Stories from the Langtang Valley-II: Remembering the Earthquake

Dear Readers,

The one year anniversary of the earthquake that devastated Nepal is approaching.  In honor of this, I would like to continue to share pieces of the Langtang Valley with all of you.  The first time I met the Langtangpas was in the Kathmandu last November.  Since then, I have traveled to their homes, drank tea, shared meals with their family members, and witnessed the devastation that occurred last April 25.  Last time I wrote to you about a Langtangpa woman named Pemba Yangjin.  I met her younger brother, Chhime last November.  Throughout these past months, he has allowed me to be on the listening end of his story.  It is a story that he has shared with me through many conversations.  I have converted these conversations into a written first-person account in order to allow his story to be heard by more people.

Chhime Tamang
Chhime Tamang (photo taken by his cousing, Pasang)

It was mid-morning on the 25th day of April, 2015 and I was just returning from my morning college class to the apartment I share with my sister, Xangmo, in Kathmandu.  I wasn’t born in Kathmandu; I was born in the village of Mundu—one of the villages that make up the Langtang Valley.  If there were a college there for me to go to, I never would have left; however, like many other Langtangpas, I came to Kathmandu for education and work opportunities.  The rest of my family was still living in Mundu.

When I came home that day, I sat down on my bed while Xangmo was in the kitchen cooking.   I was messaging a few friends on Facebook when suddenly I noticed that my bed was shaking.  I looked around me while the shaking continued.  I wasn’t sure what to do.  Xangmo entered my room in a similar state of confusion.  As I stood up, I remember feeling as if I were intoxicated, not able to steadily place my feet on the ground beneath me.  We realized we needed to do something, but we were scared; in this state of fear, we decided to lay underneath the bed hoping the shaking would stop.

I remember thinking to myself, “This is the end of my life, the end of my sister’s life.  Today we are totally gone.”  I was hoping for a peaceful death.  

The room continued to shake as we ran out of our apartment.  My mind was flooding with thoughts of my family in Langtang.  Were they safe?  I prayed for them with each step I took.  I knew that the environmental conditions in Langtang created a greater chance of damage there than in Kathmandu.  My anxious mind worsened as I remembered that the phone network in Langtang had not been running for a week now—how would I know if my family is safe?  How would I contact them?

I called my family more times than I can remember; each time, the calls did not reach them.  My sister and I remained outside; amidst the chaos, my mind was focused on the fate of Langtang, the fate of my family.  We were surrounded by our neighbors.  As I looked around I saw the distress and confusion I was feeling in their faces as well.  Everyone was wondering about the well-being of family and friends across Nepal.

The people around me were using a radio as a means of gathering information from other areas of the country.  At 3 o’clock in the afternoon, I heard my first piece of news concerning Langtang.  The broadcaster relayed information from a pilot who had been traveling by helicopter to Langtang that morning just before the earthquake occurred.  I listened to the from the radio explain that all of Langtang was covered in snow.  I knew what this news meant—the earthquake had caused an avalanche.  More questions filled my brain—questions that could not be answered; questions that tortured me.  Was everyone dead?  How could they have survived an earthquake and an avalanche?

My mind concluded that the worst had occurred, but my heart searched for more sources of information.  I knew that the nearby village of Ghoda Tabela had a running network.  I requested a friend to call his family there and received information that continued to devastate me.  My friend informed me that all the people of Langtang were dead.  The phone fell from my hand as heavy tears fell from my eyes to the Kathmandu street I found myself on.  A street so far from where my mind and heart were.

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We spent the following nights sleeping in tents, unsure of the chance of aftershocks.  Two days passed and I still had not been able to speak to my family.  The second day brought news that people from Langtang were being rescued by helicopter and brought to Kathmandu.  I immediately got on my motorbike and went to the airport where I met other Langtangpas who live in Kathmandu.  As I looked into their eyes, I saw them struggling with the same demons that were haunting me.  We sat together anxiously awaiting familiar faces to arrive.

