“I felt completely helpless. I was mindless. I was lost.” Lila Bashyal describes the first night after the earthquake of May 25.
We are sitting in a simple restaurant having a simple local lunch in the middle of a busy day at work. Halfway through the meal, Lila Bashyal, Finn Church Aid Programme Coordinator, begins to describe his own experiences.
I have written many stories on the FCA website about the fates of Nepalese people, and now, it is time to tell the story of one of our own employees.
Hopefully, Bashyal’s experiences will help in understanding the deep emotional scars that most Nepalese people carry within them.
The crisis has touched everyone, even if it’s not always obvious on the surface.
Before this lunch, Bashyal has been like a regular superhero: a man who says little, but does a lot.
Day after day, he has been working hard: coordinating relief efforts and using his networks to acquire relief supplies, vehicles and workforce to deliver aid to those who need it.
He has carried a lot on his shoulders and has achieved tremendously.
Hence, it is surprising that he would open up this way. It’s hard to believe how he has been able to function so efficiently after everything he’s been through.
Bashyal explains how he had escaped his house with his wife and two kids – aged 12 and 6 – after the earthquake and set up a modest emergency shelter outside, made of black waste bags.
“It was pitch black, and all I had was a small forehead lamp. Aftershock after aftershock shook us. Storm raged and rain soaked our blankets. I lied to the kids, told them there was nothing to worry about, that we were perfectly safe. But they could see from my face that I was lying.”
Bashyal was terrified. It was difficult to get information on the devastation caused by the earthquake. Electricity was down and the local mobile network was working poorly. He believed most of Kathmandu had been destroyed. It was as if the whole world was crumbling down around him.
He didn’t know what to do. In the end, he was able to reach Anu Riikonen, Finn Church Aid Asian Regional Representative, in Cambodia by phone.
“Anu consoled me and gave me hope. She told me of all the things FCA was already doing and that they had already begun to raise funds for Nepal.”
The calmness of the Finn helped. Riikonen explained that, at least the situation in Kathmandu, according to the news, was not as catastrophic as Bashyal had feared. It wasn’t until much later that it was revealed how devastating the earthquake had been in the Nepalese countryside.
Of course, the capital too had suffered horrible destruction. Buildings had collapsed, temples fallen. In mid-town Kathmandu, the devastation was worst in Bashyal’s home region, Swayambunath, where 23 buildings collapsed.
A four story building next door to his, with a supermarket operating downstairs, had collapsed. In that building alone, 42 people died.
“For three days we heard cries for help, but the police couldn’t save the people from the rubble. On the fourth day, the cries ended”, Bashyal says.
“I’m traumatised even if I do look normal on the outside.”
Bashyal’s own building survived with quite small damages, and he has already moved back in. He sent his family to stay with grandparents in the countryside, in an area that was unharmed by the earthquake.
“It will be good for my children there. Life is normal. In a few weeks, they will forget the horrors of the earthquake.”
It was especially hard that the children were too afraid to go back inside the house. After all, children should see their home as the safest place.
In Bashyal’s own mind, the earthquake isn’t over yet. Each aftershock brings back the moments of despair.
“It takes me two to three hours after each aftershock to get back to my normal self. I don’t know what it is, but I feel something heavy inside me”, he explains pointing to his upper stomach.
“It feels like my stomach is full of rocks. My head feels heavy. I know what scientists say about earthquakes, that the worst is already behind us. But my body refuses to believe that.”
The Finn Church Aid team – Anu Riikonen and Humanitarian Adviser Johanna Tervo – that arrived in Nepal, has become important to Bashyal.
“With them I feel good. I feel that they care for me and my family. I have decided to continue working for the FCA for as long as I can, no matter what kind of a job I’m offered elsewhere.”
After the earthquake, Bashyal has been working non-stop, even though his Finnish colleagues have tried to get him to take even a day off. He has refused. Day after day, he returns to the office to work for the benefit of his country.
“I don’t want to take a day off. I don’t want to be home alone. I couldn’t bare it. I would lose my courage, I would lose myself”, he says.
The hardest part is being away from his family. “This is not a good time to live alone. It is very hard for me.”
Even the TV cannot offer relief to the loneliness. It was shattered to pieces during the earthquake.
“But I wouldn’t want to watch TV anyway. All I would see are dead bodies and images of destruction”, he admits.
Instead, Bashyal has a tiny radio, brought from Finland by Tervo, to keep him company at nights. It has been a big help.
“I go to bed in these same clothes, my wallet in my pocket, ready to run out. I don’t even lock my door. I keep the radio next to my bed and listen to it. That is how I spend my nights.”
Text and image: Antti Helin/Kathmandu