Saturday, August 8, 2015


The new house

After nineteen months Maya and Mukhiya Gurung had just finished building and furnishing their new house when the earthquake struck. Maya was at home at the time.  Her first concern was her family.  Many schools collapsed during the first quake.  Fortunately it was a Saturday and the schools were closed.  Sonam, her older son was upstairs in his room, while Wongel was at the basketball court.  Mukhiya, Maya’s husband was at his club. Were they safe??

Mukhiya, Maya's husband

Wongel on the left and his cousin

It began with a loud rumble. The whole house began to shake. The higher the floor the stronger the building swayed back and forth.  The raw crunch of the two plates smashing together thundered throughout the house.
“I couldn’t move, I just held on,” Sonam exclaimed. After the movement stopped, Maya and Sonam, frightened to the core, ran outside.  Wongel and Mukhiya rushed home.
Sonam with his grandfather

 For the first four days the family lived and slept outside on the covered terrace of the school behind their house.  “We were even scared to enter the building to use the toilets. But of course, finally we had to. With so many people, the toilets eventually became plugged up.  Food was a problem too.  We were not going inside the house until the engineer confirmed it structurally safe. For a day and a half there was no food. Finally one of our neighbors who had some vegetables and rice cooked it, and shared what little they had with us. It was cold and there was a rainstorm that pelleted the building.  I just wrapped up in a blanket to keep warm with my family safely near.”
The school porch where the Gurung family and many other families crowded
together for four days after the earthquake before returning home.

After four days, the Gurung family put up a tent in their yard.  Then they moved back onto the first floor of their four-story house.  Maya’s mother and her adapted sister’s family were too scared to come into any building.  For ten days they lived outside in the tent.  After ten days, Maya’s adopted sister and her family returned to their home, and her mother came into the house.  It was the first time she had entered a building in 14 days.
Rinku, Maya's sister

On the fourth day after the first quake, Maya’s sister Rinku, and 12 other family members arrived, and stayed for two months. Fortunately, the house was designed with a first floor bathroom, and also a modern toilet outside, so bathrooms were not a big problem.  Unlike most homes in Kathmandu, which are designed with the kitchen and main living area on the top floor, the Gurungs ‘broke the rules’ and had the living room dining area, kitchen and a small guest bedroom and bath placed on the first floor.  This made it easier for all 16 people to sleep, albeit a bit crowded together, on the first floor of the house    “I was feeding almost everyone at least two meals a day. After the first month I was a bit worn out, but we got through the second month.” She smiled wanly. "Many of the local shopkeepers whose buildings survived did not take in anyone because they would have had to feed them.” I could feel a quiet, yet angry sadness fill her voice as she spoke. Maya was obviously upset, but she was already feeding 16 to 19 people everyday.  What more could she do?  

Soon after the earthquake hit, Mukhiya began working with his other club members raising money to build temporary shelter for those who lost their homes in the mountain areas.  He was either at their hotel, at his club or physically working in one or other mountain villages the club was helping.  "We raised $100,000," he told me. "Now we are going to work on schools." 

Copy of the green certificate a building receives if it isstructurally safe.
Note : It is in English not Nepali.
Now Mukhiya and Maya with their two sons are finally enjoying their home alone.  Visitors are in and out. They continue their extremely social life. However they are fully aware of the almost daily aftershocks, and that another earthquake could strike at any time.
Many families were not as lucky as the Gurung’s.   One family I spoke with lived in a small apartment in a building that had cracks on the inside walls of the building.  This building received a ‘Red certificate’ from the engineers, which of course meant that all the apartment dwellers had to vacate the building.  This family and their neighbors are now living in tents in a field with no sanitary facilities.  ‘How long will you have to stay here,’ I asked.  “We don’t know,” they answered, seeing no end in site to their plight.
One of our taxi drivers told us, “It was 11:56.  The rumbling and shaking started and lasted almost a minute.  I stopped my car immediately and rocked with the shaking.  People riding on motorcycles were thrown from their bikes.  They suffered head  and back injuries, and much body injures of all kinds.  I and another guy spent the rest of the day ferrying victims to the hospital.  We did this late into the night.  But the next day I had a flat tire and couldn’t help.

