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By Bill Willis 10-Jun-15
It has now been three weeks since our world in Kathmandu changed. Global plates, constantly in motion, get stuck, pressure builds, and then they slide in a lurching motion that stirs the surface, our world. We counted ourselves lucky. It was the weekend, it was in the middle of the day. Many people lost their lives, but it was not the predicted "Big One" that was going to kill into the six figures. We counted our blessings, but the "what if's" that were shared were wearing. "What if it had been at night?" "What if it been a workday?" "What if it had been a long weekend when our staff and students scatters to the four corners of Nepal: Langtang, base camps, Namche Bazaar." It could have been so much worse. By the time we gathered together as a staff 4 days later, we had to gone through severe aftershocks, water shortages, and a rising sense of uncertainty about the ground beneath our feet and the country we had come to love. We shared our stories, and bonded as if we had survived a battle. We were certain about what needed to be done. We set in motion our online learning for the families that were out of the country. We are a Google Apps campus and have been using Google Classroom since the start of the school year. We added calendar alerts for the parents to monitor student assignments. We setup a relief site to channel the offers of financial help from our friends around the world. We reached out to numerous remote communities effected by the earthquake. We found out what they needed, then using funds from our donors, we purchased supplies locally and we delivered them, traveling along remote mountain roads. Linda and I went on one of those trips, to the village of Balthali. First we traveled to the town of Banepa in one of the school's vans. At Banepa, we purchased rice, oil, and salt to add to the blankets and tarps we brought from Kathmandu. Everything was loaded into two Bolero trucks. A Bolero is a small heavy duty four wheel drive truck from India that is a popular means of transport on the paths called roads in Nepal. Linda rode in the cab of one of the vehicles and learned about post earthquake life from one the Balthali villagers. I stood in the back of the other truck, hanging on to the frame, not unlike I use to do when traveling to the landfill with my father fifty years ago. I bruise a little easier now and was careful not to bruise my painful ribs, I had injured the previous week, any further. The ribs? No, they were not injured stretching out to save a neighbor from falling into a crevasse as the earth split open. I injured them reaching for the TV remote while pivoting my overweight body over my ribs on the arm of an easy chair. The ride was up into the mountains on a small narrow road. Along the way we passed villagers harvesting the fields. The same work that saved many of them as the earthquake happened in the middle of the day. Two hours up the road, and the higher we went, the greater the devastation. When we reached the village of Balthali, we pulled into the administrative center. The village development council showed us their books indicating how the previous week's aid was distributed. We then unloaded our trucks into their storeroom. One of the leaders took us on a tour of the village. Over ninety percent of the homes were destroyed or severely damaged. He showed us the damage, and how the tarps that were brought on the previous trip were being used. Nepal is a collection of villages and every village has a story. Not every village has a benefactor like the school. Visitors to Nepal have often marvel on the sight of villages clinging to the sides to mountains. Now many are clinging to the edge of existence. The above was suppose to be the end of my article. I had done my mental rewrites and was ready to put thoughts on the screen on Tuesday night. Maybe with some uplifting phrase about the country finally getting back to normal. We had power, internet, and even our favorite restaurant delivery service, Foodmandu, was back up and running. On Tuesday we were enjoying a nice lunch of leftovers from one such restaurant that had been delivered to our house the previous evening. At the table we were not talking about earthquakes or tremors, but laughing about Catholic upbringings and guilt. Then it started shaking. Easy at first, then with a gathering intensity. Everyone went under the cafeteria tables. It was only adults as all the elementary kids were playing on the field. The shelter of my table was already filled with bodies and I only managed to stuff my head inside, fully conscious of my exposed back. It was a 7.3 earthquake. Again. Another major earthquake. This time it was a school day for us (Nepali schools were closed). There was a loss of confidence, a loss of sanity, but no loss of life. Training kicked in. Students and faculty gathered on the field. Linda and I were in charge (as we have been on many drills) of the ninth grade. Like all of the other grade leaders, we had our emergency bags. We took attendance. Each group either held up a green card if everyone was accounted for, or a red card if someone was missing. Every leader held up a green card. Everyone was safe. We set up the command table. We still had internet but cell service was problematic. We used email, our webpage, and Facebook to reach out to our community. Quickly everyone was able to contact their family members either by text or phone. The SMS service contract we use of mass distributions of messages was “offline”. The city was in chaos. People had rushed out of buildings into the streets bringing all the traffic to a stop. It was going to be a long day. We set up the tents (again) and passed out water and food. Years of preparation were put into practice. This school has been absolutely brilliant in its preparation. Eventually the roads were cleared, and the students went home on the school’s buses accompanied by staff members. The stress in town is beginning to show. Linda and I are fortunate have everything we need: power, water, internet, and shelter. I think we are developing "sea-legs" where we don't react or feel every sway of the earth. But people and animals are acting oddly. I saw two snakes in one day, I had never seen any before in Nepal. Stories of dogs and monkeys losing hair. Birds flying into windows. Our local cuckoo literally was going nuts. His call, rather than being a melodic "cu koo.... cu koo, was speeded up with no pauses between his calls, "cukoocukoocukoo". People are nervous. There are many more tents setup around the city. It is a city on edge, a country clinging onto the edge of the world. In three weeks, we get to hit the pause button. We will be taking our summer leave back to Riverside, California. But Nepal will have to move on. We will be back in August to help out.
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