Life at the top of a mountain may be beautiful, but it certainly isn’t easy. Add an earthquake into the mix and it becomes downright tragic, a daily struggle just to survive that is still ongoing. I’ve been in Nepal for four months now and this is an inside look at what life is like here post-quake.
Over these last four months I’ve visited dozens of remote villages in districts and wards throughout Nepal, from the ones near the epicenter to those located far east of Kathmandu near the start of the Himalayas. I’ve learned more about the local way of life than I ever imagined when first arriving in the country back in April. Hell, I’ve lived the local life now, trip after trip and village after village.
The mountain villages and communities of Nepal that were affected the worst by this quake are home to both the poorest and the friendliest people in all of Nepal. (Proof that money does not equal happiness.) They had so little to begin with and all of it was taken from them back on the morning of April 25th. Family members. Homes. Livestock. Farmland. Everything. Yet through it all people still have a smile on their face. Their resiliency is the stuff of legends — or at least should be.
Person after person has shown me photos of wives and husbands and children they have lost. They’ve walked me over to the rubble that crushed their family members to death and told me about their final minutes. Time after time, village after village, week after week. Their stories would make even the strongest person shed a tear.
Life In The Mountain Villages…Before And After
Basic one-room stone homes are built along the sides of the mountains, many with an attached hut or covered area to house livestock; chickens and buffalo primarily, but also the occasional family of goats or an ox. A web of precarious trails — many not even wide enough to place both feet side by side — connect neighboring villages. You are always just one wrong step or slippery rock away from tumbling to your death. But the views are priceless!
Each of these villages get their water from fresh water streams — there is no bottled water up here. (For those wondering, I’ve been drinking the local water in Nepal everywhere except Kathmandu this entire time without any issues.) Most of these streams are within a few minutes walk and have small cement reservoir tanks.
Unfortunately, the quake damaged or destroyed a large percentage of these tanks and water systems. Those that have not been fixed already can be repaired/replaced after the monsoon season ends, but the four villages of Ward 7 in Shikharbesi, Nuwakot district, have found themselves in a tricky situation. The earthquake shifted the direction of their only fresh water stream so that it no longer flows down their side of the mountain. The villagers only have water now thanks to the monsoon rains, but within a couple months they will be facing a very serious situation. While the obvious answer may be to hike to the next ward over (one hour each way), this could very quickly become a source of conflict if there is not enough water to go around.
In every one of the villages I have visited, destruction of buildings has been 100%. Entire villages have been decimated. Flattened. Anything left standing is unlivable. We’ve had to use sticks and boards to push loose bricks just to get ruins to fully collapse, like some sort of twisted game of reverse-jenga.
Only this isn’t a game. It’s these peoples’ life and livelihood.
It wasn’t just the houses that collapsed. All of these mountain villages are built on a series of progressively smaller terraced rice paddies, or corn terraces as they progress higher up, where there isn’t as much water. Many landslides actually caused huge chunks to just slide off the side of the mountain. If half your rice paddy drops off a cliff, there is no getting that land back.
Now The Monsoon Season Is Disrupting Relief Efforts
For those who have never experienced monsoon season, it is essentially like getting one year’s worth of rain in two months. Day after day after day. Sometimes only for an hour or two, other times for damn near the entire day.
This means annual flash floods and landslides, road closures and yes, deaths. It’s a fact of life. But now, with people living in temporary shelters and on unstable grounds, the death toll is much higher than usual. On nearly every relief trip taken we have encountered landslides.
Sometimes it just means we are stuck for a few minutes, while traffic goes single-file across a very sketchy-looking chunk of what little road remains. Other times we join the trucks and buses with people piled on top waiting in the road for it to be cleared, unable to go anywhere or even turn around. If you’re lucky, word of the landslide gets back to local officials, and someone directs traffic another way. Of course that’s usually in the central valley, where there are multiple routes. Up on these mountains there often is only one road — if any.
Given all this, it should be no surprise that many NGOs and relief efforts stopped when the rain started, or at the very least paused. Not all, but lots. Many came to help but most have left now that Nepal has faded from the news.
There are still a few groups here doing good work, but there is WAY too much money being wasted. People are using NGO funds to buy power banks, solar chargers, even GoPros and other “necessities” for their volunteer trips to the mountains — then going home two weeks later and taking all that gear with them. Others, according to one lady here who runs her own NGO, are paying “volunteers” up to $200/day compensation because (and I quote) “they have mortgages back home.”
So that’s what relief money goes towards, compensating “volunteers”…?!?
Here I have been spending my own money to help the Nepali people these last four months when I could have been getting paid AND getting free gear. Does ANYONE else see anything wrong with this? Apparently not, because its just business as usual. The amount of people doing it is overwhelming. While all the rest of Nepal is struggling due to lack of money, the electronic shops here are making out like bandits — they can’t even keep their shelves stocked! One friend from the States claimed that after pointing out all this electronic gear could have been purchased much cheaper at home (instead of on the Roof of the World, with its steep import tariffs) he was told that the receipts had to come from Nepal for accounting purposes.
Don’t donate cash. To anyone or any group. It will not get where it needs to go, at least not much of it.
Nepal is far from fixed. Sure, its safe and friendlier than ever….but the country can never fully heal if tourism takes a nosedive as a result of this quake. Rather then let my words deter you from visiting, let them instead inspire you to take a trip to Nepal now and make a difference. Not by volunteering to do relief work or anything like that. Just simply by visiting and doing what you’d normally do. Eat at the local family-owned restaurants instead of the expat-owned ones. Buy a souvenir or two. And of course go trekking or paragliding or rafting or hell, why not all three? Nepal is one of the best countries in the world for adventure travel. And as long as you spend your money in the right places, it will reach where it needs to.