Another man we met, after saving for many years, had recently bought an aprartment for 140 000 rupees.  The building was in ruin after the earthquake.  He had been cautious enough to insure his purchase, but the insurance company refused to pay.  They said they would be rebuild the apartment building and the man would then be able to return to his dwelling.  After their survey of the land, the local government engineers said the building was built on a 'sandy' plot,  and they would not allow another sturcture to be built on the property.  The insurance company still refuses to pay, and currently the man is living in a tent in a nearby field.

The couple who lived in a big historic five-story house on an unusually large plot of land behind and across the little lane from the Gurung’s Hotel Ganesh Himal, is known by the Gurung family as Uncle and Auntie.

Uncle claims to be like a cat, because he believes he has nine lives.  A few years ago, Uncle was on the fifth floor of his house doing repairs and he slipped.  He fell the five stories on to the ground below.  Other than a concussion, which took months to heal, Uncle walked away from the fall without a scratch.  More recently, Uncle had a cancerous lung removed. He is now living with one only one lung. Then the earthquake struck.

Uncle, Auntie and their son were having lunch on the center of the fourth floor
where the L comes together. Their tenant who died during the quake was of
 the far left end of the house on the first floor.

Right end view of the same house after the quake

Uncle, his wife, Auntie, and their son were in the fourth floor L at the center of the house having lunch, while their tenets were on the ground floor of the east end of the house.  The far end of the building totally collapsed killing the tenets, but Uncle, Auntie and their son survived.   The building is now a shambles, totally uninhabitable.  Since the earthquake, Uncle and Auntie, with their son, lived in a tent in on a vacant part of their property for the last three months.  
The large field where Uncle, Auntie and their son
lived in a tent for three months

They have just recently moved into the ground floor of the five story house they are in the process of having built.  I was at first appalled by how they were living, but then I realized that their current living conditions were a firm step up from a tent in the weeds of their backfield.  As Uncle exclaims with a laugh, “See I have nine lives and I have only used up three. I have six to go. And although I don’t get any money from the government to rebuild my house, my property tax bill has been totally wiped out for this year.” And he laughs again.  This is a lucky man, who can see the world with such humor in the face of his recent adversities. 
The red side of the building is their new house

Uncle, a happy man with nine lives, standing in front of the
shambles of the building across the road  from his own propert.y.

Although I have not been up in the more mountainous areas the earthquake hit. This is where most of the Hotel Ganesh Himal employee’s families live.  These people work part of the year in Kathmandu and then go home for a two to six months break. But now most have no home when they return.  Their mountain villages are totally demolished, their family homes no longer exist, and their wives, children, mothers and fathers are either living in tents or in devastating circumstances, out in the open sheltered by a chicken coop or other out buildings that might have survived.   Some organizations (see EARTHQUAKE: AFTER 3 MONTHS above) have supplied corrugated material for roofing and other materials to build makeshift housing but it is all very basic housing and although it is shelter, these structures are not for long term living. 

On August 1st, my last day in Kathmandu, Anju, Maya, Ine, Rinku and I were walking back to the Ganesh Himal from Durbar Square and suddenly Anju said, “You know on the morning of the second earthquake on May 12th, my brother told me to be very careful because a Lama told him there would be another earthquake today, and there was, 7.2.” 
Ine, Rinku, Maya in the back, and Anju

Maya chimed that she had received the same information. Her brother called her from China the morning of May 12, and told to her, “to be sure she and her family were very careful today as there may be another earthquake today.”  Anju’s brother said a Lama told him, 'a Lama, who was studying some ancient Buddhist writings, found the earthquake prediction.'  Where or who the Lama was, neither Anju nor Maya knew.  They had also both been told there might be a third earthquake during the next two weeks. If it happened, they had been told, Kathmandu would be unrecognizable. 

Anju also told Maya, Ine and me that the local Hindus also believed in the third earthquake prediction.  ‘There would be a third earthquake causing major damage to Kathmandu but their time frame was a bit longer.  They must be vigilant until September 23th.’  I am writing this on September 10th.  The Hindu prediction has 13 days left.  I have not read any ancient books but my prediction is that the aftershocks will just decrease and all will be well.  Lets hope I am right.

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