15-21 May 2015 #758

Searching for a heart of gold

Dambar Krishna Shrestha in Himal Khabarpatrika, 10-16 May

Ten days after the earthquake, my colleagues and I headed to parts of Rasuwa, Makwanpur and Nuwakot that hadn’t received any relief at that time. We went there as both journalists and relief workers, carrying supplies bought with funds collected from friends and families. 

As our car drove into Gerkhu village of Nuwakot in the mid-afternoon on 6 May, we saw an elderly woman (see pic). “I have no one left in the world,” she said, her face at the window of the car. Although our initial plan was to eat first, and then begin distributing the supplies we had brought, our hunger subsided after seeing her. Handing her a packet of instant noodles and two packs of biscuits, I told her: “Eat these for now, we will come back to you later.”

“Why are you giving me so much, please give these to others,” she said and returned the biscuits. When our driver Sanu Kancha Tamang tried to give her money, the woman initially refused to accept saying, “Why do you have to give me money when I don’t even have a purse.” She later accepted the money, tucking the notes inside her patuka.

Himal’s photojournalist Devaki Bista tried to hug her but the woman threw her hands away saying, “What have you done, girl? Don’t you know that I am an untouchable Dalit?”

“Aama, what is your name? How old are you?” I asked. “I don’t remember my name. I was four during the 1934 earthquake,” she replied.

My eyes welled up, Devaki was also tearing up. Sitting behind us, stand-up comedian Manoj Gajurel looked sombre. Never had I seen the man who is always making others laugh so serious.

The great earthquake has brought Nepalis together. A lot of individual Nepalis not affiliated to any charity or the government have come forward to help with rescue and relief. Thousands of Nepalis living abroad have returned home with supplies, while those who are still outside continue to donate generously. Amidst the sense of shared humanity in the aftermath of the earthquake there are, however, some who are so greedy they see the tragedy as an opportunity to profit. They are usually the ones who are already well off.

In Kathmandu we saw people with luxurious apartments and bungalows fight with homeless people over tents. A well-to do store owner in Nuwakot had no shame telling us to leave our supply of mosquito nets with him reasoning there were no mosquitoes higher up the mountains in Rasuwa. Relief materials collected by a group of young entrepreneurs from Pokhara meant for distribution to remote villages in Rasuwa was seized by those who didn’t need it. In Sindhupalchok looting relief supplies by young musclemen is common. There are also people who claim they haven’t received any help and continue to take packages meant for those in need. 

In Gerkhu too there were people who had already received tents, and food demanding they be given as much as another villager who had received nothing so far. People who were bedecked in gold necklaces and rings were giving relief workers a list of things they needed. I kept searching for the elderly woman in the crowd. But I didn’t find her. We set aside food supplies and a blanket for her and left them with a local youth, Damodar Ghimire. We didn’t have to give her a tent because we heard she lived with whoever gave her a place to sleep for the night. 

When the angry crowd started getting unruly, we took the remaining supplies back to the car. As our car drove back to Kathmandu, I kept thinking of the grandmother with a heart of gold who despite being in need herself thought of others first.

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