Nepal: When Nightmares Turn Real
Editor’s note: BU News Service’s photo editor, Pankaj Khadka, is a native of Nepal. In this essay he shares his reflections on the tragic earthquake that has devastated his country.
By Pankaj Khadka
BU News Service
My cell phone screen had lit up showing it was 3:18 a.m. Eastern Time when I pressed the home button in an otherwise dark room in Malden — I don’t recall why I had woken up.
A creature of habit, I drew my code on the screen with one eye barely open, and went online. Just because.
As I clicked on the Facebook app, the first story on my feed was of a friend in New York inquiring about a rumor of an earthquake in Nepal. Because Nepal is high on the list of zones prone to earthquakes and small tremors are felt time and again, I paid no mind to it.
But, within seconds, I saw an image of Dharahara — a 200-foot monument that had proudly towered over the Kathmandu valley from the days of ancient kings — reduced to scattered bricks, standing only a few feet high.
Buried under the debris of the UNESCO World Heritage landmark were more than a hundred bodies who had decided to spend the Saturday afternoon climbing the nine-story tower for a breath-taking view of the capital and the mountains circling the Kathmandu valley.
For some, that would be their final sight; many never saw the view. As it stands currently, no one again will.
Still unable to fully comprehend what I had just seen, I went on the computer and logged onto Facebook, hoping for it to be a figment of my imagination, or a photoshop trick by a prankster.
I wanted to wake up from the nightmare I had always been wary of; instead, I woke up to heart wrenching reality.
A devastating 7.8 magnitude earthquake had just rippled underneath the small, mountainous country with tremors felt across New Delhi and parts of India, Bangladesh and its capital Dhaka, in cities of Pakistan, and in Tibet.
More than 1,800 people are reported to have died, thousands more are injured, and the number is expected to rise as rescue efforts continue.
The seismic waves continue to rock the land of my birth, with more than 60 powerful aftershocks reported, which are expected to continue for another 24 hours, according to the United States Geological Survey.
Afraid to return to their residence, my family, and almost all of the country, camped outside their houses in makeshift tents where they spent the night being routinely jolted by one shock after another.
As soon as I learned of the catastrophe, I immediately called my father but he didn’t answer his phone. After frantically trying another five times and calling the landline at my home to no avail, I called my my brother, who is currently overseas on a personal trip, hoping he would have some information. But he couldn’t be reached either.
Those 30 minutes or so were the worst moments of my life — as I switched my calls between my father, my brother, my sister-in-law, my cousins and my home and made inquiries on Facebook to friends back home to understand the full impact of the quake. My mind kept thinking of the most horrific consequences.
The unresponsiveness on the part of my family and the inability to check on my loved ones only exacerbated my negative feelings, and I felt this strange, sickening emotion, one I am still struggling to put in words, something I have never felt before.
Only when you are faced with a situation where all you can do is sit idly and watch as horror wreaks havoc on those who mean the most to you, do you realize that feeling of disgust, the infuriation at the helplessness, the guilt at one’s inability, and the aggravation for being a mere spectator to the worst episodes of your lives. And all you can do is watch.
Only when you are forced to witness the worst of your dreaded imaginations come to life and eat you up from the inside, slowly nibbling away your sanity, will you understand that feeling of despair.
After what felt like an eternity of attempted phone calls to almost everyone on my list and failing to find anyone on the receiving end (most of the phone lines in Kathmandu were not working, and service providers were unresponsive), a call from Australia from my older brother reminded me to breathe again.
He had somehow gotten in touch with the family and informed me of everyone’s well-being; only then was I still.
While my family and friends have miraculously escaped with minimal damage, thousands haven’t been as fortunate. If someone normally stoic like me could feel my heart break into pieces and those pieces shatter to dust as my eyes welled up at sights of my hometown getting wiped off of the face of the earth, one monument at a time, I cannot fathom how it played out for the weak-hearted.
The shrieking cries of children and haunting voices of women caught on tape as they mourned their losses and screamed out their fears, were gut-wrenching; as the heart sunk low, the goosebumps resurfaced, and in a cycle it continued.
The sight of humans buried under fallen structures and dead bodies lined outside hospitals because of patient overflow raised hair on the back of my neck and sent shivers down my spine. And the knowledge of never being able to return to the city as it was, the city I used to call home, is a burden I will carry with me from here on. I am hurt, sad, dejected, helpless, and infuriated, all at once. What else can you do but fold when Mother Nature plays her hand?
However, because the ones bereaved and broken share the same blood that fueled the veins of the Gurkhas, the most gallant of men, and the country has withstood greater adversities and worse tragedies only to come back stronger, I am also assured that while it may take some time for life to return to normal, return it will.
And the one-of-its-kind triangular red-and-blue flag shall wave with all of its pride and glory as the resilient Nepalis put this nightmare behind them and rally as one to piece together the history that is now scattered in debris, to tend to the shattered dreams and broken souls to start the process of healing, and to start the rebuilding of the nation.
A candlelight vigil hosted by Greater Boston Nepal Earthquake Relief Fund will be held at 7 p.m. tonight on Copley Square.