These familiar faces did not arrive.  The helicopter had returned to Kathmandu without any passengers.  It was five days after the earthquake; five days of waiting in fear sitting in our uncertainty.  People from Langtang finally began to arrive in the Kathmandu airport.  My eyes searched anxiously hoping to fall upon the face of my mother, my father, brothers and sisters, nieces and nephews.  Where is my family?  They had not arrived.  I asked the other villagers about their fate, but was only informed of the well-being of my mom dad, and one sister.  What about the other 12 members of my family?

Finally my questions were answered.  My cousin, Pasang Tamang, called me from the village of Kyanjin Gumba.  “Your mom, your dad, and your middle sister are okay.  I’m okay.  Everyone else is dead.”  My fears had now become my reality.  My older brother and his family.  My older sister and her family.  My uncle and aunt—Pasang’s mother and father.  All of their lives had been taken by the earthquake and subsequent avalanche.  Pasang continued to talk, but I could not comprehend his words.  I watched injured Langtangpas exiting rescue helicopters; I was unable to speak.  The only thought in my head was “I need my remaining family now.”

 

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“Have faith and wait,”

–the mantra that I continually repeated to myself as I waited.  Another day passed in the Kathmandu airport.  Finally, I saw the faces of my mother and Pasang.  My mother was crying.  I embraced her.  I was crying too.  My father and sister, Pemba Yangjin, were still in Kyanjin at this time.  In Kathmandu, the four of us—me, my mother, Pasang, and Xangmo—were invited to stay in a monastery in Boudha, where many people had gathered to stay during this time of uncertainty and danger.   My father and sister, Pemba Yangjin, arrived in the following days, completing what was left of our family.

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Chhime’s sister, Pemba Yangjin, on the left

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Friend, Chhime’s auntie, Chhime’s mother, me, and Pemba Yangjin

Chhime shared this story with me many months ago.  Since then, I have met the people in his story.  I have been to the room he stays in here in Kathmandu, sharing momos—a Nepali dish similar to dumplings—w ith Xangmo.  I have listened to Pasang talk about being alone, left behind by his mother and father.  I stayed with Chhime’s mother and father in their village of Mundu with Pemba Yangjin—his remaining older sister—as my porter guide and now friend.  I have listened to the heartbreak, watched tears falls from their eyes, and have seen the remains of their home.

 

 

I have also watched Pemba Yangjin carrying logs and other rebuilding materials from lower villages to her home by a band attached to her head.  I have watched their mother gather rocks and transport them to workers who make cement out of them.  I have watched their father work with other men to rebuild the trails in Langtang.  I have watched Chhime speak with a builder in order to rebuild his parents’ home.  I have watched Chhime and Pasang work daily on promoting their trekking agency—Tenjin Eco Treks—that has been named in memory of Pasang’s late father.  I have watched Chhime prepare implement a plan for greenhouses in Langtang. And every so often, I have seen glimpses of joy rise up in their faces.  Chhime’s mantra “Have faith and wait” is a lesson of patience, a lesson of hope, a lesson of rising again.

 

One year later, this is the state of the Langtangpa people.  The Langtangpa survivors still mourn those who have been lost every day.  It has been a year without celebration, without singing, without dancing.   There is a sense in the community that the world has forgotten Nepal in the past several months.  A sense of immediate media coverage that has left them and recently returned to cover the story of the one-year anniversary.  I have decided to share Chhime’s story to shed light on the past, remember what has happened, and share the lessons that fast media coverage is not able to share.  The approaching anniversary is not about front page stories; it’s about the people who lost their lives that day; it’s about the people who remain.  I am grateful to Chhime for sharing these pieces of his story with me, for sharing his family, and his home with me.  I am grateful for the lessons I have learned—lessons of loss, of remembering, and of rising again together.

Thank you for reading.

Jennifer

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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One thought on “Stories from the Langtang Valley-II: Remembering the Earthquake

  1. There’s a lot that can be learned from their experiences. I’m sure you will come away from this with a better understanding of kindness and patience than most people will ever know.

    Like

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