Nepal: An As It Happens. A Guest Blog by Bryn Marsh

Bryn is an amazing individual…..He’ll probably hate my saying that, but it’s true.  He loves Nepal, but I had not realised the extent of his committment toward the country until last month’s earthquake.  He first heard of Hope+ the multi faith Community Outreach programe here in Liverpool, at Everest Base Camp (as you do). He has supported us ever since.  When the earthquake happened, my first instinct was to contact him.  I knew he had been planning to travel soon.  He was still in the UK, but was booked to travel the following week, and he did. 

He has been sending back these jottings each day.  I had intended to edit them.  To make them nice and neat and tidy.  But Nepal is not neat and tidy, and clearly aid is not getting very much further than Khatmandu airport.  So here are the first nine days of Bryn’s diary, unedited, as it happens. 

I shall attempt to post them on a daily basis from tomorrow.

Day1 and Day 2 Arrived yesterday. There may be little humour or wit in this account. Left flight socks and glasses at Heathrow. Typical! 4hrs in Muscat , looks and sounds a fascinating place. Mountainous desert- Moslem but with alcohol! 30min on 50C. tarmac in airport bus with about 80 Nepali migrant workers and no air con was interesting in terms of odour. Felt lousy on flight shouldn’t have left the cholera, typhoid, hepatitis and diphtheria jabs to the last minute. 3 westerners on plane (2 optimistic French climbers and me ), 4 women and about 300 returning Nepali workers -all that construction work for the World Cup no doubt. KTM airport great- if you’re into black comedy. Airport littered with aid pallets. Workers wandering round and nothing going anywhere in a hurry, if at all. And now to the Terminal! Immigration no problem for a change as no bemused tourists. Baggage Hall indescribable ,3 baggage turntables 4 flights in and the wrong flights listed on the board. My flight was not listed at all .So there were about 800 people scrambling between the different turntables and trolleys searching for their luggage. Saw 4 European Red Cross ladies in tears-trying to do good was not supposed to descend into farce before you had got through Customs. Got my suitcase by pure luck -it’s wrecked but a small price to pay for an exit from bedlam. Ominous mountain of luggage , 100s of suitcases, piled up near the exit, abandoned or never loaded when Tourists left in a hurry I suspect. Met by Binod, my mentor, a good guy and presented with a beautiful red prayer scarf, traditional I know but still touching. I’m staying with his family until we go to the mountains on Monday. A tenement block, very good by Nepali standards, but of course now with cracks in the walls, it’s certainly better than the tea houses near Everest base camp! -and I’m being looked after with the usual Nepali heart-warming generosity. Kathmandu, what can I say, you’ll have seen the T.V. pictures. It’s better than I expected – and in parts much, much worse. KTM has always been a loud, vibrant, cheerful, safe and totally chaotic place. It’s now eerily subdued,quiet and indescribably sad. A smell of raw sewage occasionally drifts past overlain with something indescribably rotten. Certainly the rats and cockroaches are overly evident, I suspect their bolt holes have been disturbed by the Quake. Full of admiration for this HiCap charity’s Chief Executive, Freda. After the Quake struck she refused to leave her Nepali friends and go to the Embassy with the other British. Sheltered for a week under tarpaulins in the rain,mud and flooding drains with about 400 Nepalis. Binod and I are sorting ourselves out today ready for the trip to Lamjung tomorrow.Then if all goes to plan (rare in Nepal) 4 weeks in the mountains,5 schools to visit,see what the damage is and do something useful-I hope. And a view I hope too of the sacred mountain Machapucherie. Bryn

Still Day 2 Long day sorting things for the mountains. Saw the impact of the Quake on Patan, which is neighbour to KTM. Trying not to write in cliche. Very few houses have not been touched if only in a minor way . There are whole narrow streets propped up by wooden beams, some with lateral beams stretching across between them. It is unnerving walking along these alleys. Suddenly you come across a house or temple that has collapsed completely . Friend Binod was able to recount the deaths in his locality. The toll in Patan is about 1800. The population of the Kathmandu valley is said to have dropped from around 4 million to 2 million as families have returned to their villages of origin to seek refuge or to make secure their traditional family homes . I have taken only a few photos – they seem to anaesthetise the tragedy and take the shock out of it. I don’t want that. Even more Day 2 Big Bang…. windows flew open and the house shook. 4.2 on the Richter scale apparently with epicentre too near to Kathmandu for comfort. Few more houses down but they seem to have all been evacuated as unsafe so no news of any casualties yet. At least it provided a more interesting focus for discussion than the fact that I’d got embarrassingly lost within 100m of Binods house. Pouring with rain now, thunder and lightning round the valley. A sight as awesome as it was in 1969, Irrational guilt that I’m inside warm, dry. Thousands under the tarpaulins.

