So I made it through the first working week in Nuwakot. So far, it has been a trip. We are split into teams on a daily basis, and work on different sites. Typically, these are homes of people who were badly affected by the earthquake. The majority of work is breaking down of walls, and clearing an unbelievable amount of rubble for people who simply do not have the resources to do it themselves. (The pick axe has become my friend!)All the sites I have been on so far have the families living in temporary shelters, with their buffalo, goats and chickens nearby. The site I started on week is of a 39 year old woman with three children, whose husband was killed in the earthquake. It takes about 9 of us a week of heavy work on average to clear a site ready for rebuild, so you can imagine that for one woman this is simply impossible.
It is hard, dirty work, but so incredibly rewarding.
The beneficiaries cook lunch for us on site. This is where it gets interesting. In Nepal it is considered incredibly offensive to leave food on your plate. But in Nepal there also seems to be no limits to the amount of food they think we can eat in one sitting. I learnt this the hard way, but the best way to deal with this is to take some food off your plate onto a clean plate before you start eating. Not a day has gone by where we didn’t get served ample amounts of dal bhat, which is rice with a type of lentil soup you pour over it. We usually get this with a variety of other dishes and sauces. The beneficiary keeps walking around with serving bowls and the second you let your guard down they will sneak more food on your plate. It really is incredible how generous they are and how much pride they take in serving us. What strikes me is that those with nothing to give, give everything.
Life at the base is communal living at its best. It is a super well organised place, but with absolutely no frills. We are about 80 people on base, and live in what was previously a guesthouse complex. It is basic to say the least, but then I guess it would totally defeat the purpose of what we are trying to achieve if funds are spent to keep the volunteers cosy. We get breakfast and dinner at base. Dinners are cooked by two locals. Our work t-shirts are also rotated on a daily basis and a local lady comes to wash these by hand every second day. We have cold showers, and take turns in pairs to do housekeeping.
There is e-coli in the water (yum), so we take care to not get any of it in our bodies, even brushing our teeth with bottled water. We work 6 days a week from 7am each morning, with Saturdays off. I have seen more than one mouse and rat (in the base!) and there is also a red panda doing the rounds at night. I have a top bunk, which is supposedly less safe in an earthquake, but I prefer to be out of reach of the rodents! This might sound irrational, but those of you who know me well will know that I have previously moved house because of a mouse so this is the next best thing I can do to manage my fear.
Speaking of earthquakes: there has been two tremors since I arrived, both at night. We have an evacuation procedure which is prompted by a whistle. I have slept soundly through both of these, of which one was a 5.5 on the Richter scale, with its epicentre nearby. I was a little bit unhappy that my roommates didn’t think to wake me for the evacuation and had a word with my top bunk roommate, Gabe, who is this really lovely, crazy guy from Seattle. I asked him to please wake me in future when they all evacuate. To this he looked at me as if I was really losing my marbles. He said, in his very American accent: “Dude are you kidding me? I was lying in bed when I felt the earthquake, and I was like totally freaking out, thinking this is my first night and there is like totally an earthquake happening; what do I do?? I was shaking you by your shoulders asking what the protocol is, but you looked me straight in the eyes, shooting daggers at me, then turning around and carrying on sleeping. I was thinking, man she is totally chilled and here I am freakin out! Either way, I am out!”
So he has promised to not leave me again in a similar scenario unless I actually physically register movement! It was hysterically funny to hear his version of the story, and a blessing I guess to sleep so soundly.
The tremors have freaked me out a little though. I had to have a long hard think and a word with myself as to how I was going to deal with it. I came to the conclusion that I am here to help people whose lives have forever been changed by the earthquake of last year. I cannot live in fear of when the next one will be, it will cripple me and steal all my energy (which I really do need for rubbling). There are many different theories about the increase in tremors, but the fact is that nobody will ever be able to predict these things, and in the meantime I am having faith that I am exactly where I need to be. I am blessed to be able to experience this in a beautiful place with beautiful people.
That’s all for now folks, I will tell you a little more about the local community in my next post, but until then be good. And if you can’t be good, be careful. Wise words from my late grandmother.
Oh, and side note: Prince Harry is set to visit Nepal in March just when I am due my break in Kathmandu. Told you I don’t believe in coincidence!