Monday, July 27, 2015

Finding Sankhu

After settling into Starview Guesthouse at Changunarayan and looking at the damage in the village; Sam, Chris, Steve and I decided to check out a nearby village we had heard suffered immense damage during the quake - 98% of buildings were damaged and they had many deaths. Sankhu (pronounced Sar-koo) is located further up the Kathmandu Valley and is not on a hill like Changu, so it experienced more of the rolling effect of the quake.  This ancient village was once an important stop on the old trade route from Kathmandu to Lhasa in Tibet.  

From Changu we could walk to the bus stop at the bottom of the hill and then catch a bus into Sankhu (an experience not to be missed!).

Bus stop to Sankhu

Buses in Nepal are wall to wall bodies.

Roading is a little different to what is 'normal' in the western world. There is often no quick way to go somewhere and routes can be very 'round-about'. Walking between villages appears to be common practice here, and the walk to Sankhu is about 1-2 hours from Changunarayan at a cruisey 'tourist' pace.  

The walking tracks between villages and into the main road are everywhere.

Walking down the hill from Changunarayan was interesting as the rains really play havoc with the stone paths and mud tracks - so of course it gets very very slippery; and its steep!

Lone woman working in the rice field

People walking the track and dogs are always there too.

The walk itself was a feast for the eyes - stunning vivid green rice fields, beautiful brick homes, people working and going about their day - stopping to watch these four foreigners walk by; the views were just breath-taking; reaffirming time and time again what an absolutely stunning country Nepal is. 

Walking down from Changunarayan to the valley and on to Sankhu.

Beautifully ordered rice fields.

The walk to the bus stop took us about 45 minutes or maybe an hour (I don't find myself checking the time much at all since I have been here) and we caught a bus into Sankhu after walking several more kilometers.

The town gates that we walked through on arrival.

As we approached the village I could see some damaged buildings but I was not at all prepared for what I saw as we walked through the ancient main village gates - it looked as if someone had unleashed a series of bombs.  

Mud was metres high.

I was feeling pretty emotional about what I saw and walking around through the devastation there was practically nothing left undamaged that was of the older style building .

Bricks, mud and litter lined the streets.

What really struck me was how people managed to rise up ... in amongst the rubble and broken buildings, small shops were trying to do business, people were working clearing rubble in what seemed to me  to be a wall of mud that had washed through the village.  There was a thick layer of this stuff which the next day when we came back had been cleared by a dozer down the main street.  It would be difficult not to be affected by the level of devastation here and I thought about the villagers and how it must have been on the day of the first quake for them all - terrifying I am sure.  

It was all too much to take in.

We waded our way through gluggy mud, not really sure what to do or where to go next - it just all seemed too much to take in.  At least in Changunarayan there is still the heart of the village and a more tangible realism that the village will return to normal or better - but here in Sankhu, it seemed it would be an impossible dream to return it to the quaint ancient town it once was.

An elderly couple are slowly digging out their house that was buried in mud.

We could see the need here for help was paramount. Signs of immediate disaster response was everywhere - USAID tents and tarps; tents from the Chinese, Koreans and various other countries were everywhere and we could see people constructing corrugated iron shelters amongst the numerous ones already up.


A small boy tries to push his bike up over the rubble.

We decided to talk to a local to ask about what we could do - we all decided we really wanted to at least lend a hand here - the desire to just 'muck in' with the locals digging and removing rubble is very high, but we wanted to know first if they actually wanted us to do that - to help.  We asked a young man dressed in white (we later found out men must wear white for a year if their father has passed away ... there were a lot of men dressed in white in Sankhu) if he knew of people that needed immediate assistance.  
"Wait" he says "I will take you to my brother" (everybody has a brother, cousin, Aunty they can call at a moments notice).
We walk through another seemingly endless row of broken houses, mangey skinny dogs; thick gluggy black mud and are introduced to this guys brother - Dilip - a well-spoken Nepali who seems to be very excited about us being here and takes us straight away to a cluster of tents and make-shift shelters where people have been living since the quakes. 

Dilip takes us to people hard hit by the quake - the homeless.

Everywhere you look there are clusters of tents and shelters. In this particular group of tents and shelters there are 10 families living; they have no clean drinking water (a big problem after the quakes) and they are living in pretty harsh conditions.

Kids playing in the mud and dirt.

There are many tents like this in Sankhu.

Make-shift shelters are everywhere.

