Of Natural And Man-Made Disasters
In my line of work I travel a lot; in recent years mainly to Asia. Between 2009 and 2015 I regularly visited Nepal. Ever since my childhood I wanted to travel in the Himalayas. One of the first adventure books I ever read was by Alexandra David-Néel, a French woman who travelled to the then forbidden city of Lhasa in Tibet in the 1920s. And while I never made it to Tibet, I developed a special love for Nepal and its people. And after a break of several years I soon will have the chance to go back and visit Kathmandu and its surroundings once more. And to get into the right mood, I want to share one of the stories from my last trip to Nepal. I hope you enjoy it.
Half A Year After A Devastating Earthquake Struck Nepal
Throwback to October 2015. I am back in Nepal. My first visit after the
earthquake in late April that had claimed the lives of a about 10,000 people. Back then many villages to the north and north-east of Kathmandu, the country‘s capital, had been destroyed. And
while now, almost six months later, it is easy to miss the signs of the recent disaster in Kathmandu itself, dozens of villages in Gorkha, Sindhupalchowk, Nuwarkot and other severely affected
districts still lie in ruins.
It’s early October and I have the chance to visit some of the affected
communities. Most of the roads have been cleared. And while access to the villages in Sindhupalchowk has always been challenging, we are now able to cover most of the trip by car. Only once we
reach Dhadey, we leave the car and proceed on foot. “About an hour”, we were told, “and you reach Chanauty.”
For the last couple of months - well, years, to be honest - the fit of my prosthesis has been less than ideal. The socket just does not give me the snug fit I need for the precision foot placement I want. Often the prosthesis wiggles itself lose within a few hundred meters of starting a walk. Sometimes it stays put a bit longer. But never long enough to get through a hike without refitting it more or less frequently. And so far I have not figured out on which days I can expect a good fit and on which days I should actually stay at home and let others do the hiking.
While blister patches can compensate for some of the
problems with the socket, the lose fit often leads me to being insecure and lacking confidence when I most need it: On the harder parts of a walk, when the paths are slippery or narrow or steep
or exposed - or all of the above.
Setting Out To One Of The Affected Villages
But hearing that the walk would be only about an hour, I thought I should
manage. And starting uphill normally helps as it allows the leg to get pressed properly into the socket and - so the theory - fit securely before we get to the more challenging downhill part of
the trek. Often that works. Well, and often it doesn‘t. And while I am in Europe I have no problems with re-fitting the prosthesis whenever I feel like it - meaning stripping down to my
underwear, getting out of the socket, drying the stump and the socket before getting back into it - I try not to do that in Asian and African cultures. It just isn‘t appropriate.
So often I keep on walking with the prosthesis being only loosely attached to the stump giving me a rather wobbly control over the leg and loads of blisters while – if the frustration takes over for a minute or two - I throw in a bit of cussing for the people around me for free. Although I really try to keep this to a minimum. Promise!
Anyway, the way up to Chanauty is okay-ish. The path is wide and not very steep, the views were stunning and we make good progress. Often we meet people who carry immense loads on their backs. Mostly in the typical Nepali way; i.e. everything is tugged away in or loaded onto a wicker basket. This basked then is carried with a single strap around the person‘s forehead. We see people carrying 35 kg and more this way. Many of them old men, old women, kids. Walking for hours, uphill, often in flip-flops. Impressive, to say the least. And seeing them walking up the hills with all the weight on their backs forces you to put things back into perspective. An ill-fitting prosthesis isn‘t all that bad after all.
People In Dire Situations, With The Winter Only Weeks Away
After about 90 minutes we reach the village. Most of Chanauty had been
destroyed by the earthquake. Many people live in emergency shelters. Some share whatever is left of their houses with their life stock. In the weeks following the earthquake people received
emergency assistance - the equivalent of about one hundred British Pounds, two corrugated zinc sheets, tarpaulins, food, cooking oil, soap, and the like. The bare essentials to make it through
the first days and weeks after the earthquake. But for many who have lost their houses and all their possessions - and often the breadwinners in the families, too - this will not be enough. They
need further assistance to get back on their feet. And they need this assistance quickly as winter is coming soon.
But the chances that the people in the affected areas get the support they
need are slim. Handling a disaster like the earthquake in April is a major challenge for a rich and well functioning state with a less demanding geography and with a good infrastructure. Given
Nepal‘s terrain, many of the places are hard to reach even during the best of times. If you add a government that often is not up for the tasks ahead, some politicians openly displaying an ,I
can‘t be bothered attitude‘ and the recent political troubles in other parts of the country diverting attention from the reconstruction issue, you have another catastrophe in the making. The
upheavals in the country‘s southern plains caused a blockage of the Indian border – Nepal’s main import route for almost anything the country needs - that led to an acute shortage in petrol,
diesel and cooking gas. And all this is urgently needed in order to rebuild the country and get the people through the winter. Many face troublesome months while significant parts the political
elite in Kathmandu and Delhi see no need for a speedy and practical solution to break the current deadlock and allow the reconstruction efforts to get back on track.
A Short Walk That Puts My Complaints Back Into Perspective
Soon it is time to start our way back. We still have about an hour‘s walk and five hours in the car ahead of us. Only minutes after we set out from the village and start our descent, the prosthesis decides that this is one of the bad days. It just doesn’t stay where it is supposed to stay. Walking is painful and only possible if I keep the muscles of my thigh constantly flexed. But then again who am I to complain about some minor problems walking back from a village that had been almost completely destroyed not even half a year ago. Who am I to complain when I had just witnessed the immense hardship these people face day in day out. With even more challenging times once winter is on its way. Sometimes it‘s good to be reminded that an ill-fitting socket isn‘t the end of the world, nothing that should bring you down and keep you from doing things. It is something that can be fixed. A luxury most of the people I met in Chanauty just do not have.
Post by Bjoern Eser, the creator of The Active Amputee.