I arrived back at Raleigh-Durham on Thursday morning, five days after the country of Nepal was torn apart by a 7.9 magnitude earthquake which struck at noon on Saturday, Nepal time.
I had just flown in from Pokhara to Katmandu following a trekking adventure and was collecting my bags outside the terminal when the quake began. The initial and largest tremor threw me against a chain link fence. Brick walls were crumbling 100 feet away. I was unsure what was happening, having never experienced an earthquake before, but a fellow trekker from LA was with me and he exclaimed, “It’s an earthquake and a big one!” It felt like a wave had picked me up and thrown me off my feet. Many others were shrieking and yelling for help, some crying as they fell over.
I had traveled to Nepal for the trip of a lifetime. My passion is trekking, and I was there for two weeks to climb the Annapurna Sanctuary Trail to reach the base camp (13,500 feet high) of the 10th tallest mountain in the world, Annapurna I. The Annapurna Range is just west of Mt. Everest along the same Himalayan range. I met six other trekkers from the U.S. and a New Zealand guide through Active Adventures, A New Zealand Trekking Company. I had taken two other trips with Active before.
It took our group five days to climb from village to village up the steep mountain pass until the final day when we trekked in the snow from Machhapuchchhre to Annapurna Base Camp (ABC). It was a strenuous climb for me, despite considering myself very fit, requiring every bit of stamina to put one foot in front of the other and just breathe. We felt so fortunate because it was a crystal clear day, not a single cloud in the sky, until late afternoon. We were triumphant when we reached the ABC and hung our prayers flags. We would only spend an hour there at the top until we would need to retrace our steps back down, clouds now pouring in quickly from below. Three days later an avalanche would destroy the area and take the lives of fellow trekkers. Why them and not me?
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The Nepali people are humble, reserved and extremely hard working. A team of four porters, each bearing between 50 to 80 lbs, carried our load up the mountain while we simply wore our day packs. A rope across their foreheads tied to a large sack is how they manage the load. The average wage for their work is $8 a day, considered a good wage. Despite this, nearly all wore a smile and greeted us along the trail with the encouraging word, namaste! Their opportunities are limited, and most Nepalis will never leave their country because they are unable to obtain a visa to a first world country like ours. Our governments believe they are a risk and will not return home if admitted. They will never have the opportunity to see the world like I have.
From what I understand from our NZ guide, there were no deaths among the immediate families of our porters, but their homes and villages were decimated. A project to build a library, which was to be completed this weekend is now gone. They are without electricity, water and wifi communication.
After a harrowing experience this weekend in Katmandu airport – three days without a meal, sleeping on the floor with thousands of others –I am writing this at JFK Airport, almost home. At the same time the Nepalese are without all the comforts of home that I take for granted, without homes, or afraid to reenter their homes due to recurring tremors, living in the street, in parks or in tents which have been washed away by rain since I left. The nation’s primary source of income is tourism, and that is now destroyed. I ask myself why am I so fortunate when these kind hearted and loving people have so little.
How to help
If you wish to help the Nepali people rebuild their lives and villages, consider making a gift to one of these non-profit organizations
▪ For immediate emergency relief:
International Red Cross, http://www.ifrc.org/nepal-earthquake
▪ For long term infrastructure aid in the Everest region:
The Himalayan Trust set up by Sir Edmund Hillary, has been operating in Nepal (mainly in the Everest region) for over 50 years, http://himalayantrust.org/
▪ To donate for immediate aid to the small village, Setobaje – where many Nepalese guides and porters are from, https://givealittle.co.nz/cause/activeheartshimalaya.