[HOT] A letter from Nepal

Suzan Reed suzan at suzanreed.com
Wed May 13 23:43:11 UTC 2015

I thought mappers may wish to hear a personal account of the first earthquake from people living there. S

Namaste, this message is from our friend, Andrea, who lives on Mañjushri Hill adjacent to Swayambhu. She has lived in Swayambhu for about 40 years, as we have. It's a good letter, and I want to share it with you. 
Love & Pranams, Billy

Begin forwarded message:

Namaste to all!

First of all I would like everyone to know that I am fine…even after having experienced such a traumatic day/s I know I'm very fortunate!  Hswaaving heard about natural disasters in different parts of the world for years; earthquakes, floods, avalanches, I now have had the karma to experience such a calamity myself…it sure has emphasized how helpless we are…it is mother nature who is in charge.  Since January the weather has been strange here, more rains at this time of year than I can ever remember…and, they have not been typical rains.  Often the skies would darken rather threateningly, the thunder and lighten at times shaking the earth and the houses, bringing fear to the heart.  

Saturday afternoon, April 25th, around noon, I was sitting in my house reciting prayers and the praises to the 21 Taras, the goddess of protection, of liberation, the remover of obstacles…as I started the last recitation of the praises, trying to visualize each of her aspects, my house started to shake…at first I wasn't alarmed as for years we have had tremors from time to time…but, just for a few seconds.  This was not the same type of earthquake I've known in the past…the whole house started to shake more quickly and violently…suddenly it was completely shaking and rattling with a strange sound filling the room…instantaneously I realized I had to get out of the house as quickly as possible, otherwise it might fall on top of me.  Up I jumped from my bed/ my seat where I pray and mediate, and leapt down my steps running into the courtyard I grabbed the pole of one of the corner prayer flags…as it swayed back and forth violently, at the top of my lungs I was shouting the mantra of Arya Tara…Om Tare Tutare Ture Soha…and watching the old house across the courtyard crash to the ground…dust and bricks flying, then the dilapidated house next to me also started to fall…so I ran to the middle of the courtyard.  Only the center of this house came down, so what remains is very fragile.  At the moment I am fortunate it did not completely collapse because if it had like the other across the way, it would have pulled mine partially along with it.   All living in the area, we gathered on the platform where our water tank is, on the side of the hill…everyone huddled together…I continued to pray to Tara.  After shocks continued throughout the day…there is a pole on top of the monastery which we kept looking at, it would immediately begin to swing when another tremor began.  Hearing of the conditions of all the houses and the monastery...we realized we could not stay inside our houses that night…so we began to set up an outside camp.  A plastic tarp was put up…there was a large piece of plywood to make as a base for some of us to sleep on and mats for others.  After things seemed to be settling down I went into my house, which amazingly was still standing and in quite good shape, considering the situation, however not in good enough condition live in.  Hopefully with a bit of repair…if there are no more large shakes from the center of the earth…we can keep our things there, sit in it during the day and set up our kitchen…of course this can only happen after all the aftershocks stop.  The stove and gas tank, dishes, what ever food and supplies we had were brought out so we could cook our meals beside us.  Saturday was a long day…the skies were very cloudy and it looked like it was going to rain the whole day…fortunately it didn't…giving those who survived time to get something together with others in the area where they live.  We heard on the news it was a 7.9 richter earthquake…not as strong as the one in 1930…but large enough to do a lot of damage…and many more people.  Around five I went on my scooter around the bottom of Swayambhu to see what the area looked like…in general it didn't look 'too bad'…unfortunately there were some tragedies in the area…almost everyone was leaving their houses and starting to make camps in open areas.  I stopped in to see my Nepali son Bachhu Ram and his family…he works for the Umbrella foundation.  This foundation has raised children from poor families, only one parent, those who had been miss-placed during the insurgent period, etc… The family and all the boys were fine and had already set up a tent outside in a safe area next to their house.  It looks as though nothing had cracked or was wrong with their house, so as soon as the aftershocks stop they thought they would move back in…a foreign seismologist has just advised them to stay outside for a month.  Unfortunately next to them a house had collapsed completely…the people of the area were trying to remove the rubble…this is now the situation here.  Next I went to meet a friend so I could find out about how all my friends were.  When Billie and Desmond, who was also there, saw me at the screen door…they were so relieved!  They told me so many people had been asking how I was…they were happy they now had a positive report…she's still alive and kicking and... amazingly her house is still standing!  After that I went back up the hill…and spent quite a restless night…many of the young monks from the monastery had come and set up their camp on the backside of the platform...aftershocks kept coming throughout the night…we all huddled together as the space was quite small…. fortunately it didn't rain! 

