It would take at least two days or more to do assessment in the Dhading District and it has been raining there, it seems imperative that we have 4-wheel drive vehicles to use in order not to be stuck again. My flight has been moved a day early as I could only stay for two weeks in order to return home to attend my children’s graduation. There has not been a great deal of medical need in the places we visited thus far. The only other doctor in my team left two days ago. Some humanitarian organizations have been able to fly in a helicopter to remote mountainous regions to do relief work far more efficient than driving or hiking for several hours.
This morning we made our way to the Ministry of Health to attend the Nutrition Cluster meeting. Unfortunately it was held at another location and by the time we got there they were deep into their discussion. We did not hear anything pertaining to Dhading District and so we left.
Several cows were wandering in the busy streets aimlessly. Here in the city, it would be hard to find grass to graze. One cow managed to wander onto a center strip where some grass grew. A cow decided to rest right in the middle of a busy street, being holy it would not be run over. Once I saw a few cows surrounded a woman peeling corn to roast in a street corner and they were enjoying a feast of corn husks. In the north towards China, the Nepalese believed that the earthquake was caused by the Chinese killing several snakes, one of which was likely a deity, incurring the wrath of their gods.
On our way back to Rokpa we saw many people running frantically into the center of the road. At first I thought it was a demonstration. The driver stopped and I felt the vehicle being rocked about but was not sure it was just the rumbling of the engine. However the birds were flying restlessly in the sky and to my right was a three story concrete building and it was trembling visibly. Then I realized we were in the middle of an earthquake. Our new driver chose the center of the road to stop, away from tall buildings so we would be safe if any of them toppled. The tremor seemed to last for a couple of minutes. When it stopped, the driver ran smack into a horrendous traffic jam; crowds of people gathered in the center of the busy street, probably the safest place to be since tall and sometimes precarious looking brick buildings lined both sides of the street. Later we learned that the earthquake was about 50 miles east of Kathmandu between Everest and the capital towards the Chinese border where we were at last week and it was 7.4 in magnitude. Several munities later while we were still in the vehicle, another 5.8 magnitude earthquake shook our conveyance again. It has been two and half weeks since the first earthquake. Ironically at the WASH meeting yesterday we heard that the relief phase of the earthquake was over and they were then moving into the recovery phase. None of us could predict what Mother Nature had in store for us.
Many shops were closing. The owner of a luxury mattress store ”Dream On” closed its shutters; at the bottom of which were inscribed: For the people who really dream big. The stores around the Boudha where we lived were mostly closed as well. Our hotel was emptied of occupants, everyone congregated in the courtyard. The rest of our team was safely assembled in Rokpa courtyard. Cell phones were jammed and internet was down. Our coordinator’s immediate goal was to make sure that our loved ones knew that we were safe. News came that several dozen people were killed and a thousand injured in this new earthquake. While standing there I felt the ground rumble again. My return flight has been moved a day early to today, the airport is closed right after this most recent earthquake. I retrieved my bags form my room and left them in the courtyard.
The children of the Rokpa Safe house spewed into the back courtyard. For the last twenty years Rokpa has taken in street children or children whose parents are unable to care for them and given them food, shelter and an education. Temporary tents have been rigged up and they will be sleeping outside tonight. Many men are busily chopping vegetables to make mo mo (dumplings) for dinner.
Later Sago, one of the street children brought up in Rokpa, now a grown man, kindly called the airport hotline for me; my flight is still scheduled to go.
I took a walk around the stupa one last time, almost all the stores were shuttered save for a few street vendors selling fruits and vegetables. The normally busy stupa region was quiet and deserted but the pigeons remained near the big tent in front of the stupa feeding on bits of grains. Several monks circled the stupa chanting prayers. I did walk counterclockwise for several feet a few times. It seems it is bad karma to do so. I remembered my first time at the stupa while hesitating which way to proceed, a woman grabbed me by my arm and steered me determinedly in the clockwise direction.
I do hope that Nepal will recover well. It has a very good health system at least in the few places we visited. The immediate response of rescue and evacuation was quite robust and one can only wish that food, shelters and medical needs will similarly be met as efficiently.