Reconstruction in Nepal starts with those who lost their homes and livelihoods. Meet six of them. My piece for UNHCR Tracks.
My piece for the UNHCR magazine Tracks — how Nepalis in an isolated village are coping.
Here is my piece in the New York Times — how uncertainty and helplessness feeds fear and hyper vigilance
And my latest on Nepal earthquake via NPR
As you all know I live in Nepal and have been writing a lot about the recent earthquake. I have also been trying to find ways to help Nepalis. I can’t be like the huge international NGOs but as an individual, as a family and as a community of friends and like-minded individuals we still can make a huge difference. I have chosen to help rebuild a village I know well . It is small enough – 100 households and about 500 people so that we can make a real difference. The story of this village and how we will help it rebuild follows.
On 25 April 2015, a 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck Nepal, about 75 km northwest of the capital, Kathmandu. Because the earthquake struck at noon on a Saturday, most people were outside of their homes; schools, many businesses and most government offices were closed; and so the death toll was much lower than it might have been.
Even so, the earthquake left as many as 500,000 families homeless. Thousands of villages are believed to have been largely destroyed. The village of Kot Danda (Armory Hill) is one of them. Home to about 100 families, Kot Danda sits on a ridge on a high hill on the southern edge of the Kathmandu Valley. A long steep and narrow road connects it to the bigger towns and urban sprawl of Kathmandu, but it is far from the attention of the Nepali government and the international aid community. On April 25, the earthquake destroyed about 80 percent of the houses (see pictures). At the moment, several hundred people are living under makeshift tarps.
Time is critical. The villagers need to build temporary shelters to protect themselves from the monsoon rains that will begin in a few weeks. They need tarps and corrugated iron sheets. As soon as possible, they also need to start building better shelters to take them through the frigid Himalayan winter, which will begin in early November.
I am an American writer who has lived in Nepal for the past two years. My aim is to raise money for the people of Kot Danda who have lost their homes, first, to provide them with tarps and corrugated iron sheeting and, then, with the guidance of a village committee that will identify and agree the most urgent needs, to help homeless villagers build more permanent structures. I will disburse the funds, keep the books, supervise the construction and update the donors regularly. I am always reachable on my email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
If we manage to raise more money that the village needs, the remaining funds will go to similar activities to the ancient Newar village of Khokana, just down the road from where I live. Much of that historic town is now destroyed, and many of its old mud-brick and mud-stone houses have collapsed or are too weak to be inhabitable.
The people of Kot Danda are extremely grateful for your donation. Nepal needs your help.
A brief history: Kot Danda is the village of our family friend, Keshav Thapa Magar, and his extended family. Most of the families have lived here since the 1750s. Kot Danda means “Armory Hill”, and the settlement was originally used, in the mid- and late-1700s, to store artillery after the army of Prithvi Narayan Shah, the King of Gorkha, invaded the Kathmandu Valley and united Nepal under his leadership. Keshav’s ancestors were all Magar, an ethnic group that served as soldiers for the Gorkha kings in the 1700s, and they were given land on the hilltops surrounding the Kathmandu Valley as a reward for their service and also to ensure that other invaders could not gain control of the hills or the trade routes entering the valley. link for donations is below.
My piece for the Daily Beast.
Tangled Journeys on NPRnews.
I like to think that feeding the dogs has made me a better person. But that would elevate me to a place I don’t belong. At first, when I moved to Kathmandu almost two years ago, I was scared that one of the many unvaccinated stray street barkers would attack Biko, my 95-lbs Rhodesian Ridgeback when I took him out for walks. Nights, they howled, yelped, ululated and whimpered incessantly, up and down the street, echoing into the valley and down onto the main road. They were part of the cacophony that drove me crazy my first months in Nepal. In addition to the dogs, I fantasized about shooting the pigeons on my window sill, snaring crows that dropped rotting bones on my porch and sneaking in pitch darkness over to my neighbor’s house to cut his electricity wires and terminate the high pitched Bollywood songs that could not be blocked out even with earplugs and pillows over my head.
