5th May, 2015. The idyllic village of Paslang lies nestled among Nepal’s high mountain ranges. With picture-postcard views across the valley and a close-knit and welcoming community it is the ideal spot for homestay projects for foreigners and Nepalese from other areas of the country. But as of 25 April the village has been almost totally destroyed as a result of an earthquake whose epicentre was just 20 kilometres away.
50 year old Keshar Bahadur Rana was out ploughing his fields with his two oxen when the earthquake hit. His first thoughts were for the safety of his wife and son. “I felt faint and my mind didn’t work properly when the earthquake hit,” he says. “The first thing I did was to look for my family. I shouted for my wife – I thought she was inside the house – and I was so relieved to find she wasn’t. It still all feels like a dream,” he recalls.
“It still all feels like a dream…”
For most people in the village the safety of their families was the priority. Keshar was lucky – his family had been out in the fields working and were safe. His neighbour – 23 year old Jamuna Rana – was not so lucky. She experienced the worst thing that can happen to any mother – the loss of her child.
“Thirty minutes before the earthquake came I was having lunch in the house and taking care of my baby,” she says. “I brought him outside and put him in a swing and he was sleeping. I needed the toilet, which was 15 metres away, and went out to use it and in the middle of this the earthquake happened,” she adds.
“I immediately ran back to the house and to my baby but the walls were all collapsed. I wasn’t able to think properly and I fell down unconscious so they had to take me away while my brother in law tried to rescue my baby. Eventually, after one hour, they found his body,” she says, choking through the tears.
In line with Hindu tradition one month old Bhim Bahadur Rana was laid to rest in the nearby river. Bhim was Jamuna’s first child and on top of the trauma and grief she is also still suffering from health complications from the birth. “I don’t understand – everybody else’s children were fine, but mine is dead,” she says, “his time on earth is done now – it must be God’s will.”
“everybody else’s children were fine, but mine is dead”
Baby Bhim was unfortunately not Paslang’s only fatality. Seven-month pregnant Sushila Thapa was also inside her home when the earthquake struck. Her husband Kumar Thapa was away with the army at the time, undergoing training for deployment with UN peacekeeping forces. By the time neighbours realised she was unaccounted for it was already too late for Sushila and her unborn child. Her body was recovered and, the following day, submerged in the river along with Bhim.
In such a small community as Paslang these deaths are felt keenly by all, and the whole community is still in shock. Jamuna’s brother in law Kihla Bahadur Rena – who is also the local leader of the community was injured trying to dig his nephew from the rubble of the collapsing house and had to be rushed to the hospital in nearby Gorkha town where his leg was put in a plaster cast.
For many, the potential of another big earthquake remains a real fear. As mother of two, Daal Chini Ale Magar says; “I am scared there will be another earthquake that will be bigger than the last one and that the land will crack and the house will fall.”
“I am scared there will be another earthquake that will be bigger than the last one and that the land will crack and the house will fall.”
CARE has been distributing relief items including blankets, mats, jerry cans, soap and hygiene kits to the 250 residents of the village and are looking at ways to support the community going forward with the long process of rebuilding and rehabilitation.
Most of the Paslang community are familiar with CARE. Staff are greeted with warmth and hope. The Organisation has been working in the village for the last four years on biodiversity conservation, livelihoods improvement such as fish and goat farming, and in helping them to cope with the adverse impact of climate change by building special Gabion walls and planting bamboo to control landslides.
In the space of one day the people of Paslang have lost loved ones, homes, livelihoods and almost 100 years of history. As 20 year old Bikash, an engineering student says; “our village was destroyed because it was much too pretty and it was God’s evil eye to destroy it.”
Lucy Beck in Paslang, Nepal