Finally the next morning arrived as I got up at five and was heading towards the house to go to my latrine in the back…a large aftershock suddenly shook the earth it was reported to be 6.8…less than the first…unfortunately, I think this also pulled some houses down.  I started to receive text messages from friends asking how I was, as everyone knows I live in an old house…cell phones were still not working, only messages could be sent.  From time to time we could hear my house phone ringing...of course I was not going to go into the house and pick up the phone as the ground was still shaking from time to time.  Later in the morning I went for a walk around the my hill…the top of the stupa below my house, one of the top rings broke so the top is lopsided…because of the brace placed on the top after the 1930's earthquake it broke at the same spot.  From there I went down to the parking lot…I had heard there were police and they were not allowing anyone to go up to Swayambhu…however, I managed to go unnoticed up the back side.  Reaching the top of the hill, I was shocked!!!  Most of the back wall of Shantipur temple was down, I had to turn around and continue on another way…the usual way I went to the stupa was also completely blocked by the rubble.  I managed to make it to the stupa…it looked as though a bomb had been dropped in the area…such destruction…the stupa itself only had a few mild cracks…but, the surrounding area was just in complete disarray, amazing only one person was killed!  All the old Nepali style houses had collapsed only the newly built ones were completely standing, the two monasteries were in horrible condition, at the front of Swayambhu are two tall Indian style temples, Agnipur had completely fallen down, you could not walk around the stupa, it was completely blocked in places.  We were so lucky that this earthquake happened in the middle of the day and on the weekend…if it had happened at night or on a weekday while everyone was in offices and schools and driving on the roads…the number of casualties would be so much higher, especially here in this valley!  Several friends came to see me and see how everything was…everyone looked at my house and couldn't believe it was still standing and looking quite strong…as I've always said…it's held up by prayers…and of course maintenance.  Fred, who came up to see me told me he had been walking along the side of a hill in a village area behind Swayambhu when the earthquake hit.  He was on a path that was narrow with a fifty meter drop…above an old Nepali house…the earth began to shake and next thing he knew his feet up to his knees were covered with the falling rubble from the house above…fortunately the tin roof stopped just above his head!  He told me he thought to himself…I'm really not ready to die yet…so he managed to get his feet out…some young boys came running up to him and asked, 'Baje (grandfather) how are you?'  He managed to make it back to his house.  He did have quite a few cuts on his arms, head, etc. but was doing well.  Before he came to see me, because he was so worried about all who he meets on his daily walks he went out to see how everyone was…he was very sad…so many of the houses down and two he knew were dead.  

In the evening there were rumors that there was going to be a 10 point richter aftershock, through loud speakers it was being advised everyone leave their houses and go to a nearby camp.  Suddenly my Nepali family, at five in the evening decided to move down to the lawn in front of the Natural Museum near the bottom of our hill.  When we arrived many people had already put up tarps, we found a place and settled in, then it began to pour for hours…miraculously we managed to keep ourselves dry…unfortunately many people left because they were getting soaked…that was quite a trying night, we were about 10 people and a dog under our rather small tarp…we curled up together and got a little sleep.  During the night another rather large aftershock came but only 5.3!  It seemed as though the force of the tremors were getting less and less…thank goodness!  In the morning I got up early and circumambulated the hill…got back to our tarp…and said I wanted to go back up to my hill, see the house and stay at the monastery.  I packed my things and found a place in front of the monastery to stay with half of the monks and all the nuns of our neighborhood…my house was still standing…actually I'm now sitting in my house writing this letter (Thursday).  That afternoon I went around the bottom of Swayambhu on my bike…there is a cremation ground at the bottom of the eastern side of Swayambhu hill…I was shocked…at least 30 corpses were being burnt, pyres everywhere.  A Chinese tourist was brought in…dressed in his jeans, shirt, and shoes…only a cloth over his face…his wife crying and a few other friends helping…it was so heart-rending…on the side of the road I stood for about ten minutes trying to make prays for all who had passed away…so sad…more powerful impressions of the impermanence of this life!  I was so touched…as I said years ago after an operation on my broken kneecap…as I was coming out of the anesthesia… 'our lives are nothing…we're like a candle, if the wind blows the flame is blown out'.  

Everyday since the first quake we've had aftershocks…they're getting smaller and further apart…unfortunately…or fortunately the rains have continued.  The monastery's water tanks broke during the earthquake so they lost most of their water, thus the rains have made it possible for the monastery to have water for everyone to wash their faces, dishes, etc. and they also keep the weather cool, so, so far not much disease has started to spread…when it gets hot…don't know what will happen.  However because many are still camping out…the rains are making it a bit difficult and dampness is not good.  I think all of you have heard and seen more about the damage of this country than me…the other day I did go to a friends and see CNN's newscast about the tragedy in Nepal.  I was shocked to see how many people are suffering…how many houses have been destroyed throughout the country…all of the major temples and monuments throughout the valley have completely collapsed…we're now thinking what in the new Nepal going to be like???  A person who works for Save the Children, Bob…I was informed by a college friend that Bob went to the same college as me, so I had emailed him a month ago saying I would to meet him…it seems we have many common friends…anyway he phoned to see how I was as several people had asked about me on the Callison Facebook.  During the conversation he told me that he had been to a UNESCO meeting…it was announced that all of the temples and monuments in the various cities were going to be restored exactly as they were…because they were fortunate to have plans that show exactly how many bricks, the size, all the information to reconstruct them properly…so that was very nice to hear!!!  Bob told me he had a lot of work in front of him…besides getting Kathmanduites in order…it was very important to get all sorts of supplies and help out to the villages which have been completely destroyed…I offered to do volunteer work for him if needed…let's see, first I need to get some sort of living space together for me, my family and the nuns of the area!  Hopefully we will be able to store things in my house and one of the nun's ground floor room…have a kitchen in each…but be camping out until we are able to get it together for the houses to be restored.  Because there has been so much damage throughout the country…we'll just have to see how things go!  Today I heard about some prefab houses…hopefully my friend's daughter will bring someone from the company to our hill to take a look at our condition and we'll be able to arrange something for our space!  I'll keep you informed...

Sorry for taking so long to get news to everyone that I'm ok…but, we still have no electricity…the phone landline is working so I've been able to talk with my friends here finally and receive a few calls from America, but I have no electricity, so I can't turn on my router to send emails…plus so many other priorities were there…and of course I can never just write a line or two…so that also takes time.  The other thing is I'm not technologically up to date…I only have a very simple cell phone…that I can only make local calls on…and when the towers are working!

I pray all of you are doing well!  And will try to write updates about my the situation here…I just got my camera and computer charged, so when I get my router working again I will send some pictures...

Much love to all,

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