There are about 20,000 stray dogs in the Kathmandu Valley though only about 30 of them live in a square block area around my house. Eight of them live on my street. They are community dogs in the sense that they live their lives out on a territory of a few blocks and are fed scraps by shop owners and passersby. They drink from the open sewers. I have seen them occasionally petted but more often kicked, tortured by little kids, hit or just ignored.
Last August, one of them, a long-legged, thick-haired black female was hit by a passing car in front of my house. Not wanting her to wait for death while lying in the ditch (or maybe not wanting to see her wait for death), I called a mobile vet who anesthetized her on the spot and brought her down to the animal hospital on the back of a motorcycle. This wasn’t a great act of charity on my part. Transport, vaccinations, deworming and three days of treatment for an injured back leg, after some bargaining, cost me less than $50. I promised my husband that I would not adopt her. She returned to the streets.
I named her Raksi, after the local moonshine. She’d been blinded in her left eye by a sharp object and had a habit of rolling her head to a side so as to expand her field of vision, just like the neighborhood drunk next door. I started to feed her every day outside my gate. She’d recognize my car as soon as it turned the corner and in her trademark weaving run, head up the middle of the road regardless of on-coming speeding buses. Raksi has more than street smarts. Fortified by the daily meals, she rapidly became the self- entitled queen of my street, ruling with a bossy and iron hand that consisted of barking and biting her contemporaries. Other canines, when they see Raksi, are quick to give up sunny sleeping spots and scrounged food. Her single-mindedness turns aggravating when she dashes through our opening gate and makes a run for the house and the kitchen to plop down on Biko’s bed, fleas and all. No pulling, yanking or yelling can get her out, only luring her with dog biscuits. Unlike any of the other strays I have encountered, she greets me with high chest jump, tail wagging and sharing mud and dust. She uses her mouth as a hand shake, gently holding my hand with her very sharp white teeth.
Feeding only one dog does not work in Kathmandu. Raksi’s highly subservient partner soon joined her. Tentative and weak, we named him after a local politician. He had mange. Another veterinary bill. A red brown Raksi look-alike followed suit. Neighbors say she is a half sister, so we called her Whiskey to keep the alcohol theme in the family. Feeding time on our driveway is now a juggling art as Raksi needs to start eating before the others or an all out whirlwind brawl ensues. The gate gang has also adopted Biko, whose philosophy on his daily walks is that most dogs are to be ignored or barely tolerated. His attitude does not impress Raksi. Irrepressibly playful, she jumps on him, licking his nose and they occasionally chase each other around our lawn in a mad frenzy. They all follow Biko on his daily walk. Whiskey rolls on her back, feet up in total subservience when he approaches. Raksi places herself between me and Biko. If a strange dog approaches, Raksi takes the lead, barking to make him back away.
I find it hard to say no or even to set a limit at five. I fed a terrified pregnant bitch – we named her Kali – both before and after her nine puppies were born. Raksi was impossibly nasty, attacking her every day with bared teeth. I hated Raksi then. And on many days, I find her hard to tolerate. Yet I do respect her and that irrepressible chutzpah that I know makes it possible for her to survive and thrive on the street.
As a child, growing up in a Manhattan apartment, I relentlessly begged my father for a dog. He attempted to console me with a total of 16 parakeets, though thankfully not all at the same time. My husband gave me Biko, my first dog, as a Mother’s day present six years ago when we lived in Kenya. My four kids tease me that I love Biko more than any of my human children. But no one gave me Raski or her gang. Knowing them, means I am no longer intimidated by all the other plentiful strays. I’ll catch myself talking to these Kathmandu denizens as I pass them on my runs.
I carry dog snacks in the car for the dogs at the airport and at my son’s school. And cocoon-like, the hours of nighttime barking now lull me to sleep. I can easily recognize Raksi’ s lilting shrill howl. Kathmandu is without doubt my home.