMG_4078Then they dressed Kristi up in a sari.  IMG_4095 We had some fun taking photos with the family.  The energy is much more relaxed.  After a 9pm dinner, we are exhausted and go to bed.  Sleep is much easier tonight but we were woken by some swaying at 3:30am.  It wasn’t hard but it felt like it lasted longer than all the other tremors we’ve dealt with. That said, I was able to fall asleep rather quickly afterwards. IMG_4094Day 9

Today is our final day with the family.  I’m not sure what’s in store other than my suits will be ready at 7pm tonight.  At least they better be because we fly out first thing in the morning! There is still no internet on my tablet normally this isn’t a big deal but when my tablet tries to connect, it uses all of the CPU to try to connect and everything else that I’m doing stops responding. I’ve been borrowing phones to keep people updated on Facebook. Good news is the family enjoyed our omelettes and asked us to make them again!  Sha Buh has asked us repeatedly to stay.  She’s threatening to hide our shoes.  As much as I love this family, I want a comfy bed and a proper shower more than anything. I think I’m gonna spoil myself a bit today.  Mama offered to make us chicken momos! I also was more aloo paratha!  Then I plan to get a shave before we pick up my suits.  Hopefully they don’t require any adjustments or I’ll have to get it done at home. Turns out Yogen and Sha Buh made plans for us.  We went out and met up with a couple of their friends.  We went to a restaurant to try local alcohol “Chang” which is basically sour rice wine that tastes as bad as it sounds.  I was poured a pint of it.  We then went to see Sha Buh’s college and where she stays when she’s going to school. She needed to get some clothes. They currently have a month off because of the earthquake.  Coincidentally enough, we were hit with another tremor while we were there.  After that we went to pick up my suits.  I won’t show you any pics but you can believe I look amazing in them. We didn’t have time to get paratha or for me to get a shave.  I was okay with that though, I don’t need someone to be holding a blade to my throat when a random tremor hits.  That night as we headed back with some groceries, Kristi and Yogen helped some lady break her padlock because she had locked herself inside her gate and lost the key.  We made momos for dinner, gave our family some gifts and went to bed.  Only a few interruptions this night.

Day 10 – The Evacuation

Okay so calling it an evacuation is a bit intense.  We made breakfast one last time, said our goodbyes to mama (not without a few tears) and took a taxi to the airport.  From there we said goodbye to Yogen and Sha Buh (add in a few more tears) and went into the airport.  As we checked in, the guy at the desk asks, “where is your China Visa?”  We explain that we don’t have one and we have a connecting flight to Canada.  After a quick phone call we head to security with our boarding passes.  Our flight home was interesting but that’s another story.  For now, just enjoy the beauty of the Himalayas! IMG_4177My Experience as a Whole

Though this earthquake was an insane natural disaster and an awful thing for the entire country of Nepal, I have a silver lining.  Kristi and I were able to really get to know an amazing Nepalese family.  Though there were horror stories of people looting and not looking out for each other, the community we were in became just that! A community.  Everyone had food and water, those of us who didn’t have shelter were offered spots under other families tarps.  One family invited us into their home when ours wasn’t safe to sleep in.  The people that we met in this experience, though scared for themselves, still seemed to put us first to make sure we were comfortable.  No matter what the situation, they never stopped playing “Host” for us. IMG_4128Some people said “it sucks that’s how your trip ended” but we’re not seeing it as a negative thing.  I have a new brother, sister and mother.  There’s still so much we want to see and do so we will definitely return to Nepal another day.

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