Life Goes On: Remembering My Time In Nepal After the Earthquake of 2015

When you’re away from your normal environment your tendency is to adapt to that new context – to the people, the weather, the food, and the culture.

That is often the case when I go to a mission. I call it a mission because I have a particular purpose why I accepted to live away from the comforts of my home and live with in another place even if I know there will be challenges.

I’ve been doing development work for over a decade until I decided to try working in a more insecure environment – emergency. The context is different, depending on the kind of emergency, but the end goal is the same as in development – to try to restore a semblance of life people had before the emergency happened except it is done at a faster pace and in a less organized but in a way efficient kind of way.

How can you be disorganized and efficient at the same time?

I realized that when working in emergency, goals are set short because new goals will have to be set more frequently than when I am working in development. Situations change quickly either for good which is always the ultimate goal or worst, which is something anticipated as a risk when in this kind of mission. That makes it efficient – to be able to achieve them and make new ones leading towards the main reason you’re there in the first place.

When goals are short, there’s always a good rate of success of achievement therefore satisfaction is also high. It keeps me motivated to continue and look forward to the time when we are ready to transition to development, and more sustainable solutions are put in place and eventually better prepare the community to be more self-reliant in the event of another emergency.

While short goals means quick achievements of it, there’s also a big chance that because of time allocated it also makes the organization a bit tight which on the other hand offered dissatisfaction. But in this line of work, I have to learn to accept that I cannot do everything the way I want it to be – I learned to adapt and adjust and celebrate the small wins I achieve.

At least I can say that when I joined the second wave of responders during the 2015 Nepal earthquakes.

I’ve lived and seen progress being made on a day-to-day basis. I’ve met people that are more willing to be part of the change without accepting defeat because nature decided to shake them up from their stupor. I’ve witnessed people’s faith in their gods amidst the destruction. I’ve gained friends and respect towards them and their lives before, during and after the catastrophe.

Since two years ago, I know that I have more to live for than just now.

Realizing that life, like a wheel, turns and when you’re up you see the world differently than when you’re down but as it rolls you learn to adapt to it and continue to live. And look forward to the destination when finally the wheel stops rolling and can say “it has been a good ride.”

Images of what happened two years ago.


Memories that last … Nepal

Today I was reminded of where I was last year … in Nepal.

A video was made to chronicle the events that unfolded before, during and after the big earthquake by the people working for the different organization, including mine. HI team responded without delay to the catastrophe that was unfolding on the very soil they were standing as they were out on the field playing football.

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I still keep in touch with my former staffs now friends. Catching up on the development in the places where we used to go which with the enormity of needs seems to be slow. But believe me, a lot has been done when I was there and since I left November of last year.

Being part of the 2nd wave of emergency support means we arrived when most of the first batch of emergency support are flat out tired from the non-stop action, sleepless nights, traveling mostly on foot and maybe lack of proper meals.  It doesn’t mean that we have everything prepared for our arrival, no, we were merely taking up from what they had started … the colleagues we came to replace were laudable for really doing a good job setting up what we came to continue and improve.

I inherited a good team of physiotherapists, vibrant social workers, and energetic project officer and recruited some more including a data officer in a difficult situation. They had exceeded my expectation and was able to accomplish what were expected of us in the short time I was there – the rehabilitation services of people injured during the earthquake continued in the hospital after we folded the temporary tent hospital and rehabilitation center.

I have done many first in this mission … first emergency post and the first time in South Asia and first time to be in an earthquake zone.

When I arrived I was expecting chaos but no … arrived at midnight, went through immigration smoothly and then I saw the car.  At night you see nothing, but it has that feel and asks yourself “maybe I am in the wrong place” then I arrived in our lodging and met in passing all the rest of the crew. Then I woke up to two aftershocks of 6 magnitudes, 15 minutes interval and reality set in — I am in an emergency post!

What else do I remember?

Living in tents and sleeping either on the ground or the treatment table, shaky hotels and house in the middle of a corn field when it’s not a pond during the rainy season. Showering in a room under the stairs where you make a mental note not to sing in the shower, or you risk getting diarrhea the next day which you will not like to have being in the field.


