I went to my opticians for a routine eye test today and was greeted by a member of staff I hadn’t met before. She was probably around 30 years of age and small in stature. Her skin was dark and her brown hair long and simply, yet elegantly, styled. She was also strikingly beautiful with rounded facial features and rich brown eyes. As she strolled around the corner to meet me she smiled warmly and her face radiated openness, calm and honesty. Her face had the warmth of thousands I’d seen before somewhere. She was, I guessed straight away, Nepalese.
I didn’t want to suggest I had guessed her nationality for fear of getting it wrong but, when she saw on my notes that I worked as an expedition guide, it didn’t take long for the links to come together as we chatted and, when I mentioned my trips to Nepal, those dark inquisitive eyes shone as she confirmed proudly what I had thought about her nationality. She explained that she had come to the UK with her parents in 2006 although she still had a lot of family living there.
Of course any conversation with a Nepalese person at the moment will soon lead to talk of the earthquake and we were soon discussing the tragic events that have unfolded. My optician had many family members living in Kathmandu and she said, although all but one had now been accounted for, her grandparents and extended family were still living outside their ruined house because there was no safety in any buildings at this time. She said there had been hundreds of aftershocks and more were expected in the coming weeks (Community Action Nepal’s website reports that over 600 aftershocks have occurred since the initial earthquake and about 120 of these have been over 4.0 on the Richter scale). She also told me of her planned holiday home in July which she said, although still going ahead, would now most likely be spent helping her family to rebuild.
We also talked of the mountain communities and this is where I really saw her pain. Just like us all she had seen the news reports and followed the unfolding events. She knew there was a lot of suffering still to unfold. A new estimate I saw this morning suggested we may get to a death toll around 60,000 because so many communities are yet to even be assessed. A good example is the once tranquil village of Langtang. When the earthquake struck a huge avalanche buried Langtang and surrounding villages. The 100 homes and 470 villagers were gone in an instant and only 7 villagers (who happened to be away from the village at the time) are thought to have survived. How many other Langtang’s are there? Nepal’s infrastructure is fragile and the country will need a lot of help to get back to anything like its old self.
I have been to Nepal enough times to feel extremely at home there and that feeling undoubtedly comes from the people rather than the place. The cities of Nepal are exciting and bustling and the mountain areas are beyond compare – but it is definitely about the people for me. There are other places around the world I have visited as often and yet, as much as I enjoy my time there, I know they will never give me that same feeling. A few minutes in the company of the optician and I was reminded of that Nepalese secret ingredient. From the first time my optician had greeted me I was both at ease and enchanted. The same thing happens when I travel there. My Nepalese trips have provided some of my most intense life experiences (good and bad!) but, no matter how tough it gets, I always feel a sense of sereneness there. Nepalese people are special.
I know a lot of people who have visited feel it too. That’s surely why of course, as we watch the unfolding drama, the pain feels so intense so us all. I have felt emotionally devastated by many disasters in recent years, but this new horror seems somehow closer to home and harder to bear. The Nepalese people have shown so many people such kindness and so it seems, in their hour of need, they need our help more than ever even though they aren’t the type of people to shout too loudly to get it.
Their strength of community and strong characters will be a huge help and I’ve already seen how communities have started the overwhelming tasks of rebuilding their homes and businesses by hand, but the world needs to get behind them too. The UK has strong historic links with Nepal and, of course, many Nepalese have given their lives for us in their service as Gurkha’s. Similarly, many Sherpas and porters have died while helping to feed our passion for mountain adventure.
So we must look both to our government and ourselves to join the international community in pouring resources their way. Our government has so far pledged a £15 million aid package (which I understand may be the most offered by any country) which sounds pretty good until you hear that the UK apparently gives £40 million pounds of aid internationally everyday! If you make a rough estimate that at least 10,000,000 million of Nepal’s 30,000,000 population will be affected by this disaster in some way we are only talking about £1.50 per person. Hopefully that figure will rise in the coming days?
Of course it will be the UK population that makes the biggest financial contribution and it is great to see so many opportunities to donate money popping up. There are people planning individual fundraising events and all sorts of inspiring ideas. Locally, we are fully behind the 10 in 10 in 10 for Nepal challenge which looks like it will be a great event. You can find details here.
Of course, all that money needs to be channelled through the right organisations to ensure it gets used in the right way. Doug Scott’s Community Action Nepal (CAN) has a long history of helping in remote villages and is a well respected organisation with strong links within the Nepalese communities. If you were going to donate my advice would be to send it to CAN (their donation page is here). There are also some commercial organisation’s like Nepal’s Sherpa Adventure Gear (link here) who are doing a lot to help and the big organisations like the Red Cross and Oxfam have been very quick to respond (Oxfam donation page here and Red Cross page here). Wherever and whatever you give, it is surely going to make a difference to someone.
After the longest eyetest in history (3 minutes testing eyes and 15 minutes talking about Nepal) I said goodbye to my optician and I couldn’t help noticing those dark bottomless eyes glistened with moisture. How many tears have been shed for Nepal this week?
BTW - The photo shows the entrance to the Tengboche Monastery which I understand has been badly damage in the disaster.
Posted by Paul