Journal Entry: Sunday, October 18th, Gatlang Rasuwa
“Upon entering Gatlang I was struck by the silence. Though a relatively large village, with close to 600 homes, not a sound was forthcoming as we entered. Dilapidated houses greeted our entrance and lone individuals picked silently through rubble, casting shadowy, forlorn glances towards Pradeep, Grant, Gukarna and myself. Young girls passed alongside our small contingent, carrying bundles of grass that dwarfed their small stature. We made our way towards the guest house which sat slightly above the rest of the village, the sound of our footsteps reverberated in the void, as we passed countless abandoned homes, many with beautifully carved wooden porches in the Tamang style. From the appearance of these houses, it was clear that their owners had once taken great pride in them, yet due to structural degradation, or simply fear, they now sit vacant.”
I suppose that, given enough time, some people might come to view this world as normal, maybe force themselves to say “this is just the way it is” and move on. A mental and emotional callus must slowly form; allowing individuals to go about their daily lives without the constant threat of a complete breakdown. Yet for anyone unaccustomed to such anguish, there is no way to prepare for a life which has been shaken to pieces. Coming from a comfortable life in the Pacific Northwest, we were about as unaccustomed as they come, and, for myself, such an experience was terrifying. Moreover, our job was not safely confined observing this overwhelming disaster from afar, but instead we were obligated to go even deeper, and delve into the lives of those who had dealt with such a scenario for close to six months.
And delve we did. For two weeks, our entire world revolved around this attempt to understand the lives of those we encountered. Our original approach had been a relatively academic attempt to clinically compile a mass of information which we would then sort through to create representative recommendations to the board of CCF. In the end, our methods, and horizons, broadened to include a much greater scope of interaction with those we talked to along the way, the communities we visited, and each other.
Our primary method of information gathering was simple conversation, and with a quiet wander through each village we came into contact with men and women, young and old, rich and poor, all of whom were overjoyed to talk with us. Often, even before Pradeep had time to introduce us and our work, many families would already have invited us in for tea. As such, a majority of our “interviews” took place in small tin shelters, over a strongly sweetened cup of milk tea. With Pradeep acting as both translator and cultural guide, we talked about their life since the earthquake, and most pressing problems as well as their fears, hopes, dreams, and plans for future. In villages such as Baseri and Kattike, we tailored our approach slightly to include questions specifically related to the aid provided by CCF, and to every single question, the feedback was inspiring.
Altogether, the results of these discussions were plain enough to recognize; the most vital need at this time was expressed nearly unanimously as shelter. Be it permanent or temporary, every single individual we interviewed said that shelter, for both the coming winter and year ahead, was among their primary needs. Many of the villages through which we passed are above the snow line and already experiencing temperatures close to or below freezing. The luckiest individuals in these situations have built strong, if drafty, tin houses, while others still attempt to elude the elements under improvised tarp tents. Yet when we asked what steps they might take to alter their situation, most simply shrugged their heads with a resigned “ke garne?”, what to do? Few have the resources necessary to rebuild a permanent home in the foreseeable future, as such, these structures are likely to serve as their housing not only for this winter, but many more.
This result is not a result of neglect from the international community however. Over the course of our trek we encountered the traces of dozens of small, medium, and large scale NGO’s and INGO’s who had delivered all manner of relief supplies from the standard rice and dhal (lentils) to tarpaulin and tin sheets. Those villages which had received more aid than others seemed to have very little corresponding increase in development/living standards. Surprisingly, it almost appeared to be the other way around, the village of Ghat Besi, which received the least aid of any other village we were able to observe, was by far the farthest along in the recovery process. Though 140 houses out of the original 144 had been rendered uninhabitable by the earthquake, every community member had a durable shelter, generally made of bamboo, mud, tin and/or thatch, while many had entirely rebuilt their permanent homes!
We have returned with mountains of notes, hours of audio recorded conversations, and thousands of pictures, all of which we now have the task of deciphering and determining their most appropriate application. Though we can never understand what these people went through, we now have a more realistic perspective of their situation and most desperate needs, and, as you will hear about in our next post, we have already begun to act on this knowledge.
Until then, thank you for reading and your support of our work!