The blue tent is my room for the first three weeks in Nuwakot

I get to eat at the pit stop restaurant before getting to our final destination, where food was always good if not spicy and always the same – dhal bat with chicken washed down with nice cold coca cola.

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I like everything on the plate except the bitter gourd

I saw many hanging bridges and wondered how it feels to be on it. When I was actually on one, my feet won’t let me move, the phobia returned and only until our driver walked with me I was able to get to the other end otherwise, I will sleep in the car next to the river while my staffs are sleeping in the proper tent with mosquito net.

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It’s all smiles, but my legs were weak

But the best memory of all saw the Himalayan Range – even though I didn’t see the great mountain Everest, I got to spend a good time with the other peaks in the western part of the ranges – the Annapurna Range in Sarangkot and enjoy the company of friends while on that trip of a lifetime and the Langtang Range on my last visit to Dhunche in Ruswa district.

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Sunrise in Dhunche … Hello, Lantang Range!

In life we get to experience new things … live life different from what were used to … met people we will never get to meet again but somehow changed both of you forever … and these memories of the events that passed makes my belief in humanity even stronger.



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These are the ladies of Buntang.

I met them during our mobile clinic, they came from far ward to meet with my team, ask advice for the pain and for some received replacement assistive devices – canes.

I can’t help it I have to get a photo of them to remind me that these women are pillars in their villages. They do what men do, carry load, plant and harvest and much more – care for their families.

I did a similar post Beautiful in my Eyes – Ladies of Buntang hope you enjoy reading!



Bottle Gourd

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Bottle gourd is a member of the pumpkin family but is best grown on trellis.

These are harvest for sale in one of the stores in the area where we are conducting our weekly mobile clinic to reach many people cut off from our services because of the monsoon, landslides and break in the road.

Life and trade continue in spite of the challenges around the village. Enjoy this vegetable when you find yourself in Asia.



My Nepal Top 9 Stories : Where Do I Sleep Tonight?

Where indeed?

Arriving late, my thoughts were veering towards nice shower and nice comfy bed. As we are heading to the guesthouse and while the driver was trying small conversation, I am almost dozing off from tiredness. Until we reached the end of the main road from the airport, which took almost 20 minutes, to a dirt road, the worst I had in Kathmandu.

The guesthouse located in the Budhanilkantha municipality at the foothills of the Shivapuri water reserve and national park. Away from the pollution Kathmandu is known for and later I will know was 15 minutes to our office.

Guesthouse One

Replacing the one of the first batch of responder, I took over her room in the first house of 2 my organization rented for 15 expatriates. The house was a mess when I arrived – beds were on the floor in the living room and house furniture were literally in the middle of the foyer because it just arrived and are not yet fixed in the 7 rooms we have. Imagine how big the house is.

I took the room on the ground floor at the foot of the stairs leading to the 2 other floors of the house. It has a new bed, mattress and I managed to find new bedding, pillow and duvet. I was helped by one colleague (the logistics support) to settle in and was told simple instructions if and when there’s an earthquake – listen to the alarm and get out of the house, wait 15 minutes before returning inside – got it!

Can I go to sleep now?

Shower and sleep was uneventful, too tired to be bothered but was happy there was hot water.

The morning after this is what I saw …

It was a massive house, not what I was expecting in Nepal but the area where we live almost have the same structure around – it was the diplomatic compound after all!

But I only got to stay for few weeks at the ground floor and I was moved to the third floor known to us as the dorm because I only get to sleep in my room for the weekend and my g/f room was given to someone more permanent in Kathmandu … fair enough, but it means all the visitors in the mission will be my weekend roommate — bummer! Good thing it only happened twice and it was of course not too bad, so I took back the bummer comment.

The move to the top floor was a blessing actually – I always have the room (enough to fit 3 queen size beds) and a balcony and roof top deck to myself and I got stunning view of the city, the hills, sunset and sunrise and full moon (check out Fullmoon Over Shivapuri Hills) and I am not bothered with noise when I want to sleep in or just wanting to be left alone.

Living on the rough

As I moved out of Kathmandu to be stationed in my base, I knew already what to expect — I will live in a tent and it will not be comfortable. Little did I know that it was really going to be tough, but I also did realized that I was not in the position to complain because my staffs have been living there for 6 weeks already.

