Don't go back to Nepal, the situation is growing worse, there is nothing to do, if you're so desperate, wait for a few years. My well-wishers may have lived in the US all their lives but they were insistent: Nepal is a mess, stay out of it.
When I came back to Kathmandu, I saw that the sun still rose every morning and people still went about their daily business. Bandas were more frequent, there were street protests almost every day but men still sat in teashops soaking up newspapers. The Ghanta Ghar still chimed mournfully every hour. For good or bad, life was still going on in the capital.
Only the emails I received from the other side of the world expressed horror: 'We have been following the events in Nepal, it all sounds so scary!' My American professor canceled his trip to Kathmandu and sent me his prayers. Potential tourists rerouted to other destinations. And Nepalis abroad mourned the tarnished image of their homeland. But life here in Kathmandu went on.
When my job took me outside Kathmandu, people began alerting me on the 'situation' again. Those who had never stepped out of the Valley seemed most wary of the unseen dangers. Some seemed to think that the Maoists wait to pounce on every traveller on the road. The highways are paved with landmines, passengers are caught in the crossfire, set foot beyond Thankot and you tread between the jaws of death. Watch out, they might be creeping into the capital. Protect your family and stock up in time.
Right before a trip to Kailali, I heard about a minor bomb in the district. The news quickly roused my middle-class instinct for self-preservation. I called up a local colleague in Dhangadi to assess the risk.
"It can't be so bad, sister," he replied, "after all, we live here." And so they did. Children were still chanting lessons in roofless classrooms. Young women were cycling to work past the army barracks. And the tired laborers were often forced off to 'jansarkar' gatherings on their way home. Anything can happen anytime. But when it does, they are the ones to lose their lives and their limbs and their loved ones. They can't chatter about 'the situation' because their only choice is to live it.
As a college student, I used to wonder how people must live in Iraq and the Palestinian occupied territories. In my mind, Iraqis and Palestinians got shot and arrested and bombarded so often they were used to such atrocities.
"Of course not," said a friend who had lived in those areas, "they have their jobs and their routines, their boredoms and their dreams. Each new disaster shocks and breaks them all over again, even if it is the hundred thousandth."
Distance, how it divides us and distorts other peoples' tragedies. If we are to ever understand their suffering, we must first of all cross the distance in mind, if not in miles. But as we dramatise their condition and dehumanise their losses, we only grow further and further apart.