What I saved from the rubble

5 Aug 2015   |   Blog   |   Nepal   |   Emergency Relief

Tags:  Nepal earthquake   |   No comments

By Nana Anto-Awuakye (Caritas Communications)

If your home was destroyed in a devastating earthquake, what item would you go back to the rubble to try and save? Three months on from earthquakes which struck Nepal, we spoke with these nine survivors share with us what they saved from the rubble.

Dalli Maya Maji, 65 - A water jug

Dalli lives in the village of Chandani, where 35 people lost their lives during the earthquake. After her home was destroyed, she dug through the rubble to rescue her brass water jug.

She says: "Somehow in all the chaos I found my water jug. I can’t remember how long I searched for it, I just kept searching. I worked many hours in the field to save up and buy this water jug. I had to travel to the neighbouring village to buy it.

"Having the jug means that when visitors or family come I can serve them water in the right way."

The jug allows Dalli to treat guests with hospitality – but few of her other possessions survived the disaster.

Dalli holding her water jug

Krisma Lama, 19 - School certificate

Krisma lives in the village of Balthali, which sits on a plateau amid terraced rice fields.

Krisma had already sat her School Leaving Certificate (SLC) exams before the earthquake struck. Without the certificate to show that she’d passed, however, she wouldn’t have been able to continue her education.

She says: "I was proud to receive my SLC certificate. It is a good achievement for me. I kept it locked away in a cupboard. After the earthquake it was still there safe, inside the cupboard."

While enrolment rates in primary schools have risen in recent years in Nepal, girls are far less likely to finish school than boys, and there is a large gap between the literacy rates of men and women.

Krisma's school certificate

Meena, 33 - my baby

A few minutes before the earthquake hit, Meena put Sundari, her seven-month-old baby, into a wicker basket. While the baby slept, she took her grain to the mill to be ground – but then the earth started rumbling. She says: "I ran home. I ran while the ground was still shaking under my feet."

By the time Meena got home, her house had collapsed, and a wooden beam had fallen on the baby’s wicker basket. She could hear Sundari crying so she knew she was still alive.

She says: “My husband and I started to remove the debris, but it was taking so much time. I rushed to ask neighbours to help us, but they were dealing with their own suffering, there was distress everywhere, screaming and crying. And all the time I could hear my baby crying."

For a desperate hour, she scrabbled through the rubble to free her child. Eventually some neighbours were able to help. Together they freed Sundari, who was covered in scratches, but not seriously injured.

Meena and her baby

Panch Maya Tamang, 40 – my drum

Clasping what looks at first sight like a rusty hub-cap, Panch breaks out into a smile as she makes rhythmic music with her instrument - a home-made drum made out of deer skin. She regularly plays the drum at weddings and religious festivals, and she was desperate to save it after the earthquake.

She says: “I can’t remember how long I’ve had this drum. It has been with me always. I remember when it was new and the deerskin was newly stretched across it. It plays just as well today as it did then.

“Music is important for us during special occasions. Even with the misery of this earthquake, we still need music. That is why the drum is important for me, my family and for my community.”

Panch holding her drum

Rahar Singh Tamang, 60 - Larja Purja (red paper)

Rahar’s house was badly damaged in the earthquake, and is now held together with corrugated iron sheeting and tarpaulin. He says the most important items he saved were the “Larja Purja” – or red papers – which are his certificates for proof of land and house ownership, as well as the yellow papers that prove he has paid his taxes.

He says: “My Larja Purja papers were kept inside a small black book that I keep locked. For the first days after the quake I could not return to our home, because the shaking just kept coming. Then, after about ten days, I found the courage to go inside and get the box.

“Without official papers, things can go wrong. You need to prove that you are the one who owns the land and the building.”

Rahar holding his 'red paper'

Rama Napal, 53 – ‘Gajali’ the calf

Rama was working in the fields when the earthquake struck. She ran home to make sure that members of her family were safe – but after that, she was determined to rescue her prized calf, Gajali.

Animals are crucial to subsistence farmers like Rama, providing milk, meat and a source of income. They are also are also an important part of the spiritual life of communities. Rama named her calf “Gajali” – which means “eyeliner” – because of the animal’s sensuous eyes, which look as if they have eyeliner around them.

Two of Rama’s cows and five of her goats were killed in the earthquake, but for days she dug through the pile of rubble that was once the animal shed, searching for Gajali.

She says: “I heard no sound from Gajali, after digging the earth looking for her. Then on the third day as I was moving the earth, I saw her tail shake. Many people in the village came to help me dig her out.

“I was so happy I cried, and I gave Gujali water and grass. This is a very special calf to me. I’ll never sell her.”

Rama and Gajali, her calf

Sangata Tamang, 41 – Prayer beads and bells

It takes Sangata a few minutes to untie the knot keeping her most precious items together – they are wrapped very tightly in a muslin beige cloth. As the four corners of the cloth come away, Sangata pulls out a collection of brown and black beads, small brass bells and what look like carved effigies or figurines.

She says: “If these were lost for ever, I would feel so bad because our beads are holy and important to our worship.”

Sangata with her prayer beads

Shyam Bahadur Tamang, 70, - woven wicker grain separator

At 70, Shyam is too young to remember the earthquake of 1934, but he points further over the valley and says that people in their 90s live in the next village, who do remember the last disaster on this scale.

Shyam’s home was taken down after the earthquake by the army, as it was deemed unsafe, teetering on the edge of a clifftop. He says that the most precious item he saved was his wicker grain separator.

“I was right here in the house when the earth started to move. I spent a lot of time dashing in and out of the house collecting my belongings.

“Although its women’s work to separate the grain, I do it. I’m old but I am still useful. When the family sit down to do this work, I join in with them. It’s important for family to clean rice together.”

Shyam and a grain separator

Suku Maya Tamang, 35 - bag of rice

Suku’s five-year-old son was playing outside the house when the earthquake struck, and her 15-year-old daughter was working in a nearby field.

She says: “When the shaking started, it was difficult to keep a hold of my son. He kept slipping through my hands, like rice grain through fingers.

“I don’t know how, but I rushed inside the house and pulled out our sack of rice, and ran down the hill holding my son and the sack.

“I met my daughter down in the village. She was crying, and we were all afraid.”

Three months on, Suku’s bag of rice hasn’t been completely eaten; she still has plenty left. Many families lost their source of food as the earthquake reduced food stores to rubble.

Suku says: “We have been careful not to eat all the rice quickly, because we first have to find our feet again, so for now this bag of rice is still feeding the family.”

Suku with a bag of rice

The international Caritas network has been helping communities devastated by the earthquake by providing food, shelter, water and hygiene supplies. We will continue to work with local communities as they rebuild their lives and livelihoods.

Learn more about our Nepal Earthquake Response

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