Day 3 A day of deep frustrations-which I had anticipated and prepared for. Bad nights sleep in high humidity alleviated by a glorious lightning display on the hills. Awoken by the true sights and sounds of Nepal. Multi-coloured Buddhist prayer flags flying on mainly Hindu houses(no contradiction in Nepali minds). And on balconies and rooftops devout women burning incense and offering prayers. Morning ablutions : water then thrown down into the street followed by monumental hacking coughing and spitting over the same balconies. The first no doubt of many delays. We await funds to come through to purchase corrugated iron sheets for temporary roofing repairs in Bahandanda village in Lamjung. About a dozen families are homeless including the family fostering HiCaps 3 orphans. So the 2 day journey to Lamjung starts tomorrow -possibly. Still it seems I am to undertake some impromptu teaching later today. With whom is unclear . Went for a little wander. The hour-long queues of women,carrying every conceivable type of container, waiting in the heat for the emergency water tanker are very poignant. Saw my first overseas Aid packets, I suspect they were being sold, but that may be my innate scepticism. I have no proof and at least something isn’t rotting on the airport Tarmac 2 miles away. Day3 cont. Moderately productive. Impromptu lesson to local kids went down well -or they found me highly entertaining.As we were in an open courtyard an assortment of mothers and grand mothers came and watched. All the local schools are shut damaged and unsafe. Brief visit to Bhodinath Stupa a place I always find spiritually uplifting though I’m no Buddhist. It’s escaped undamaged apart from some superficial rendering. And then past Pashupatinath the sacred Hindu site, but we did not linger overlong. Fewer cremations now as the quake driven funerals have finished . But the holy Bagmati river is an unwholesome sight. Full of the usual garbage but this time street dogs fighting for the human remains unconsumed by the mass funeral pyres. The monsoon rains should wash it clean soon and carry the remains down to fertilise the paddy fields of the Terai and Indian plain, and to the Mother River Ganges. Then to Bakhtuphur on Binods motorbike. It wasn’t too bad a ride, he drives on the right side of the road most of the time at least on the dual carriageways anyway. Amazing undulations and crevasses in the road surfaces caused by the Quake. Bakhtapur is a world heritage site and devastated. As bad as the pictures of Bootle in the May ’41 Blitz. That awful smell of drains and putrefaction again. The Chinese are there in force ,the first sign of coordinated foreign aid I’ve seen. Rows of Chinese Red Cross (sic!) tents arranged with military provision, field kitchens and water tanks. No sign at all of our much (self) vaunted major U.K. charities and their professional fund raising. Hopefully Binod and I are off to the mountains tomorrow but without all the money needed to do the temporary repairs. I know that Freda is leaning on everyone she can for funds and Binod in turn is going to lean on the suppliers for credit. Have to be careful now otherwise I’ll sound as though I’m bleating ( which I am.)

