Durbar Square, Kathmandu, before the earthquake on April 25, 2015.
It was four years ago that we fell in love with Nepal. We traveled to the other side of the world with 12 companions all with the same goal: build two Habitat for Humanity houses near Dhulikel (about two hours from Kathmandu) for two deserving families. But we never knew our lives would be forever changed by the experience. Nor could we have predicted that an earthquake on April 25, 2015, would tug at our heartstrings as we mourned Nepal’s losses.
Eyes of Boudhanath Stupa
The New York Times brought the devastation to our living room with an article on April 26 by Ellen Barry: “Earthquake Devastates Nepal, Killing More Than 1,900.” But even as we write this post, the toll mounts as reported by Thomas Fuller and Chris Buckley: “Earthquake Aftershocks Jolt Nepal as Death Toll Rises Above 3,400.”
Something in Barry’s article truly hit home: Bert and I had been there with our Habitat for Humanity group and toured three of the four now-demolished UNESCO World Heritage Sites — “Bhaktapur Durbar Square, a temple complex built in the shape of a conch shell; Patan Durbar Square, which dates to the third century; . . . and the Boudhanath Stupa, one of the oldest Buddhist monuments in the Himalayas.”
Temple in Bakhtapur — is it standing? (Still searching for pictures on the Internet to find out.)
We remember visiting Bhaktapur on our second day in Nepal when families worked together to sift and lay out grains on huge mats. Following us around were ladies carrying strands of beads over their arms — until we finally gave in and bought necklaces whether we needed them or not. People seemed happy that we were there. And we, in turn, felt their pride — in their community and their buildings which, we learned, bore signature carved wood decorations not seen in many other parts of the world. But now, much is gone.
Ornately carved window, Bakhtapur
In Bakhatapur and in Kathmandu, sites we saw in 2011 are now damaged beyond repair or gone altogether. Like Trailokya Mohan Narayan Temple in Kathmandu where centuries-old craftsmanship of the Nepalese people in this once-frequented house of worship have turned to rubble. A loss that may never be regained. (For more before and after photos, click here.)
Losing temples, however, is more than just the loss of artistry. Whole communities in Nepal now find themselves without buildings that once were unifying forces.
Like this temple in Kathmandu where we happened upon a group of women lined up to pay homage to the gods they worship. One by one the women entered the temple, laying down strings of marigolds or setting plates of food in and around the ancient altars. We wonder now if the earthquake’s devastation has created more than a physical loss. Has it marred, at least temporarily, the spirit of a people known for time-honored traditions? Will the people return to worship? And where?
Women bringing tributes to a temple in Kathmandu
Even more devastating than the destruction of cultural icons though is the loss of human lives. And, for us, this loss in Nepal, a country struggling with many issues, has had a profound effect. It’s the people, you see, that bring us pause: like those who greeted us cordially, placing marigolds around our necks and smearing red paste on our foreheads.
Women of Nepal greeting us on the site of one of our Habitat builds.
It’s the families we met. And the stone masons who directed our work. And the children at the job site who trugged up the mountain to get to school each workday, but came back to play with us in the afternoon.
Grandmother in the family complex carrying water up the steep mountain from the quarry below.
While stone masons stand on bamboo poles to build the wall higher, one of the workers in Nepal talks about what we should do next.
Children next door to the home we were building in Nepal dressed and ready for school.
We’re also wondering about the school kids at Bhabishva Ujjwal Primary School in Kavre, about 45 minutes from Kathmandu — children who sang for us and showed us their classrooms and made us feel welcome. Did the earthquake affect them? Their families? Their teachers?
Schoolchildren in Kavre, Nepal watch as we pay a visit to Bhabishva Ujjwal Primary School.
We’re watching, Nepal. We’re reading whatever we can get our hands on and checking for tweets and Facebook posts. We’re listening for news of rescue efforts in Nepal and Mount Everest where hikers were caught in a deadly avalanche. And we’re supporting you with contributions through the Red Cross, UNICEF, Save the Children, and Habitat for Humanity, among others.
We’re thinking about you. A lot.
The daughter of one of our Habitat homeowners dressed up for the dedication ceremony.
For we mourn Nepal and wonder what more we can do.
For more information:
Barry, E. (April 25, 2015). “Earthquake Devastates Nepal, Killing More Than 1,900.” New York Times. Retrieved from: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/04/26/world/asia/nepal-earthquake-katmandu.html
Godlasky, A. (April 27, 2015). “How to help victims of Nepal quake.” USA Today. Retrieved from: http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/world/2015/04/25/nepal-quake-how-to-help/26361193/
Fuller, T. and Buckley, C. (April 26, 2015). “Earthquake Aftershocks Jolt Nepal as Death Toll Rises Above 3,400.” New York Times. Retrieved from: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/04/27/world/asia/katmandu-nepal-fear-loss-and-devastation.html?ref=todayspaper
“Nepal’s Landmarks Before and After the Earthquake” (updated April 27, 2015). New York Times. Retrieved from: http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2015/04/25/world/asia/nepal-landmarks-before-after-earthquake.html