The CoP and I have arrived in Doha. For the first time in over two months the earth is still beneath our feet. As we were waiting in the restaurant at KTM airport there was a minor aftershock, part of the constant sense of movement and vibration. We are in a building – the hotel in the futuristic transit area – that doesn’t look as though it might collapse, feels as though it could, half expecting it might. The plane, as always, was full of mostly men on their way to work in the Gulf. After wheels up and a meal I slept like a baby waking just before we began our descent across the sea and into the brilliance of a million lights burning without interruption, a long, long road lit by street lights stretching out into the desert. Solid ground at last.
This excrescence has gone up over the past couple of weeks on the ground of Kathmandu Base Camp. Is nothing scared? The man who lives opposite us is connected to a famous climbing cafe, and runs a travel business, so will have been hard hit by the quakes. I am guessing he needs the land (that belongs to someone he knows who lives out of country) for a garage to keep his tourist mini-buses and stuff. There is a small office or security building going up as well and it will have a pair of strong gates by the look of the gate post.
The man in the white baseball cap has just been involved in a blazing row with two workers who have walked off the job. He was offering them money and must have short changed them. Only the very young man to the back and right is currently working now. I’ve watched these guys over the past couple of weeks, arc welding in sunglass up on wet steelwork with no gloves, or protective clothing, sliding about in the rain. It’s how it works, dump on the little guy, those who have done the work, taken the physical risk, and short change them.
Woke early and then went back to sleep. Boom. Shake. Alarm. Didn’t even think, running downstairs, holding onto both bannisters, pausing as everything swayed. Ran out behind the CoP and Tikki who were already heading for the front door. I stood outside under the gaze of neighbours from next door in a fetching pair of underpants. After a quake the city sounds as though an enormous flock of birds has landed, a cloud of human voices en masse whispering, excited, sighing and crying, dogs barking and crows, well, crows crowing. Not a big one, a 4.4. It was right under our asses, a veritable kick in the pants, which is why everything happened at once. Immediately, even mildly, my short term memory went, balance became an brief issue. Memories come and go, it takes time, psychologically and physically for the dust to settle. All in all the rewiring of my brain is holding even with MB banging outside, putting back a light fitting that had fallen, and my chair wobbling. Went out for a meeting, shopping and home. I have to carry on. Not let fears and anxieties I have controlled to a large extent reassert their influence. These aftershocks will carry on for months and maybe years.
Serves me right: yesterday I wrote about how much more stable things were.
A Quick Update
The CoP and I spent two nights at Fish Tail Lodge, Pokhara with Danish friends. First flight since the EQ’s. Nerves not quite what they were, initial sense of movement somewhat puke making, but all in all OK, though the return flight on an unfamiliar flightpath low over the city was a tad alarming. We slept in a cluster of single story rooms with nothing much over our heads save for wooden tiles and the door and window within easy access. The lake was calm, except for a terrific pre-monsoon storm that blew up and dumped tropical amounts of rain on us as I sat in the window seat working. Very peaceful and reassuring. Pokhara had been shaken, but there was little visible damage. Although nearer to the epicenter of the the first, biggest quake, most of the shock was directed eastwards towards Kathmandu.
Fishtail Mountain, Pokhara
Step by step the fear, anxiety, expectation and mental patterns established during the EQs are diminishing. Slowly the warp and weave of sanity and a more measured, controlled, mental process is returning. Continuous periods of concentration are now possible, broken only by the surprising number of sounds that resemble, at first hearing, the EQ alarm but are quickly forgotten. It’s as though my mind has decided to get on with it, has become more robust and balanced.
So far there have been 316 aftershocks above a 4, mostly in the epicenters, 5.3 being about the largest, and a few under the city. Sometimes the earth rock and rolls, moving two and fro and there is the occasional feeling of a tremor. Apparently below 3.0 the number of quakes is 30,000 and rising so my source said they are not being recorded anymore. This is a good thing, continual quakes like this mean there is creep and the molten rock is moving “smoothly” beneath the plate. It’s when it all stops that pressure builds up along the fault that trouble is brewing. It is stressful, no doubt about it. The EQ greeting is still in place: “how are you, how is the house, are you OK? Yes, it’s OK to feel like that, we all are.” Each day confidence grows stronger.
Pond restored after second mini tsunami.
A two edged sword, the monsoon is late and weak which is a very good things for those living under tarps, in tents and temporary buildings, but bad news for farmers and food production. I am doing some documentation work for Kathmandu Living Labs (http://kathmandulivinglabs.org/) as well as talking about putting together a book of photos with Samir. I voiced his Ghost of the Mountains (the documentary about the Snow Leopards) at SoundFusion last week. Great equipment, attention to detail, constant replays and technical competence. The studio is on the third floor and I checked (as I habitually do) for structural damage. Some covering of cracks but nothing serious. The live room was a hot, soundproof box with no windows, daylight or window through to the control room. A few weeks ago I would have found that a difficult place to be, higher up in a strange part of town. But I enjoyed the read, safe and secure in my audio world and didn’t think much about anything but the task in hand.
The stunning Beauty is still there, waiting for eyes to see it.