Day 4 It’s Plan B today. Plan A never works in Nepal anyway it’s a mystical entity. The funding for the repairs is stuck somewhere in the system. So the orphanage part has been brought forward from the end of my time here and we visit and see what HiCap should do… Though we need to tread carefully corruption and child trafficking still go on,and more of that later. Forgot to mention another amazing storm last night lashing the homeless” tents. More lightning flashes in a minute than I could count. A humid sweaty night and no running water this morning. So out onto the street now for my open air open access teaching session. Sneaked off with Benita, Binod’s new co worker to visit TAV school in Pharping. No pupils because of the Quake and my old hut/house is now occupied by villagers whose own house has been destroyed. The schools a run-down and sad place-but then it was in 1968/9 – my VSO year and the year I grew up. Went down to Dakshinkali the Hindu shrine to Kali Goddess of Death and Destruction we walked bare foot through water, blood, offal and fly swarms. Benita wanted to make offering- and we waited while a ceremony with huge bells and drums was carried out. Benita queued with those with goats for sacrifice. Then there was a great screaming sound from a myriad of crows and the crowd around me panicked. I will never know whether I was knocked over by the rush of the worshippers or the rolling wave of the ground. A sheet of corrugated iron roof sailed past me. More cliche : it all went quiet. The queue reformed. And Benita went to make her offering. She is a fine woman newly married, in a tiny house now occupied also by her extended family and brother and sister – homeless through the first Quake. The drive back was hindered by rocks fallen from the steep hills and in KTM roads blocked again by fallen houses. The car radio indicated an entirely new Quake, not an after shock , 7.2 Richter scale and located east this time, towards Everest. Eeriest of all was that the road back and fields were full of silent people. Understandable as there were 4 after shocks the first 2 over 6 and 5 Richter respectively, no one stays inside. 37 dead so far and 937 seriously injured but that’s only in the valley and the count after 2 hours. So never got to see the orphanage this afternoon. Plan B failed too! But building the tarpaulin tents for a night in the paddy field was a practical relief-scavenged roofing struts from fallen buildings, bamboo scaffolding , plastic and tarpaulin and empty cement sacks to sleep on.Though we seem to have rather a lot of small suckling babies in our commune for any sleep.

Day 5 Won’t have much to say. 32 people under the tarpaulin -4 families. Not enough room for all to lie down in comfort on the sacks. 10 hours no sleep. It’s difficult to describe the dire impact of the unprecedented second Quake. The City was slowly coming to terms and community effort was restoring some semblance of normality. There is now a sense of apathy hanging over everything. 2 aftershocks at 2.10 and 3.05 a.m. were greeted with resigned silence in the tarpaulin paddy field while the crows and street dogs let off a hysterical cacophony. Even the irrepressible Binod is now subdued. Still no sign of any foreign aid. Schools shut by Govt decree for 2weeks because of Quake 2. So back to street teaching! Day 6 Brief. another night in paddy field must be 1000+ here now Dilemmas over whether to go to Embassy safe accommodation or stay w this,. Also offer of quake2 charter flight back Friday. Decided to stay w this on both counts earthquake made a strong bond. Wary though of decisions made on adrenalin even when there’s apprehension in the adrenalin!!. 44 Richter scale 4+ aftershocks in 24hrs after Quake2. All quiet now experts say it’s over. But the quake has induced a kind of madness here that’s infectious-difficult to be entirelyrational in Kathmandu . Off to the mountains today if roads are clear.

Day 6 cont now writing after a bottle of Gorkha on empty stomach so this may be frank -provided its coherent. Said goodbye to my 32 bed friends and was blessed by a grandma. Tear jerking. Nothing I did apart from share a paddy field and tarpaulin and fail through indecisiveness to bugger off somewhere safe like any other bright westerner. Bumped and bruised to Lamjung-what quake1 failed to do to roads quake2 completed. Staying in decent hotel one night, beer,hot shower(cold only reallybut has a hot tap) and not a cockroach to be found. Roller of emotions now, hope new tarp friends are back under cover, feel I’ve deserted them. Bought 168 sheets of corrugated iron with Binod , in Besashawer . Barburam who lost his house altogether says it will roof 7 most damaged houses in Bahundanda where I’m going. Feel much better for actually doing something Delivered Tomorrow -we will see! Then found about 200 x 2 bales of British DFED tarpaulin in courtyard -u.k.aid, Barburam says it’s been there for a week destined for remote villages . it’s now raining, a huge storm , and people are without cover. Thought about stealing a bale or two for my village but remembered I am JP and pillar of society. Too heavy to carry anyway. Couldn’t find anyone who knew who was responsible for it. Not DFED fault of course.