(Only those who experienced living in the tent for extended period of time have the right to complain — for the others shush!)

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My six staffs have similar room as I had but staying there for over 2 months before we moved to a proper building

I arrived with the other project manager and the two of us will live in a tent … yey! Holiday camping is no comparison to my experience living in a small tent for 3 weeks — I had no choice to begin with, on where to put the tent (though I had a choice on what kind of tent to use but that’s another story altogether).

Staying in tent was fun when I was still climbing, much more when I experienced “glamping” in Uganda overlooking the Nile river. But when your tent is pitched on the grounds without grass but instead has little stones, waking moments was like being thrown in the washer, worst its like being walked on by someone in stilettos. Was tough! Throw in the space problem and the humidity because I arrived in Nepal in the middle of summer and Nuwakot was low enough to be blessed with nice cool breeze like in Kathmandu and other elevated districts (Ruswa I mean).

For 3 weeks I endured (again not complaining!), twice I had a chance to sleep on the massage bed when there were more people in the base than expected – which was a welcome relief from sleeping in small space and warm room.

For 3 weeks, I felt dirty before Friday, grumpy for lack of good sleep and tired for both lack of sleep (have to wake up when foot traffic starts coming in the compound) and lack of comfortable space to work (either under the tree because it’s too hot in the tent, in tea houses and after 5 on your lap). I always look forward to the weekends when I know I can have long hot showers, sleep in and eat good food – either I cook or from good restaurant.

House in the middle of the field 

The logistics managed to find a house for me and my colleague to move and have a decent after 5 life in Bidur. They found a house under construction and to be ready before the big rainy season come – or so we thought.

While waiting, they rented the top floor of the only hotel deemed safe for NGO to use. We used the 4 rooms (3 bedrooms and 1 hall) as sleeping quarters in the night and the hall as office during the day. It was different from living in the tent — en suite toilet and bath (even if the water was brown), bed, pillow and duvet. Plus breakfast and beers available all the time (not that they are consumed at the same time ha ha).

The house we are waiting to be finished was found in the middle of the field – around it was the owners corn and rice field, but additional cash was so tempting they are willing to rent it out while they live in a tent next to it. Strange arrangement but we took it. The constructions took longer than it should be and my colleague only managed to stay for 2 weeks to enjoy the comfort of sleeping on a proper bed and showering anytime you like before he was replaced.


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House in the middle of the field

But our stay in the house in the middle of the field was short lived – we have to move out when it was discovered that rain water was coming in the kitchen (from the ceiling) and no water in the tap. Worst was when the mud was too much and the plants were growing, movement was becoming restricted.

Why not rent a whole building instead? 

That’s what we did. We rented a whole building, refurbished hotel next to the military base along the only road to Bidur.

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View from the first office we had in Bidur … the main road leading to the hills and other districts out of Nuwakot and 1 km away was the 2nd hotel cum office

From the first office, we rented the 2nd office in the sister hotel but we included all the 13 rooms in it to house all of the Bidur staffs relocated from Kathmandu.

Not cheap but more practical.

So taking the furniture from the house in the middle of the field, I continue to enjoy my Kathmandu amenities in my new room — on the first floor, at the back of the building away from the road and looking out to the hills (and lots of birds), with en suite toilet and bath, hot water machine (which I didn’t get to use for fear of it blowing up – LPG powered geezer) and air-condition unit.

The same for everybody that needed to be accommodated by the organization plus the visitors. We started to have a good work-life balance while we slowly finishes up the emergency mission and preparing to hand over the remaining activities to the district hospitals and to the other partners.


Facade of the final lodging … Satanchuli One

Unfortunately towards the last month of the mission, the petrol problem plague the country, immediately after the new constitution was promulgate late September. I did not get to spend much time in Bidur and enjoy the district life — slow paced, work packed and nightly fun with my staffs, it was a heartfelt goodbye, I have to drag my feet to leave.

As I bade goodbye to Nepal, my last morning in Kathmandu stepping outside my balcony was to take my last look around and thank God that in spite of the earthquake, the beauty around remains beautiful to greet me “good morning” wherever I wake up from my restful night.

