That time we narrowly missed a natural disaster (Nepal Earthquake)
“So long, farewell, auf wiedersehen, goodbye!” Minh and Cate mouthed to each other from a growing distance as we entered the boarding area for our flight out of Kathmandu, the capital city of Nepal. Cate, one of our tour mates for the past 14 days through Tibet and Nepal, made it well-known that she is an avid fan of The Sound of Music. While she and our other new friend, Cheryl, waited for their delayed flight to London by way of Delhi, we went up in the air, blissfully unaware of any happenings below.
Five hours later, we were in a Burger King in Oman pulling up Facebook and saw a peculiar picture of a downed power line on top of a car back in Kathmandu from another one of our tour mates. Nepal was rattled by a 7.8 magnitude earthquake less than 90 minutes after we took off.
The earthquake that struck Nepal at 11:56 a.m. local time on Saturday, April 25th was the country’s most massive one since 1934. It brought down buildings and historic landmarks, cut off electricity and communications and took the lives of 4,000 people and counting. Nepal is among the poorest countries in the world and ranks near the bottom for earthquake preparedness: cities like Seattle and Los Angeles have been designed to better withstand seismic activity, but Nepal’s cities and villages are precarious houses of cards. Structures and homes made of brick or mud or timber quickly collapsed—if not by the initial wave, then by the resulting aftershocks.
Cate and Cheryl were in the middle of boarding their flight when the earthquake hit and were delayed another six hours as all air traffic in and out of Kathmandu came to a screeching halt. We feel relieved to have made it out with limited time to spare. This was undoubtedly the closest we’ve been to experiencing a natural disaster firsthand. Unlike hearing of such a tragedy on TV from the comfort of our living room sofa, this one perhaps felt a little too close.
Our minds keep flashing back to walking the narrow and busy streets of Kathmandu’s main tourist district of Thamel, trying to then re-imagine being there instead among a scene of escalating panic, fear and confusion. Why did this have to happen here? If it’s any indication of how much we loved our time in Nepal, we left with the first two souvenirs of the trip after ten months on the road. Are our friends safe? Over half of our tour group had later flights or were staying in Nepal for longer. Anxiety set over as we waited patiently for everyone to publish their statuses on Facebook.
As far as we know, all our friends are out of harm’s way, but it’s clear that can’t be said for Nepal. We will all reach our respective homes in time, but as the death toll and numbers injured rises, Nepal will keep grasping for lifelines for years to come. Even Haiti is still struggling to recover five years after their 2010 earthquake.
If this moment has taught us one thing, it’s that life is unpredictable. As we soak in new experiences and develop bonds with people abroad (locals and fellow travelers alike), we feel a growing sense of compassion towards others. We were fortunate to have had opportunities to make good money to quit our jobs to travel, opportunities most people will never have, and the last thing we want to do is take these privileges for granted. We feel increasingly compelled to use our money to help those who are less fortunate, which, despite lingering guilt for not being there, will go further than acting as two untrained bystanders amid Kathmandu’s rubble and debris.
To all our friends and family, if you have the means to help Nepal, please do so. International aid organizations, like Red Cross, Save the Children and UNICEF, are sending in relief efforts and need financial donations to deliver food, water, clothing and shelter.
If we had never visited Nepal, we admittedly would feel less sensitive to the needs of people on the other side of the world. Having just been there makes the news a reality far more difficult to digest, especially given how kind and hospitable the Nepalese are. This is a wake-up call for us that we are all humans together on this earth, and we always need to keep our hearts open to problems that happen beyond our own back yards.
Our thoughts will stay with Nepal as our journey continues.