The news of the earthquake on April 25 shook me terribly, despite being thousands of kilometers away; dreadful photographs and fearful numbers of the consequences did tear down my soul apart. Having spent quite a quality times in Nepal, memories of what the place used to be, were gut-wrenching. The media was flooding the photographs of cultural heritage sites being utterly demolished, houses being destroyed, and explicit shots of victims – who either lost their lives themselves or lost the ones who they were living for. More than the capital, which the media reported the most about, villages suffered the greatest loss.
Being blocked out of the rest of the country, initial photos of villages that would describe the situation, there were scarce and the information was relying mostly upon the reports of eye-witnesses. After the second earthquake on May 12, I decided that coming to Nepal, witnessing everything on my own and helping out as much as possible from the spot is probably the right thing to do. The anticipation of observing Kathmandu and the rest of Nepal brought me both fear and calmness; calmness because I finally wouldn’t have to rely on the media reports and fear of the unknown and of the pain caused by seeing the city destroyed.
Nepalis are trying their best keeping their heads up and moving on. Shops are being opened on a daily basis, street vendors keep performing their marketing chants, and hotels, restaurants and cafes are working full time.
According to the media, that was exactly what I was going to see – a city and its people shaken from their roots and left to suffer and mourn at the mercy of nature. However, arriving in Kathmandu revealed to me something completely different. Despite obviously deeply affected both materially and psychologically, Nepalis are trying their best keeping their heads up and moving on. Shops are being opened on a daily basis and the busy traffic is getting back to normal despite the numerous aftershocks. Street vendors keep performing their marketing chants. Hotels, restaurants and cafes are working full time. As long as the heritage sites are concerned, it is indeed painful to walk through the three Durbar squares. However, many of the spectacular architectural structures are still proudly standing and people seem to be focusing on what is left rather than only on what has been destroyed.
This reminded me of an ancient philosophy I once read about. In Japan, a country that has itself suffered a lot of loss throughout its history (and was recently struck by an 8.5 magnitude earthquake), there is an ancient art of fixing broken pottery with gold called kintsugi. It involves filling out the cracks of an object with gold in order to put it back together. It does not aspire to hide the rupture, but to literally illuminate it. Kintsugi also happens to be a philosophy, an acceptance of the flawed and the imperfect. It is a synthesis of knowledge and values that guide us to keep an object (a person or a relationship) around even after it has broken. It does not teach us to hide the cracks as a horrible defeat, but to highlight them as just an event in the course of the whole being of whatever it is that is suffering from some sort of rupture.
Our Kathmandu and our Nepal are broken both literally and metaphorically. No matter how much we try, they will never be the same, but that shouldn’t bring our morale down. It is certainly not the first time that Nepal has been broken. In the course of many centuries, thousands and thousands of people have built and rebuilt Nepal in order for us to be able to live in and enjoy the city that we remember before the earthquake. There have been countless ruptures and crisis and yet still, we remember Nepal as one beautiful place. Us, the people of Nepal, and the world, are kintsugi’s gold. We are the force that holds the pieces together. The people of Nepal are Nepal. No matter how scared we are and will remain to be until the end of our lives, we are the gold that will fill in and illuminate the gaps. Without the people, the pagodas, the temples, the shrines, the stupas, they would be just beautiful but lifeless structures; A torch without the light. Nepal is more a feeling, rhythm, taste and a fragrance than beautifully carved wood and stones.
That is why we should all unite and work together to collect the pieces of what is left, add on to them and create a better and safer place for the future generations. As much as this earthquake is devastating, it is also a chance to bring us together as humans. After all, not the whole of Nepal was affected. According to one statistic, only 10 out of 75 districts have been affected by the earthquake and 3 out of 8 world heritage sites have around 40 % of damage. Having this in mind and with roads, hospitals, communication and airports working perfectly well, Nepal is as much worth visiting as it was before. Perhaps this is the time for one to experience the true Nepali spirit and witness the power of people determined to rebuild the country. The future Nepal, just like all the Nepal before it, will be a breathing scar, an imperfectly perfect cacophony of all the pain and happiness felt by everybody that has ever lived there.
**The author is a graduate of social and cultural anthropology from the University of Vienna. Having lived a big part of her life abroad, she has developed a great interest in different cultures. Her passion brought her to Nepal for the third time, where she currently lives and does research.**