Just before noon on April 25th 2015, Nepal was rocked by a 7.6M earthquake that took the lives of nearly 9000 people and injured an additional 23,000. Entire villages were flattened and close to a half million people were forced to camp in makeshift shelters on whatever open ground was available.
For days after the initial cataclysm, aftershocks visited the country at the rate of one every 15 to 20 minutes. One major tremor, which occurred on May 12th, was almost as devastating as the initial quake, killing an additional 200 people and injuring another 2,500.
The quake triggered avalanches on Mt. Everest and in the Langtang Valley. World Heritage sites, among them several temples in Kathmandu’s Durbar Square, and the city’s iconic Darahara Tower, were obliterated. Adding to the confusion and rampant fear, for several days after the quake there was no electricity, and cell phone and internet communication was either non-existent or at best, intermittent.
Prior to the quake, I had been in correspondence with Dr. Hem Raj Kafle at Kathmandu University and was scheduled to fly to Nepal in September to teach a course in creative writing. But after the quake, unable to reach Dr. Kafle or anyone else at the University, I was no longer certain whether the invitation was still open.
By mid-May, however, I was finally able to get an email to him. “Things are still a little shaky here,” he wrote back, “but the university will reopen this fall and if you’d still like to come, you would be most welcome.”
I proposed that we do an oral history of the events of April 25th, inviting the students to write about their own experiences and also to interview others in the community about theirs. In late August of 2015 I flew to Kathmandu and spent a month teaching at the university.
Each of my students submitted a personal story and then during my final week in country, we took a field trip to the village of Bela in Panchkhal Kavre (municipality), about an hour’s bus ride from the university. There we visited the Shree Mahankal Secondary School where my students sat down with the kids to talk about their quake experiences. The school serves local children from 1st through 10th grades, and the medium of instruction is English. We spent the better part of the morning at Mahankal and then rode back to the campus. Some of these interviews are included on this site.
Nepal is now in the process of rebuilding itself, although as of this writing about $4 billion in foreign aid money has yet to be released by the Nepali government. By the time I got there, much of the debris had been cleared off, and those older structures in places like Durbar Square that were able to withstand the quake have been shored up and are awaiting reconstruction. The people of Nepal, especially the young, are determined to rebuild their country and to come back stronger than before.
As for the personal reminiscences and oral histories that appear on this site, the ultimate goal will be to combine them into a book, the proceeds from the sale of which will go to relief efforts in Nepal.