My Nepal Top 10 Stories : How did I get to Nepal? 

My Nepal TOP 10 Stories: How did I get to Nepal?

I just flunked an interview, I knew it! It was when I realized I was talking to someone I don’t want to work with, at least that’s what my gut told me. I felt after the 2nd question in the interview that I was applying for a “beauty pageant” than for development work, so I abandoned all impression and just went along with it – and that was the longest interview I had for work. Sure enough I didn’t get the call back.

Couple of weeks later the earthquake struck Nepal, leaving the country shaken and some parts of it completely flattened. Another 2 weeks the second earthquake struck and more devastation. The already fragile infrastructures that were damaged by the first earthquake of April was collapsed by the second earthquake in May. The death toll increased and the impending monsoon made all efforts to recovery strained, not forgetting the hourly aftershocks not lower than magnitude 5 in the Richter scale.

Then I got the message, asking me if I am ready to be deployed for short emergency mission.

To be or not to be?

Hmmmm … you see I am a development worker, mostly did long term work post emergency. The threat of security has always been minimal in that context, meaning I can do and go wherever I want to reach as many people as I need to for my work. So I debated between my two self (or more) – Can I do it? Can I function in emergency context? Am I ready for earthquakes? 

At the back of my mind “it’s Nepal silly, the country I missed visiting when I was still has the drive and energy to climb” and it’s my opportunity to see the Himalayas, Everest even.

I did my research, I looked into what’s happening on the ground and braced myself, responded to the e-mail and gave my resounding “YES” I’ll go.

Choosing the right post

It’s short term and most of the emergency response effort had been covered when I will arrive in the country in mid-June.

The first thing I need to do was to decide which of the 3 post offered I can do or want to do — I choose the lesser challenge according to me — project management of one site covering 2 districts in the central region of the country, west of Kathmandu.

Since I’ve been managing projects all my life in disability development context, I just have to find my niche in the same space in emergency context – how difficult could that be? oh so I thought.

So PM it is.

Contract signed.

Tickets sent.

Packing begun.

Since it’s only a 2 months post as expected from emergency missions I only had one luggage enough to tide me over and be back in no time.

Flying in the night

IMG_20150615_143206Taking the plane late afternoon from my home country, leaving delayed as usual, I arrived one hour to boarding for Kathmandu in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Good thing though was that the person sitting next to me was from Nepal and going with the same flight as me – so if I am late he is too obviously!

Luckily, the plane stopped at the gate next to the one connecting to Kathmandu, so delayed or not in the end I had time to relax before I boarded the midnight plane that arrived midnight again in Kathmandu.

IMG_20150615_211936Good thing the food was good both flights. I am not sure about the food in Nepal, although I love Indian food not sure if its the same – so a little airplane food in that taste genre was not so bad.

At the airport 

Arrived very very late with 30 kilos of luggage I was happy. I felt very important, telling people in the visa section what I will do and they were very happy for my arrival (well that was how it is so take it!)

I was time warped. Arriving late and in a small airport, coming in from two big ones knocked me off and sent me back to earth – reality check! This is it, I am in Nepal.


At the carousel (pardon the blurry photo it seems like me and my camera was adjusting when I took this one – just making excuse actually!)

Now, I have to look for the driver, I am sure the organization in spite of the busy schedule on the ground would send one driver for pick-up, and I found him, brandishing the organization logo so I approached this lovely man, more like a boy actually and explained who I am and took me to his smallish car, then we sped away.


Treated like an important person – sitting at the back, a/c on, I had a good view of the outside hoping to see first hand even in the dead of the night the devastation of the earthquake.

The trip took 30 minutes with traffic according to the driver but since we’re the only car in the street, it barely took 20 (but the trip feels long the first time) and was amazed to see that there were no damages in the main thoroughfare until we reached our guesthouse.

The driver, Raju said that most are in the districts and Kathmandu had been spared except for some old buildings and monuments.

I rest my case, I will be in the thick of it anyway soon.

As soon as I arrived at the beautiful guesthouses and met some of the people I will work (and live with) for the couple of month I am in Nepal, I head off to my assigned room and slept like a baby.

The next day, I woke up dazed but rested.

It’s time to go to work.

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