I undertook some necessary therapeutic action this morning. After the second EQ I was alarmed by some exterior cracks around the floor and window above our bed, cosmetic to be sure. So I shuffled the bedroom around with the help of S, MB and Renu and put the bed in a corner next to an internal wall. The resultant explosion of movement was considerable, my desk and where I happily work are also in the bedroom. I need privacy and most of all silence. It took the morning sorting through sheaves of papers, old birthday cards, sudden interjections of the past in photographs, unsorted papers from a death, a kindly word from two friends, C and S, who left KTM some months ago and who are often in my thoughts. Anyway, done. Final touches, including a spot of furniture polish on a surface Maya Didi missed. Procrastination at an end. Back to the desk, Phoenix on the nicely cleaned and sited speakers – don’t dare wear headphones yet, still too concerned that I will miss the first entry of seismic waves traveling at thousands of miles an hour into the valley, booming off the hills into the curd of the valley floor.
I spoke last night to the wife of a friend who attended three group therapy sessions, including children, at work. Yesterday was a social gathering, a lecture at the US Embassy residence. She said three things in the hubbub that stuck and I didn’t have time to follow up on. One she let drop was that an EQ kicks your mind back into Stone Age mode. That the reasons for dizziness following each event are because the crystals in your inner ear are shaken up so much they make your dizzy. And that children are very much affected not just by the EQ but the effect on their parents. More clues in the puzzle of what and why things happened. Like this, a few days ago. Riding up beside MB in the car through a chowk. In a good place, quite relaxed and distracted. Although familiar I was momentarily puzzled as to location, something, as though two parts of a picture were dislocated, one from the other, and I was puzzled and confused. But then I remembered, it’s something I experienced earlier returning in a modified form. Then it was kicking in all the time.
Just now I was on the roof and turned looking to the south, knowing that’s where the next one could come from and off I went into breathless panic mode. But I stopped. Somehow I put the brakes on. Why did I let this self destructive image project itself into my thoughts? There is an element of craving adrenaline, the sheer excitement of having escaped, there is that, and the wonder of action. But there is more. It is Stone Age mode. Flight or fight to the fore, some monster that will eat you just out of sight in the darkness beyond the fire. You provoke fear out of the need for self-survival. I feel sorry for those noble ancestors of ours, what a life, living on the edge like this, not just occasionally but all the time. A lot to be said for a comfy sofa free of papers and a good book.
So I have just procrastinated away three paragraphs. I am glad. This time I did not go under for more than a few minutes and for most of those I spent writing to you.
D used to have a sign on his bedroom door: “Procrastination is the art of keeping up with yesterday.” So very, very true in this case.
A blue skied morning. The shaken, settling roofs of the city bask under the hot sun. Singing and chanting from the children in the Blue Horizon Academy reach across to me. Simple, repetitive, reassuring. Children across the country went back to school on Monday. Under canvas, in undamaged school buildings, but not above the ground floor, the survivors returned to be with their friends. For this first week the children will be painting, talking and singing before starting classes on Monday. World Vision and others during the first few weeks provided places of safety for children around the city. UNICEF and others worked their asses off. Impacted by the enormity of all the booming, shaking threats the most vulnerable amongst us carry with them scars of an event, a future reality, their understanding becoming more coherent. In the embrace of classmates and teachers they learn new songs. A moment of peace and hope joining together through schools across this battered, brave, resolute city and out across the rubble of the ravaged recovering land.
The day really starts when Renu on her scooter and Maya Didi on foot arrive and the CoP drives off to the office where MB will drive the car home. E will be here for another week, so off he goes too with MB and Tikki on the back seat for the ride to UN House.
After a lot of fussing around, trying to locate devices to charge, glasses, phone once all primed and ready in my panic bag, now as I relax a little left out in the open. That’s where normal stops. “What if” is the question that arises. Have to be ready. Don’t relax too much, what if there is another big one? Maya Didi brings me a cup of tea. There is a viewing this morning of the final pre-production cut of the snow leopard documentary, then we can get into the studio. At the moment it has a rough narrative track I recorded from my desk. Looking forward to getting my teeth into that.
It’s a process like any other, small steps into working at my desk, should I leave the door open or closed? The tea is hot and delicious. I am listening to music from a great little film, Begin Again with Mark Ruffalo and Kiera Knightly. It has bounce and energy. Constantly I battle with concentration analyzing everything in the background. The imaginary (or not) shaking movement seems to have stopped, though it does return now and again. So there is some stability.
The Internet is playing up something chronic this morning, which is a blessing as it makes me apply myself. Somehow it seems unreal that everything is functioning. As each day passes without another mother of a quake small amounts of confidence return. It is a long and difficult process. We all brave it out when together, relieved to be free of our own introspections, but the trauma and stress unpicks the work of repair. Survivors of the Christchurch EQ still suffer from it’s after effects. A moment of panic, a determined deep breath, and on with this blog entry. Gradually the episodes pass, like the now occasional aftershocks, less intense, further apart.
But I am starting to feel uncomfortable and will need to get up and walk around, leave the room, go downstairs where it feels safer – no rational reason for that – just to placate what if? This is, for the time being, the new normal, catching ideas like fireflies, learning again to focus on them only for them fade into the a moment of anxiety. But these five paragraphs are a significant achievement. Now if I can only discipline my concentration, refashion it so it holds together and allows me to re-renter a world of imaginative creation we will be off to the races.