It was with heavy hearts that we heard news of the situation in Kathmandu, just days after we had left. The very last thing that Nepal needed was a natural disaster, so close to the densely populated capital of Kathmandu and the tourist centre of Pokhara.
It seems another world away. Yet on TV, images flash across the world and we saw an image of our friends sitting outside afraid of returning to their homes. Many places we had visited moreover were devastated in the carnage.
It’s a world away from the comfort and luxury of Paris, France and our visit to the home of Claude Monet. The decadence of French nationalism is on full display in golden gilt shining brightly in the spring sun which couldn’t contrast more strongly with the dust and devastation in Kathmandu. The mandirs of Patan and the gumpas at Swayambunath in ruins. Thousands of lives lost and who knows how many left homeless.
My seven years teaching geography had covered the topic of natural disasters umpteen times. Students and I both enjoyed learning about tectonic plates and the effects these have on uplift, faulting and folding. It couldn’t be more removed though from the reality of living in a natural disaster zone.
Textbooks are very different places to the space inhabited by our friends and host family, sleeping rough in the streets tonight, living in fear of the next tremors to hit their dwelling places. The power of nature is overwhelming and entirely unpredictable at times. I mentioned the unsound nature of many of the buildings we passed by to Mishal on multiple occasions as we walked to our work each day in Kathmandu. It has made me grateful for the building codes and proper processes we have in place in our developed context.
These codes could never apply in a developing country context however, with a huge shift taking place as rural populations pack into an already overcrowded urban space. Concepts of urbanisation took on new meaning for me seeing it in process. This combined with the fault line that Kathmandu straddles and it’s not hard to see why this shake was so disastrous. The stark realities of richer countries suffering greater economic damage compared to poorer ones suffering much greater loss of life couldn’t be made more clear in my mind too.
Some of the Sisters family live in crude tin shacks that barely kept the monsoon rains out. Our house didi Maya would say when it rained, “I have to rush home to control the flood”. I can’t imagine the devastation that the earthquake will have caused especially to those living on the margins. We have heard news that all of the Sisters family are okay but the fragile infrastructure in place will be stretched to the limit in the coming weeks and months.
As I type, estimates of the “death toll” have risen to 4000 although these are just initial estimates and are expected to rise dramatically. It seems inhumane this “death toll” though. A number that loses meaning when removed from the human relationships and interconnections lost forever. Family members and friends lost in a senseless act of violence. Having connected with many Nepalese through our project, these numbers lose significance quickly. One loss of life is devastating let alone thousands.
Two years ago I would have blamed God. Reding Dave Andrew’s Crux, however has helped me this time around to see things differently. Rather than seeing God as removed and inflicting the damage, I can see in this circumstance how God is actually in the middle of it all with people as they go through this tragedy.
I’ll be reflecting more though as I walk the Camino, asking some poignant questions along the way. Any input is much appreciated as we reflect on the surreal horror of it all.