April 25th. A day that is synonymous with kinship for all Australian and New Zealanders. Where we join together to commiserate and celebrate the lives of those who have served and died in all wars, conflicts, and peacekeeping operations. It is a day of reflection and celebration, from the dawn service at 5am to the final services at dusk. This April 25th will mark 101 years of this tradition.
Some 8000 km away, April 25th 2016 will mark an anniversary of a different kind. For Nepal, this day will mark a whole year since the birds became silent and the earth began to thrash with violence.
By the time the magnitude 8.1 beast had settled 8,000 people had lost their right to live and survivors were left to frantically rummage through the rubble in the hopes of saving the fortunate.
It was 11.56am local time and the rituals of Saturday were in full swing. The Nepalese work week runs from Sunday to Friday. So Saturday is a time to run errands and spend time with family. It comes as no surprise then that whole families lost their lives to this beast while spending quality time with each other, I don’t know if one can find solace in this or injustice.
The epicenter was 34km east of the district of Lamjung, Nepal and 15km deep. It’s shallow origin attributing to the violent nature if this quake. At least 38 aftershocks measuring above 4.5 on the richter scale, were felt in the 24 hours following the initial quake.
It lasted approximately 50 seconds but those involved will tell you that you cannot tell time when it stands still.
My friend Babu for instance told me his story when I had asked about the Dhunge Dhara which was situated about 20 metres from where I was sleeping.
Babu is one of those gems you meet while traveling. A treasure chest full of knowledge and genuine concern for your wellbeing while in his country. His is a tall and handsome man with an accent that may be mistaken for French and an aura of a sophisticated Italian. He usually dresses in shorts, a T-shirt and a red baseball cap. He is originally from the south of Nepal, a villager as you would say. I asked him about the gaping hole next door.
He told us, my American travel companion and me, about the Dhunge Dhara.
The Dhunge Dhara is essentially a communal bathing area. It consist of intricately carved stone water ways through which water flows uninterrupted from underground water sources, making the water “sweet”. Babu explained it with such beauty, something I cannot re-enact. At night the water would be warn and during the day the water would be cool. Providing relief in the hotter months.
This particular Dhunue Dhara had a medical centre next to it, four stories high. During the quake the medical centre rattled and swayed until the foundations couldn’t withstand any more pressure and collapsed into the Dhunge Dhara, taking with it 12 lives.
“Bodies” he said. “We couldn’t find them at first, but we knew they were there. People were missing, people had been bathing, and people had been at the (medical) centre. We knew they were there”. He sighed. “We used our hands at first, but nothing. The second day we managed to get…” He stopped. Thinking. He gestured a digging movement with his hand.
“A digger?” Sophia, my travel companion asked.
“YES!” He said with excitement. Forgetting for a moment the morbid subject we were discussing. He composed himself and began again, deep in thought. “The digger came. We found the first body, a while after a second, then more and more the further we dug.” I wanted to ask if he knew the victims, but I knew that was a stupid question. The pain on his face said it all and I knew we were hearing a story not often repeated so I didn’t want to push him.
Once he had finished with his re-enactment of the Dhunge Dhara he sat back in his chair, shook his head and closed his eyes. We were sitting in the garden away from the four story building which is his guest house. We knew what was coming. He looked up at the top story of his still intact home then turned and pointed to reception which was just next to where we were sitting.
“I was standing right there” he said as he lifted his arms and pretended to grab hold of something.
“As the place began to shake I grabbed the eves for support”.
Everyone who experienced the quake will tell you that 50 seconds feels like a lifetime in a situation like that. For Babu time went so slow he was able to look up at his guest house and see that his guests had come to the windows to see what the commotions was. He was barely able to stand during the quake and had no idea how they were still upright, let alone game to get so close to the windows. He yelled at everyone to come outside and take refuge right where we were sitting. They heard the crumpling and the screams as the buildings around them collapsed until eventually all was left was hysteria and clouds of dust.
For three days Babu took care of his flock of disorientated and traumatised guests. Tourist from all over the world. Japan, Finland, Australia, Brazil etc. Three days he sought refuge in a nearby university soccer field. After three days he found the anxiety, responsibility and constant aftershocks too much. He drew up maps for each in his charge and sent them off to their respective consulates, embassies and high commissions. He told me he knew they would provide better care, and be able to get them evacuated from his crippled country.
But unfortunately he, his family, his friends and his fellow countrymen could just simply get on the plane and disappear.
It took two months an engineer to give Babu the “all clear” for his premises, almost four months for power to be restored, and six months before the tourist started to return. Six month without an income.
We sat in silence for a while, each contemplating our own fate, our own experiences, and our own dumb luck. Babu was called away to tend to guests so while on the subject Sophia and I decided to go through an evacuation protocol of what to do in an earthquake. We pick out safe zones in our room as we were on the second story and basically boxed in so an escape downstairs to a safe one would be futile. We found support beams in our rooms and decided that would be out safe area.
They say you attract what you put out. If this is true we honestly didn’t mean it if we had known.
The next day, unbeknown to us then, but we would be putting that plan into use…