Living Vicariously As A Peripatetic Shutterbug

{ More musings from the Cantankerous Old Mule }

Statistics cannot measure courage: a story of hope in Nepal

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I met Mingmar with her 10-month-old daughter Lhakpa at the airport at the end of July, when we were asked to fly them back to Langtang, a village high in the Himalayas. Since the earthquake they, and many other survivors from the valley of the same name, had been housed in a “displacement camp” in Kathmandu. But on that Friday a month ago they were finally hoping to go home. Home, but in name alone.

She speaks no English but I learnt something of her story from others at the airport:

Saturday 25 April 2015 was just a regular day in Langtang valley.

Villagers would have been in the pastures tending their livestock, or at home preparing lunch. Most school-going children were away in bigger towns a few days’ walk away, but younger ones like Lhakpa would have been playing, or just going down for a nap.

Many locals would have been hosting the hundred-odd international trekkers in the valley at the time – it being one of the most popular hiking destinations in Nepal, with its well-maintained system of trails, suspension bridges and breathtaking peaks.

At 12.56pm local time the valley started shaking: the result of the 7.8 magnitude earthquake, with its epicentre in the Gorkha district, not far from there. I imagine people and animals would have fled as far from the collapsing buildings as possible, or stood paralysed in the fields. Whatever the case, life changed on that day for everyone in the valley.

In Langtang village itself, at an altitude of 11,500ft, screams of alarm and the noise of buildings being wrenched apart would have drowned out the sound of a second, even more perilous threat approaching. By the time they heard the blood-curdling roar of a massive avalanche above them, it would have been almost too late to react. I’m told the earthquake dislodged a huge hanging glacier in the mountains above the village. This mass of ice gathered boulders and snow as it cascaded down the mountainside towards the village, leaving a mile-wide area of debris and destruction in its wake.

Before: Langtang from the west.

Before: Langtang from the west. (Photos provided by Radka Kvicalova)

Now: Langtang from the west

Now: Langtang from the west.

Before: Langtang from the east. (Photo provided by Radka Kvicalova)

Before: Langtang from the east.

Now: Langtang from the east. (Photo provided by Radka Kvicalova)

Now: Langtang from the east.

I have no words to describe Mingmar’s terror, as she snatched up her 6-month-old and ran for cover. How can one comprehend being in the middle of a blast of earth and ice, akin to a bomb exploding, her inability to breathe, being buffeted by a cloud of snow, blinded, disorientated, helpless. Mingmar and Lhakpa found shelter behind a boulder, escaping the worst of the avalanche. Her husband and two other children were not as fortunate.

They, along with over 170 others from the 250-strong village, died that day. Some people sustained serious head injuries, while some lost limbs, and died from shock and loss of blood. Others were completely buried, and to this day haven’t been found. With the closest town a few days’ trek away, and with many of the trails wiped out, help was too slow to arrive. The survivors simply watched their loved ones perish before anyone in the rest of the world had heard about the tragedy.

Before

Before (Photos provided by Radka Kvicalova)

langtang5

After

One building survived the avalanche that tore through Langtang. One.

A young man from the village who had been in Kathmandu when the earthquake struck showed me photos of his family on his cellphone. Amongst the pics were his mother, brother and sister-in-law, whom he lost that day.

610_7997As he spoke, and as I played with the little one, my heart broke. I have been working here for close on two months helping co-ordinate relief and aid workers into the mountains. Since May we have flown 560 metric tonnes of food, building materials and health kits and 3,300 passengers to 255 destinations with two helicopters. The statistics are staggering.

But as someone once said, “A single death is a tragedy; a million deaths is a statistic.” Mingmar and her baby girl reminded me that we can’t turn our role in this tragedy into a series of statistics. I want to remember her and others like her who have suffered much but get up every morning, dredge up a smile and start rebuilding. It may sound twee, but it’s true.

How must she feel being the only witness to her little girl growing up, her husband and other children no longer at her side? What courage does it take to return to a village where everything you know has been taken from you; every day to see the very mountain that tore your family apart?

She is anything but a statistic.

Unfortunately, because of bad weather we couldn’t fly any of the villagers back to Langtang at the end of July. We tried again another five times to no avail, the mist and clouds choking every attempt.

This week Mingmar and Lhakpa finally flew home.

Lhakpa

Lhakpa

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3 comments on “Statistics cannot measure courage: a story of hope in Nepal

  1. madasue
    September 4, 2015

    No words. Thanks for showing us this Rob…..

  2. There_Lot
    September 4, 2015

    Ditto. Amen.

  3. There_Lot
    September 4, 2015

    Have you ever seen a movie and when it ends…nobody moves…it is just all quiet? That is the feeling this post evokes in me. Thank you very much for sharing the journey with us. It was a privilege to travel to Nepal with you.

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This entry was posted on September 4, 2015 by in Nepal, People, Real Life and tagged , , , .
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