Nepal

In Nepal, there was the expected and the unexpected. I got more than I bargained for. There were more beautiful places and friendly faces – this I mostly expected. But there was tragedy when the deadly 7.8 magnitude earthquake hit on April 25, killing over 8,000 people and injuring thousands of others – this was most definitely an unexpected part of my journey. However, it led me to certain villages I never would have otherwise visited, and to new friends I never would have otherwise met. I witnessed the resilience of the Nepalese people, their strength in the midst of difficulty and adversity. I didn’t do much in terms of appearance or visible change in the two villages I visited after the earthquake with the intention of helping (both located in districts that were strongly affected), but I’m believing my presence made more of a difference than my hands. One must let go of all they can’t do and be content with the smallest things they can do. And as always, more was given to me than I could give to them.

Here are some of the highlights from the more than two months I spent in Nepal.

Annapurna Circuit and Annapurna Base Camp

I trekked for over three weeks on the Annapurna Circuit and Annapurna Base Camp (ABC), two beautiful hikes around and through a section of the Himalayas. This was my location when both earthquakes occurred. Thankfully, the area was relatively unaffected and safe, and I was still able to finish my trek, despite the natural disaster and some pesky blisters.

Here were some of my thoughts at the moment of the initial earthquake…

I experienced what I thought was a secluded earthquake right as I walked into a village. I could feel the earth shaking beneath me, and a Nepali woman next to me started crying, as her husband began to mutter what I assumed was a prayer, hands folded as he faced the mountain above us. Some small parts of their guest house even started to crumble. All three of us there were looking at the mountain towering right above us, anxiously searching for any falling rocks. I started praying intensely and soon the tremors stopped. It was one of the scariest things I’ve ever experienced.

Aftershocks and small tremors continued for days after. Later on the day of the first earthquake, I was to discover it was indeed not secluded to my area, but that it was much worse than anything I myself had expected and experienced, wreaking havoc in villages and Kathmandu. I knew that when my trek was finished, I needed to find some small way to help, to do something for those affected by the earthquake…

I can’t help but fight tears when I read of and see the devastation from the earthquake. People weeping from the loss of loved ones. Homes, buildings and holy sites destroyed. Locals without food, water and shelter. It’s such a tragedy, and I’m so close to all of it. I have to do something… 

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On the Annapurna Circuit.
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It was the perfect day for the Thorong La pass – 5,416 metres (17,769 ft).

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One of the many stunning views.
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Sunrise from the famous Poon Hill. The clouds made an incredible wave formation.
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Sunrise at Annapurna Base Camp (ABC).
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Day 22: “It must be one of the most beautiful sights and sunrises I’ve ever seen. Waking up before dawn and walking under the skies as they turn from black to gray to blue. The mountains become brighter and brighter and rays of light rise from behind them. The light reaches the peaks and slowly makes its way down the face, until finally the sun shows itself over the jagged peaks, illuminating the landscape. I was all alone, in silence, with the whisper of water and birds, and the white and blue to greet me. There are no clouds, only wisps of snow off the highest peaks. Below is a massive bowl of dirt and rock, above a panorama of snowy peaks. The sight warms my heart as the sun. I’m so blessed, so thankful, to be able enjoy the Father in this place, in this way. If this is any reflection of him and of home, then I will never be able to have enough of either.”

Ashrang village – Gorkha District 

Through a chance connection during a few days of relaxation after my trek in a town called Pokhara, I was given the location of a village and contact information of someone to get in touch with to volunteer there. For a few days I had been wondering where to go and what to do in order to help. I had no idea where to start. This felt like an open door, so I went to Ashrang village in Gorkha District. There, I spent most days helping tear down and move rubble/stones at a primary school, and at damaged or destroyed homes in the village. I also made many new local friends.

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Part of the destroyed primary school I helped at for many days.
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Villagers help tear down, saving reusable materials for a temporary cottage.
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After a few days of work, villagers start building the temporary cottage so school can resume.
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Beautiful scenery from the school. “We stare at the sky in wonder, in awe, wondering how we can be so small yet so alive, with hearts so full and eyes so wide open, able to see that which is so much greater than ourselves. The gift of living and breathing, loving and forgiving, knowing and being known, faith and hope, sun and moon and stars and skies, trees and flowers, mountains and oceans, rivers and lakes, rain and snow… Oh if we could see everything for the gifts they are, then perhaps the suffering from sin and evil would be quenched like fire from water, and we could lift our eyes from the darkness, doomed as it is, to the infinite and everlasting light that will never grow dim. We have nothing to fear in life nor death, for the ending has already been written.”
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A destroyed home in the village.
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One of the homes I helped at.
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“It’s time to get rid of the savior complex. I can’t help every village, but I can help one. I can’t help every school, but I can help one. I can’t do everything, but I can do something. I’m not asked to save the world, just to obey. It’s the combination of insignificant acts that accumulate to significance change. The work itself of moving stones may seem pointless, tedious and mundane. But my presence here and the act of service itself speaks far more than the seemingly insubstantial work.”

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We moved so many stones…

Being made from stones and mud, many homes in the village are unlivable and unsafe, even if not destroyed. Others are badly damaged, or almost completely flattened. From what I learned, most people just don’t have enough money to build new, safe homes. People have constructed basic, makeshift shelters (or “cottages”) for temporary use from salvaged materials, and people now have enough food and water. The biggest issue is rebuilding homes.

