We are sitting on the roof of a bus unstably swerving through the narrow roads on the hillsides two hundred meters above the valley. From this point of view the duality of life is poignantly evident. The beauty that surrounds us is indescribably mesmerizing; blue skies, fresh air, sunrays peeking through clouds behind green hills while the river lazily snakes through the mountains. Yet the very same terrain that creates this beauty marginalizes the villages that populate these dense hills making it dangerous to travel to them. The unpaved, slippery roads are narrowly carved to the hillside, and during the rainy season are at risk of landslides.
We hold on frantically to metal bars on the roof and dodge electricity wires coming our way. The roof is packed with villagers that cheer, hoot and sing as the bus swerves around the scariest curves. The nerve tactic works. Soon we are all cheering and shouting as we feel that any moment the bus will topple over and roll down the hill. A group of nine volunteers from Europe, the Americas and Nepal, are going to the village of Shandori Madoni in the Kavre province of Nepal around five hours away from Kathmandu, to deliver materials for ten temporary homes.
We arrive at our destination and reality sets in quick. Here help has been slow to arrive. The village suffered severe earthquake damage. Most houses, including the two schools in the village, either collapsed or are damaged and unsafe. Before this group volunteers reached them some weeks ago, no other help had reached them. Most families have constructed makeshift shelters from what they could rescue from the debris that was once their home, which is usually zincs and pieces of wood. Whole families of five or six members live in ten by ten feet houses. They have settled beside the mount of rubble that remains of their houses, like maintaining unending vigil to the house they worked for all their lives and lost in less than three minutes.
Farmers by nature, villagers show their resilience and non-dependency. Knowing that external help is an improbable possibility, there is planting and furrowing going on everywhere. Two weeks ago, the fields that looked dry today flourish. They will provide the families with basic foods for subsistence. On the surface people seem content. The monsoons (the rains) are almost here, harvest looks good. However, when they look at their old houses, crumbled, there is a change in their eyes.
It is early morning. I am walking up hill to the only shop in the village. A group of school children on their way to school are guiding me there, laughing and playing around me. Earlier it was a misty morning, but the sun is beating down on us by now. We pass through collapsed houses, beside them, the usual aspect, families clustered around smoking, fire hearts they made in between their old home and new one. The women are making breakfast. Most men are home from their jobs in Kathmandu and unemployment is creating an ailing lack of income. If you can ignore the needs all around, the community looks cheerful. People turn to greet us with the usual “Namaste didi” as we pass their homes.
The difference between crisis in a rural and urban setting is the sense of community. Through these harsh times, the community supports each other acquire basic needs. They cook, eat and laugh together. When we arrived, equip with materials, we were given a list of families. The list, composed by villagers who had conducted needs assessment, comprised the names of families who needed a temporary home the most urgently.
On the way to the shop, walking beside me is Onyx, one of the eldest children and one of the few that can speak English. I was told that during the first earthquake he was trapped in his collapsed house for two hours. In the group’s first stay here he was their guide and translator and gained their respect for his diligence at his job. They bought him a hat with the word ‘Boss’ written on it. He is wearing it today. As we walk he tells me the names of the families we pass and the status of their houses.
Today he has been feeling feverish. I advise him to take a day off from school, stay at home and rest. He adamantly refuses.
“Why don’t you stay at home and rest?” I ask.
“No, no! I will miss my lesson and later I will not be able to learn.” He answers.
I smile at his perseverance. “What do you want to be when you grow up?” I ask.
“I want to be a doctor.” He says looking at the ground, as if planting his dreams like his parents plant crops.