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I wipe my muddy hands on the dew on leaves by the side of the track. As luck would have it, there’s cutty grass in there. Soon I’m pinching my skin to stop a trickle of blood. I really don’t want to arrive too scruffy. People in Nepal are usually perfectly dressed and groomed – a small miracle when you’re camping on red earth and have limited washing facilities.
Sure enough, a few minutes later we see Sangita Thami waiting for us at the top of the road, immaculately dressed, hair neatly combed and parted. She picks her way down the steep hillside on uneven stone steps, past a tethered and ruminating buffalo, through long grass.
When we duck under the eaves of a stone house, a thin old lady is feeling her way along the wall. I can’t help but say “Namaste, Grandma”, and touch her arm. Later I find out she’s blind. I wonder how she manages to move around such uneven terrain. But this is her home.
The film crew set Sangita up for an interview on the water situation. Behind her is a wall that would make a great science project. It’s an eco-system unto itself. Moss, ferns and long grass are reclaiming it. It’s eerily beautiful.As they interview her on camera, I watch Sangita’s animated face. She speaks Nepali – I understand nothing. Although she’s smiling, I sense tension and anguish.
Camera operator Bishnu Kalpit translates and it dawns on me that this is her house. The picturesque becomes grotesque. Home isn’t a safe place. When the camera turns off, worry floods her face.
Later, I read a translation of her interview. This is what she said.“I was in my room on the top floor. I was getting ready to study when it started shaking slowly. I thought it’d be short. I knew it was an earthquake. It didn’t seem like it’d stop anytime soon so I ran downstairs to the ground floor.
“As soon as I got outside, I saw a house nearby collapse. And then I got scared. I couldn’t go anywhere; the rubble from the collapsed house had blocked the way so I waited outside.
“I started shouting when I realized my parents were on the top floor. I thought they got trapped so I kept shouting as if I’d lost my mind. Although my parents had followed me outside and I could see them there, I couldn’t stop thinking they were in trouble. I couldn’t stop screaming.”
Sangita is now living in what I’d call a shed made out of corrugated iron behind her house. She says she’s got used the aftershocks. But what worries her is the effect of rain on loosened the earth above her house.
The Red Cross has trained her and other community members to do basic maintenance so families have safe water for drinking, cooking and washing.
“The earthquake destroyed the water pipes in many places. Many pipelines and water tanks have been damaged in the earthquake. Pipelines have broken and the debris keeps blocking water channels to the village. We have to keep repairing it or there’s no water.”
But she’d like to see more water systems – they have to queue for water.
After the interview, she leads us to another part of the village. There’s a big open field where boys are playing volleyball. To the side, where it’s very steep, are a couple of dozen temporary shelters in the basic shape children make when they draw a house. Their roofs are tarpaulins or corrugated iron. These shacks now house a whole village, which moved after a landslide destroyed their stone cottages.
Between the settlement and the volleyball field are tiny latrines.
A lot of what people need has come from the Red Cross – tarpaulins, corrugated iron, rope, cooking pots, water containers, blankets, even the water supply.
But people are worried about how they’ll survive winter, when snow falls on the volleyball field. People usually rely on thick-walled houses and warm clothes – which most people don’t have any more.