Sunday, 21 January 2018

Surviving an earthquake

I thought I understood the impact of an earthquake. My last visit here was three months after the devastating earthquake in 2015 - and I saw for myself the fields of tents in Kathmandu, where families had nothing but a flimsy tarpaulin between them and the monsoon. I saw the crumpled temples in Durbur Square, the sacred Boudnath held up by scaffolding. I met one of my guides, with a brave smile failing to hide his worries about the cracks that made his home uninhabitable for him and his young family. (Many of you will have contributed to help him rebuild it - more of that another time).

But last week, in the middle of celebrations in a school in Thulaswara, a small village in the hills north of Pokhara, I got the glimpse of how shallow my understanding had been. Even now I understand no more than a nanodrop.

For one minute we were asked to stand and remember those who died. There we stood, the might of the snow-capped Himalayas behind us and the sky a deep summer-blue, to remember. That’s where I saw it - etched on the lined faces of the old women, in the old man leaning on his stick, even the children stunned into silence as they remembered the events of that day. And their faces showed, not memories of buildings collapsed into dust and rubble - but fear. 

The very ground beneath their feet is no longer reliable. In a few terrifying minutes they learned that the  foundation on which they build homes and schools and small farms and temples, on which they teach their children to walk, can rumble and heave and reduce their lives to nothing.

Yes, temples and homes still need to be rebuilt. But that feeling, that fear, was stamped on every face, that day, in the sweet January sunshine. And what I noticed, what I felt, is nothing compared with the feelings these brave people live with every day.


  1. As you say, Jo, an earthquake rattles the very foundations of people’s safety and existence. It is not an extreme weather event and cannot be argued as part of climate change, so it has no rationale and cannot even be predicted. Poor people. You see it up close and very personally.

  2. What a sobering experience Jo. Their feelings must be shared by those that live on fault lines around the world.

  3. Beautifully written and even more thought provoking.

  4. So hard to read, so much damage, such courage as well. Thank you for writing about it.

    Earthquakes scare me dreadfully. I insisted my man turned down a job offer in Tokyo once after I saw a documentary of the swaying high rise buildings there only to experience a minor one right here in the Rhine valley six months later. Apparently, earthquake zones are all over the planet.

    I have since experienced one in Turkey - thankfully too far from the epicenter to see any damage but a long scary night under the moonlit sky in a mountain village with no outside communication until daybreak.

    My daughter lives in NZ where the earth shakes and quakes almost daily (plus volcanoes) and I stupidly have an app that informs me of every single one. She has been through several 6++ quakes and has become very blase about them and I calm myself with the belief that there, people and buildings are prepared and well equipped to cope. She works for the government in the most earthquake-proof building on the planet, so she tells me. And a far cry from what you are experiencing in a poor country like Nepal.

    There is growing scientific evidence that shows a link between massive, ie climate change related glacier ice melt and minor earthquakes.

    1. I think you need to delete that app, Sabine - NZ is good at earthquakes, she’ll be fine!

  5. It's something we see the effects of on TV but can never really know the horror or realise just how lucky we are.

  6. Thank you all - and yes, millions live in earthquake zones and live happily even though the ground quivers from time to time. I was in Ecuador a couple of years ago, and roads were build and cracked, rebuilt a cracked ... but almost all of the building are now earthquake-proof and people have found a way to live with the quivering.

    But there was something about this - people so poor that they have not only lost homes and schools, but also have almost lost faith in the ground they walk on - that’s the bit that hit me.

  7. I too have a friend whose daughter lives in NZ, in christchurch actually. My friend too has the app.
    My grandsons were on holiday in Greece last year, the boys slept through the quake but they heard all about it next day. On hearing they are going to Italy this year and that they have quakes too, 8 yr old Thomas said no thanks. Were still going though.
    I recognise that for people who have next to nothng already, to take away their trust in their environment must be devastating, turning all certainty on its head.
    Thanks Jo

  8. It made a huge difference to me to go to Christchurch NZ and talk to people there, I also realised that the main feeling was fear. I hope i don't ever experience an earthquake.