As most of you know, I flew out of Kathmandu about twelve hours before the earthquake hit.
Earlier that week, I was in Durbar Square and Bhaktapur, which are now wrecks. I also stayed in Bandipur, mere miles from the epicenter.
There was a single female traveler at our hotel in Kathmandu. I never got her name, but we talked briefly. She was headed out to do the Annapurna Circuit – a 20-day trek. Excitment bubbled out of her; this was a lifelong dream for her. She was figuring out what gift to buy her guide for Nepali New Year. I wonder what happened to her.
And there were three Australian women we met. They were headed for a ten-day trek to Everest Base Camp. They were amazing women – brash, loud, hilarious, friendly, the sort who never meet a stranger and are gracious enough to make you feel as funny and competent as them. All world travelers. I thought “I want to be like them when I grow up.” I wondered what happened to them.
I was incredibly lucky – so lucky that I’m having trouble imagining how narrowly I escaped. I can imagine the suffering; but I can’t imagine it happening to me. Terry Pratchett parodies this pretty well in his book The Light Fantastic:
“Twoflower was a tourist, the first of the species to evolve on the Disc, and fundamental to his very existence was the rock-hard belief that nothing bad could really happen to him because he was not involved.”
I don’t mean to make this something light; I know there’s something deeply wrong here. Wrong, but also understandable. It is true that, even were I to be stuck in Kathmandu, soon I would be brought home, to excellent medical care and plentiful food. I truly expect that never in my lifetime will something like that happen to me; I was lucky enough to be born in a country with excellent infrastructure, state-of-the-art technology, superb communications and all the other things that make prolonged disasters unlikely in the United States but likely in Nepal. It’s pure privilege.
I’ve poured over photos and stories, of places I was standing in just days before, and listen to survivors’ stories and somehow I can’t make it seem real that it might have happened to me. The point is, this sort of suffering is literally unimagineable to me, and I thought I had a great imagination.
There is something called “compassion meditation” which I learned about in Nepal. In order to become more compassionate, you imagine the people you love, and then people you dislike or don’t know, and try to sustain the feelings of the first group for the second. In this way you build compassion for those you don’t know.
Maybe I need a simpler meditation – to imagine actually suffering like they are in Nepal, actually being at the mercy of events through no fault of my own, struggling to hold on and survive amidst terrible losses. In short, to be without the great privileges I enjoy from being a member of the global 1%.
Here is a link to to the Red Cross’s Nepal page.