Day 7 -5am. Dawn . I think this diary is the only thing keeping me sane. Lamjung Himal gleaming white ridge , stark contrasts of black and white. 7000metreshigh and within a few miles of here. Trek up to Bahandanda today. Luggage goes with the corrugated iron. Or Not. There is a deep lassitude about here. Nothing much is happening,the frenetic chaotic clamour of Nepalese towns has disappeared. Quake2 appears to have wrecked hope, it’s never happened before, aftershocks of course then back to normality and years of grace.Never 2 different quakes with different epicentres.It seems everyone is just waiting and doing only enough to get through the day. 7.40 Whoops that was a biggy, Curtains trembled then floor moved and a subdued barely audible growl. No visible damage but everyone is now outside. Children playing, adults quiet. Binod has phoned home, his family are fine having slept in the garage. News has said Richter 5.5. I didn’t say whoops, never used the f word so much. Electricity off internet down but phones working for first time in a while.

Day 7 cont. 6hrs late finally set off in jeep.7 in side 1on roof on top of the vast iron and sacks of sugar. Frightening road up the Marsyangi river valley. A huge gorge and the road suffered Quake damage. Joined by 2 old men who clung to the side of the jeep overhanging a 500m drop to the river. Met by a crowd of exuberant villagers some distance from Bahundanda as last road section has slid down the mountain. First sign of animation in 3 days. Corrugated iron unloaded and with much hawking and spitting carried up the mountain. A real scramble up to my new home the Hotel Manaslu. Bahundanda at last. This is so funny. I was concerned that I would stand out as a spoilt westerner enjoying a lifestyle privileged by comfort amidst rank poverty. Plenty of poverty but the hotel shares it. It is a low mud brick building with open air cooking outside squat toilet and a hose pipe “shower”. My room is on top -up a ladder. It is a hut of scavenged timber and corrugated iron roof. 3 trestle wood beds and carpet mattresses. That’s it. A crude glass less shutter, a hole in the corrugated roof and gaps between the wooden plank walls. Lovely view though! Treated with extraordinary warmth, flower garlands and blessings. It is almost enough to be here and show that someone is interested in their grim condition and them as people. Just as well , the Government has shut all schools for a further 9 days because of the 5.5 aftershock yesterday. Outside teaching for whoever turns up tomorrow .

Day 8 Pyrotechnic Storm at 4am then dawn. Met village leaders and school teachers . Tour of the village which sits on a high narrow ridge. 105 houses on the ridge or close. None unscathed most unsafe. Walls separated from each other and deep lateral cracks. Most residents in tarpaulin shelters. Self help is the only short term solution and there is real community activity in a poverty stricken subsistence farming area, but Bahundanda will have to be totally rebuilt along with about 10,000 other communities in Nepal. Keep saying to myself don’t think about the big picture, do what you can with what you’ve got and keep smiling for the children. But I’m struggling,not helped by cultural and language isolation,( but never left alone,) and the bizarre almost totemic significance my presence seems to have assumed with little justification in practical terms. Little gifts of food and warm buffalo milk at every house and I have no heart to refuse. Only humour I can find in this is that I can’t even go to the unwholesome hole in the ground without a club of unappointed guardians and small children waiting outside discussing what, I do not wish to know.

day9 I’ve attempted to send a photograph though they seem to clog up the email system. It’s of my tin corrugated sheeting being used to construct a monsoon house. First bit of real pleasure I’ve had here. The use of the words “my tin” is deliberate, suffice to say few charities havecovered themselves in glory. People here have nowhere to live-just try and do something–Elastoplast on major trauma as I’m sure you’ll recognise . But it was so good to see some hope returning to a family (and the men grafting away on the shelter -self-help) The total of homes to be demolished is 135 out of about 150 – on the ridge itself 105. But life has settled itself into rhythm and these blogs will get shorter. The open air teaching sessions will now take place in the women’s communal building as the rains intensify- it’s also temporary sleeping accommodation. Nepal govt officials have visited and dealt with the problem by saying it isn’t a problem, and going away. PS the monsoon house construction – it’s built on bamboo stilts over a steep incline. Split bamboo flooring covered in tarpaulin then earth/ mud to make a hard surface. Looked dodgy! Just been to the hole in the ground. Audience of kids waiting outside for my exit. Not a shred of privacy here always someone watching. Bugger another tremor and everybody out , just been shouted at for my tardiness.

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