As I sat and listened to the discussions about how this family or that family was in great need (1000 people in the village still need a shelter someone said) I started thinking about what a monumental task it is to have everyone in a shelter before winter. The immediate response people come in with tents, tarps, some food and some water purification tablets and then they go.  There appears to be nothing to bridge the gap between being in a tent and getting a shelter. If you have money then maybe you can build yourself something; and most families did get iron through the Government, but the aid money is being drip-fed to ensure it isn't misappropriated, so there seems to be many people still in tents and some just sleeping in public buildings - not an ideal situation at all for the winter.  Then there is the other question - of who gets what and how do we decide which people are more in need of a shelter over anyone else?

A man sleeps in a public building.

After much discussion Steve organised with Dilip to construct 10 shelters and that we would start building the next day, using his large home with a big yard as a construction area. 

Steve doing the building deal with Dilip who seems to have all the right contacts for materials.

All I could think of was "are these 10 shelters going to end up only going to Dilip's family and how do we ensure this doesn't happen".  Certainly if he had family in dire need he would have helped them; he appeared well-dressed (also in white), well-spoken and educated.  He told us he owns three businesses and was doing social work; that he had already been involved in constructing 127 shelters for people in the village.  We didn't really have time to waste figuring all this out as our trip to Nepal is short - we needed to make the most of the little time we had, plus Steve was needing to get up to the Everest region.  We just had to trust that the shelters would go to those who really needed them; not just various family members.
We walked back into the business area of Sankhu and ordered the materials after deciding how best to construct the shelters and I got my first glimpse of "this is Nepal" when we put people on the spot for when things would arrive to enable us to crack on with the task.  There always seems to be numerous loud animated discussions over what should be the simplest of things, and often a simple question requiring a simple response will draw several locals as they all debate the best way to approach something.  I quite enjoy watching this approach to problem-solving but certainly do not advocate it as a way to get things done quickly!
The next day we needed to be in Sankhu to capitalise on when the power would be on.  In Nepal they have programmed power outages which means there are only certain times of the day when anything requiring power can be used. Steve decided to go earlier as Dilip was supposedly getting a generator organised (which did not happen - this is Nepal!) and Chris, Sam and I followed about 45 minutes later.  I took several water filters with me and placed these in some homes.  This was one of the main reasons I wanted to come to Nepal was to offer a way to have clean water for drinking, without needing to boil it.  Nepal is a muddy, dirty place anyway during monsoon and people just deal with the conditions because thats the way it has always been - but after the quake there is of course the risk of disease.  It was a satisfying thing to place that first water filter - the woman appearing a little emotional, and certainly I felt that way also.

This family invited Chris and I in for chia and biscuits after I repaired their filter. They were so lovely.

The first day on the "building site" (at Dilip's house in Sankhu) we managed to accomplish a reasonable amount - cutting steel and sorting things for the houses. We were cooked a traditional Nepali meal by Dilip's wife, plus I had been invited to drink tea with a family who needed their water filter (placed previously by someone) repaired. They were so grateful they asked me to stay and I ended up playing with their young three year-old daughter for some time. She could read and write English - at three!

This gorgeous family lived in a small tin shelter and were so grateful for their water filter.

The reality of attempting to build temporary homes started to sink in when of course the scheduled power outages stopped us from getting the work done as quickly as needed. We were also gob-smacked at the "health and safety" (NOT) that is present and also some of the equipment we had to work with. 

The infamous welder.

Steve was becoming increasingly frustrated with the archaic welder (ha -ha) which would weld a weak seam at best and we had to fashion a welding "mask" out of three pairs of sunglasses.

Best welders mask ever; better than THIS one ...

The man in the iron mask - the trick is to hold the mask with one hand and weld with the other!

Builder labourers who are working on Dilips house which was damaged in the quake.

The first of the building materials arrives at Dilips house.

 Someone told Steve - "don't try to change Nepal - let Nepal change you"; I think those are very wise words.
Even though we are on a bit of a time frame; I had accepted long before we came that things would be done slowly and possibly may not get done; the reality of attempting to build ten shelters in a country that does not seem to believe in planning anything, is a major challenge! As the only girl on this trip I really didn't feel I could suggest we aim for a more realistic number (who listens to a girl anyway), but I am quite enjoying being a hammer hand although the heat is oppressive - in fact it is SO hot I feel my scalp burning. I have never experienced that before!  Best to go with the flow and eat Mo-Mo!

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