Arukharka village – Nuwakot District 

After leaving Ashrang, I again found myself in the position of wanting to volunteer but having no new leads. I left the village having literally no idea where I was going to go next. But, yet again, I seemingly stumbled through another open door…

…And it happens yet again. I step off the bus caked in dust from the bumpy ride. Immediately I come across a man named Raj,  from the bus, who asks me what I’m doing/where I’m going, so I tell him. It turns out he grew up in Ashrang and was just there helping out as well, and has a place for me to help out near Kathmandu…I prayed for this exact kind of encounter and I think this is an answer…Thank you Father!

Interestingly enough, it fell through and I didn’t end up going to the village he recommended, but ended up back in Kathmandu, where a man from my hotel connected me with some friends of his. So I went to Arukharka village in Nuwakot District. I stayed with a large family (an interconnection of grandparents, children, grandchildren, aunts and uncles, cousins, etc), helping at their home for a few days, and experiencing what felt like a very authentic Nepali lifestyle. I also helped another man in the village at his home for many days, and again, made more new local friends along the way.

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The adorable, youngest family member.

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The view from my home.
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My friend Mukunda’s cottage, who I helped for many days.
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A man (Mukunda’s father) plowing a terraced field the traditional way – with a wooden yoke and wooden plow (which has a small metal plate for digging up the earth), and oxen. Most people in the village are farmers.
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My friend Mukunda (left) working at his home.
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Dressed for school.
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I spent a lot of time playing with this fun little girl.
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My friend Mukunda and his family pose for a photo in front of the cottage.
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I spent two nights with my friend Dipendra, an English teacher at a local secondary school. His home, like basically every other, was also destroyed by the earthquake. He keeps a smile on his face in the midst of the loss.
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A few of the family members pose for a photo.

Life in the village consisted of some of the following: The daily schedule of tea in the early morning, dal bhat (Nepal’s main dish of rice, lentils and/or veg curry, etc) mid morning, tea or “breakfast” in the afternoon, and another dal bhat at night (basically, the same two meals everyday). Eating the same meal every day, twice a day, and with my hand (which I got quite good at doing). The women gathering grass/hay and leaves for the goats, buffalo, and oxen throughout the day. Kids running around with no underwear or diapers – ever – their butts and privates sticking out from time to time from ripped or low pants. Young children peeing or pooping in their pants. Kids playing with nails and sharp sickles and saws and hammers and anything else they can find. Their constant runny noses and coughs, and compete inability to stay clean for 5 minutes after a bath. Their biting and pinching. Their cute faces and expressions, shrieks, laughs, and screams. Breast feeding in the open. Plowing with yoked ox and a wooden plow. Building from scratch by cutting down trees with an axe, with only string and maybe a tape measure to plot the structure, along with some other basic tools – hammer and nails, shovel, hoe, pick, small digging iron, and hand saw. The “slower” working pace compared to home. The building materials and methods. The stone and mud homes. Getting stared at and being asked the same questions countless times. Not understanding anything being said in the home, and never knowing what’s being said about me. Being asked to so many homes so many times. Being asked about America. The raised voices, the slapping of children when they misbehave. The dense smoke that fills the house from the cooking in the kitchen. The cats getting smacked around when they get too close to the food, the dog being on a 3 ft chain nearly all day, and goats wandering into the house, sometimes pooping. Constant dirt and dust, never feeling clean and being able to keep nothing clean. The dried mud floors. Family members checking each other for lice. Washing out in the open in my bathing suite, often with spectators. The complete lack of space and privacy. The small cottages made of scrap materials that families have to live in, having lost their homes. Blackouts. Buckets and barrels waiting to be filled with water because you never know when you’ll have it and when you won’t. The resilience of the people. Their worth ethic when something needs to be done. Their friendliness and hospitality and genuine interest in me.

Kathmandu – pre- and post-earthquake

I stayed in Kathmandu on three separate occasions. Here are some pre- and post-earthquake photos.

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Boudhanath Stupa. “For centuries, Boudhanath has been an important place of pilgrimage and meditation for Tibetan Buddhists & local Nepalis.”

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The famous Durbar Square, historically a royal center of Nepal with many old, beautiful buildings.

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Durbar Square after the earthquake.
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Some of the historical buildings I had seen just a week before the earthquake were destroyed.

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Remnants of destroyed buildings around Kathmandu.
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Steel braces can be seen supporting some of the buildings.

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This used to be a popular several story tower, but it was destroyed during the earthquake, killing those inside.
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Temporary shelters.

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In terms of rebuilding from the losses of the earthquake, there is still great need in Nepal. Take a few minutes to research how you can help, and in what ways you can give. And continue to keep this recovering nation in your thoughts and prayers.

“…He does not forget the cry of the afflicted…For the needy will not always be forgotten, nor the hope of the afflicted perish forever.” Psalm 9:12, 18

“‘Because of the devastation of the afflicted, because of the groaning of the needy, now I will arise,’ says the Lord; ‘I will set him in the safety for which he longs.'” Psalm 12:5

“For He has not despised nor abhorred the affliction of the afflicted; nor has He hidden His face from him; but when he cried to Him for help, He heard.” Psalm 22:24

(For more photos of Nepal, visit my Facebook page).


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