A Year Ago Today: A country shaken and how Nepal helped me be grateful

I had just fallen asleep when I was thrown awake from the house violently moving. It felt as if I was the inside of the present for a kid on Christmas morning — getting tossed violently in every direction. The house moaned and groaned. A cold sweat and pounding heart rate; I closed my eyes, held my breath, tense, hoping for the shaking to stop. I could hear my sisters screaming and crying outside, running out of the house. As soon as it started, the tremor stopped, and there was silence again. Downstairs in the dark, a baby began to cry and stray dogs barked in the distance. I had just experienced the largest earthquake of my life while in Nepal, and yet it was a miniscule, baby quake. A 4.3 magnitude aftershock, with the epicenter directly in the village I lived in. Nothing, compared to the earthquake of April 25. It was barely a shake, yet all I could think about how I was going to die in a shoddy house in the middle of the night.

Over the past two years as an MSU student, nothing has made a larger impact on my education and my experience here than my time spent in Nepal. Prior to starting at Montana State, I first went on a gap year to work as the equipment manager at the Khumbu Climbing Center and to teach English and help with farming in Dhading at Her Farm with survivors of domestic abuse. From there, I went into my freshman year excited, but missing an aspect of my life and all of my Nepali friends. Late on April 25 I heard there had been an earthquake. For the next few weeks, through MSU’s finals week, I barely slept. A week went by before I knew if certain friends were alive or not. Reports kept coming in: Pemba was safe but couldn’t reach his village, Chhongba miraculously survived the avalanche at Everest Base Camp, but suffered severe head trauma. My neighbors in Mankhu lost their home as did most of my students. I was lucky. Of all my friends — all of whom had suffered severe damage to their houses — no one died. But there were still hundreds upon thousands of Nepalis who lost loved ones and were now homeless. In Texts and Critics, during my final speech, I broke down in tears.

Less than a week after school ended, I was on a plane back to Nepal to help with reconstruction in the Solukhumbu, Dhading, Sindhupalchowk and Dolakha districts. Two days before boarding my plane, a 7.3 magnitude aftershock shook the country. Again I dreaded that my Nepali family had possibly lost their lives. For the next three months, I helped with rebuilding hydroelectric plants, building temporary shelters, performing basic first aid and helped in any way I could to assist those affected by the earthquake. As the time to go back to the U.S. for school came closer and closer, I grew guiltier. Despite all the help I did, I still got to leave; to go back to a first world society with intact houses and electricity 24/7.

In regards to MSU, my time in Nepal has helped me realize that it could always be worse. Instead of worrying about their problems, all the people I met who were affected by the earthquake were optimistic. They don’t worry, they rebuild. Instead of sitting around waiting for help, they do what they can and carry on with their lives. There is still millet to be planted and corn fields to be weeded. They say “ke garne,” or “what can you do?” You can’t stop things from happening, so you might as well move on. Despite the constant, everyday reminders of the disaster, in order to feed their family, they must move on. The earthquake allowed me to recognize that greatness which MSU has to offer through the community. Part of the reason Nepal is so resilient is the importance of communities and looking out for others. And the more I ponder it, the more I come to the conclusion that my friends, my peers which make up the student population of MSU, are great people which causes this to be a thriving environment. The support I got through friends and fellow students the weeks after the quake was a surprise. Hundreds came and donated at the event I helped put on. Friends of mine donated hundreds of dollars — no easy task for the poor college student. It amazes me how much the MSU community comes together to support and help each other, even when it is indirectly helping those that live seven thousand miles away. Thank you, MSU.

Rebuilding a stone house with the same building techniques used before the earthquake. Photo by Pemba Sherpa
Rebuilding a stone house with the same building techniques used before the earthquake. Photo by Pemba Sherpa
Krishna Rai and his family next to their destroyed house, Khumjung, Nepal. Photo by Parker Webb
Krishna Rai and his family next to their destroyed house, Khumjung, Nepal. Photo by Parker Webb
A house devastated by the earthquake. Photo by Parker Webb
A house devastated by the earthquake. Photo by Parker Webb