The story of Barahbise
The village of Barabesie lies about three hours drive to the north east of Nepal’s capital, Kathmandu, approaching the border with China. When I say three hours drive, it’s not the type of three hour drive that you or I might be used to. The drive to this town of about 5,000 is possible only if you have a four wheel drive handy, it takes in mountain passes, negotiating the usual Nepalese commuters, farmers with their goats, locals walking along the road to their homes, or to their fields, carrying their loads on their backs, or sitting around staring at you. The journey requires a negotiation through a landslide that has had a road, of sorts, carved through it so that the village is at least accessible.
It’s an historic village located in the Shindhubalchowk region, which was at the epicentre of the earthquake in April that has devastated this small country. I was told that I should visit this village because it had been flattened by the quake, reduced to little more than rubble, and, five months after the initial quake, remember, there were two major quakes, not only are the locals still clearing rubble but they are still living amidst the constant danger of landslides scarifying the hillside and threatening their village, they are also having to come to terms with the fact that there remain bodies of family and friends buried under that rubble that they cannot yet access.
Before we got to the village we came upon a house that had been buried in the landslide, it had been in the way, situated as it was between the mountains and the river. The effect of the landslide was not only to bury this house, it also dammed the river for ten days, as one after another landslide brought a terror that those of us living quiet middle class lives in wealthy western countries can only imagine, or view from afar off on our television screens, before going off to make another cup of tea.
As we entered the village the first image that struck, apart from the rubble on the ground, was most of the buildings standing at odd angles, or if not at angles, certainly parts of the buildings taking on a warped, misshapen visage. We stopped on the outskirts, got out of our car, and started walking through the town. My contact for the trip had arranged for me to meet a local resident who would show me around. My guide for the day was a film maker called Amit. A film maker of all things, a delightful, intelligent and as warm a human being as you’d hope to find. I asked him for permission to take some pictures, he gave me the go ahead to take as many as I liked, as he showed me various parts of the town, depicting various parts of devastation, clearing and recovery.
What struck me as well was that this is a wonderful village in a breathtaking part of the country, the sort of location that western tourists would gasp at with it’s mountain backdrop. But at the moment it’s down, it’s people, with barely any help from it’s government, are, on their own time, under their own steam, motivated by the inner voice that tells them they must carry on, clearing the rubble and rebuilding slowly their shattered homes and lives.
Amit took me high above the village, to a tent city, where temporary homes have been erected so that the people feel safe, have a roof over their head and an inclination that there are people who want to help them. There we found the temporary hospital, a dispensary, a consulting room, a bed, all under a tin roof, a tent filled with as much medicine as they could handle. Further along, where some houses had been spared the worst of it, rebuilding was still taking place, albeit slowly, because outside help is hard to come by. It’s expensive to hire a grader for a day, most people don’t have that sort of money. It’s left to villagers to help each other, lifting bricks and packing them neatly so that perhaps, soon, they can rebuild their homes.
And so, owners chip away at corners, rendering and replacing foundations while hoping another landslide doesn’t yet again wash away their hopes. Dreams don’t enter the equation, for the moment it’s really just hope, that the next landslide doesn’t take away their home, or bury their family members, some of whom are still buried under the rubble months on from the quake.
The people of Barhabise, as durable a people as you’d find, are rebuilding but they still, let us not forget, need our help.
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It needs to be pointed out, before the story of Giftland, Lokta paper and the generosity of my Nepali hosts is mentioned, that some things are done differently in Nepal. We in the West could learn a thing or two from them.
My final day of visiting people affected by the April 25th earthquake made for an uneasy embrace of what it means to be denied a Western middle class upbringing. I had one, these delightful children have an upbringing only in the sense that they are not living on the street.
Kailash is an artist. When you are introduced to him he will say “hello, my name is Kailash, I am an artist.” You are left in no doubt. An artist he most certainly is, in demeanour, in the passion with which he talks about teaching others, creating works that speak to people and about letting the world know that Art can help change it.
A medievil village popular with tourists flattened by the April 2015 earthquake.
The first thing that springs to mind when one sees devastation like this is how hopeless the task of rebuilding appears to be. It’s not just the homes and the temples, it’s the lives, particularly in light of the knowledge that there is no one to help, no insurance and a mere token of government assistance. It’s left to those around you, your neighbours, your relatives, your village folk. In other words, your community.
Jay Nepal, which means “Victory Nepal”, is a motley arrangement of Nepalis and foreign backpackers who have banded together to help rebuild, or more correctly, in the first instance anyway, demolish Nepal.