1 June 2015

Before the Rains

These are dangerous and timorous and desperate times

I have returned to the Island from Nepal and I have been wandering about a bit in a daze.

I have been a bit clumsy and forgetful and have not been quite myself.

I lost something over there.

Perhaps I left a little of me behind.

I think I did.

I suspect some of my heart.

Many tears as well.

I wept a fair bit.

I feel no shame at weeping.

None at all.

I saw suffering of the like I had never seen before and witnessed fear that was as cruel and cold as it was unfair.

For the life of me I cannot understand why nature would unleash such terror upon a country that already has so very little.

Where is the justice in that?

The anguish and agony I felt at seeing our schools all broken and beaten up is impossible to put into words. Nor either is the hollow dread in little children’s eyes.

They don’t understand why the earth quakes and building fall down and people get crushed and die.

How can one describe such a darkness?

There were no tears for me.

That would be a waste.

When I flew back to Singapore from Nepal last Sunday I was dirty and dusty and smelly. I had a hotel room booked near the Snowland School but I spent much of my time sleeping outdoors with the children.

Much of the population of Kathmandu slept outdoors since the first earthquake and again since the second earthquake.

Nothing could crush or fall on you outside.

It was safer there.

On the Wednesday after the second earthquake I was badly shaken and my back and my head ached and I craved a shower and mattress so I returned to the hotel.

The water for my shower was a trickle of tepid brown water that washed some of the grime from me but no matter how hard I scrubbed my skin still prickled with fear and concern.

Despite my exhaustion I tossed and turned with vexation.

I had grown used to the frequent after-shocks however there was quite a big one sometime around 3.00 am that made me open my eyes and I watched in a dream-like state as a crack appeared in the ceiling of one corner of the room then raced it’s way to the other side of the room.

The bricks of the building shuddered and jarred and they creaked and groaned and I dragged myself to the lawn outside. I lay awake there – huddled in my blanket - until the sun poked its dawn rays into my weary eyes.

It is strange now sleeping in my own bed.

I feel discomfort at the comfort.

There is a lingering sense of guilt being here too that washes over the sense of relief I feel that the earth is not shaking. There is also a rage within me that no-one seems to really understand or for that matter care.

I get that news is news and headlines only last for a couple of days.

Big earthquakes only make the front pages of newspapers for a few days before the birth of Royal babies and elections and atrocities in other far away places push such events into the back pages and then they quickly disappear altogether.

It doesn’t dilute my dismay though.

We people care about what the media tell us to care about and with the here and now of the Internet our emotions flash and burn bright and quickly.

So I carry my own grief silently.

I have heard it said that grief does not change a person.

It reveals them.

I am not sure yet that this is the case and I do not really care either.

This whole concept of human capacity and empathy for grief is mystifying. I don’t think we people are programed for adequate emotional responses once the dead exceed more than a few dozen in number.

I see but can’t comprehend the blank looks in people’s eyes as they tell me how terrible things must be ‘over there’ before they move onto complain that their coffee is cold.

I get it but I want to fucking kill them.

It doesn't just level off either.

It rapidly just gives up.

100 dead.

10,000 dead.

A half a million people homeless.

There is somehow this resetting at zero for the majority of us.

Few people outside of Nepal really give a fuck about the Nepalese.

Why would they?

They are not a part of most people’s lives.

Nor are they affected.

They were just images on the television screen that are no longer there.

I understand this but it still saddens me.

It riles and it angers me.

I know it shouldn’t and I don’t wish it to distract me.

And I do not wish my grief to overwhelm me.

I am not the one who has suffered and there is much that needs to be done.

When I left Nepal to return to the Island I was waiting in the lounge for my flight to be called.

There were not many people there for the lounge at the Tribhuvan International airport is hidden atop some cunningly placed staircases behind an obscure doorway.

I don’t know why.

I shuffled to my normal corner spot near the smoking room and I immediately noticed a very large Anglo Saxon guy hunched over in a corner on his own.

I could tell he was an American by both his hand luggage and his teeth.

The former was emblazoned with the stars and stripes and the latter were straight and big and dazzling white.

Both are the American way.

I dumped my dirty bag and retreated immediately for a cigarette and when I returned I noticed that the big American guy was quietly sobbing.

I wandered over.

How could I not?

“Are you OK?” I enquired.

I patted him cautiously on the back.

This was something that was now familiar to me, as I had been doing this for a fortnight.

Patting gently on the back.

It was a stupid question I know - as he was obviously not.


The poor guy was ashen white and his eyes were bloodshot red with sorrow and fatigue. He appeared to be about the same age as me.

He wiped his eyes and sighed and told me his name.

I won’t repeat it here.

He told me that he came from a small rural town in the mid-western part of the United States and this was his first ever trip he had made overseas.

He was a few years older than me.

He had come to Nepal to find his daughter.

She was about the same age as my daughter.

Both our daughters were on great adventures travelling the world.

My daughter was on her way to Nepal before the first earthquake struck.

My Totty.

She was in Cambodia.

His daughter was in Nepal that fateful day.

Like my daughter, the American guy’s daughter had travelled with her best friend through Asia, and the highlight of her trip was always going to be Nepal.

To see the great mountains of the world.

At his wife’s request his daughter had messaged home every single day she had been away. She was their only child and his wife was very worried that she was so far away from home.

So too was he.

Every Sunday they would talk on Skype and he said they had never seen her so happy.

She told her Dad that she felt so free and that she never knew that the world was such a big and exciting place.

He told me that the last message they got from her was telling them that she and her best friend had arrived in a mountain village called Langtang and they were going to go on a trek to see some of the tallest mountains in the world.

He said they sounded very happy.

I felt something clutch my heart when he said the word ‘Langtang’.

My good friend Dil - who is a mountain guide - walked up to the Langtang valley one week after the first earthquake and he said there was almost nothing left. He told me that he talked to a local villager who was one of the very few survivors up there who was returning from a faraway pass when the earthquake struck. The villager told Dil that he felt the earth shake and move and shift and then an avalanche of ice and rock that blocked out the sky fell from the mountains and swallowed everything up.

No one in the valley survived.

This happened from Langtang all the way to the base of Mount Everest.

More than one hundred villages have been consumed.

The American guy did not know any of this before he arrived in Nepal or even after he arrived.

All he knew was that there had been an earthquake in the country and his daughter had disappeared.

He booked his flights for Kathmandu while his wife and the family of his daughter’s friend sold everything they had to try and raise funds to arrange for search and rescue missions. When he arrived in the chaos of Kathmandu it took the American guy several days to find someone who could take him north through the broken roads to what was left of Langtang.

It was immediately apparent that no one was alive.

He lingered and searched nevertheless.

Now he was going home.

I didn’t know what to say but I stayed with him until his flight was called.

His flight left before mine.

His tale could easily have been mine as both my daughter and my son were to meet me in Nepal.

They wanted to trek.

They have been there before.

They will return once again.

So of course too will I.

I will never stop returning.

There are many broken buildings in Nepal and the land has been ravaged and torn from not one earthquake but two.

There may be more.

Life goes on though.

It is hot and dusty there now and there is a shortage of clean drinking water and shelter and there is great suffering.

There has always been much suffering in Nepal.

It is a land of endurance and the people are born tough.

They are survivors.

The monsoons are coming though and the dust will turn to mud and the mosquitoes will arrive and the roads to the mountains will become impassable.

Much work needs to be done.

We need to grit our teeth, pull together and get on with it.

Before the rains arrive.