Tarps in great demand
By Hamilton Pevec
Special to The Sopris Sun
POKHARA, Nepal — We gathered on April 29 at the Blue Sky Paragliding company headquarters in Pokhara, Nepal to load four Jeeps with relief supplies and get organized. We loaded 120 kilograms of rice, 25 liters of fuel, 10 tarps, 10 blankets 15 boxes of water, shovels and picks in our truck and more in the other three. We worked with Karma Flights because they had already established a relay distribution station to make sure supplies got into the right hands. The paragliding companies have all leapt in to help.
Our group of Nepalese, French, Canadian, British and Americans hit the road feeling optimistic and slightly apprehensive as roads are bad and it’s raining. We began to fishtail, something wrong with the steering. A quick roadside fix put us back on the highway. In Mugline we bought more blankets. The traffic was thick; everyone drove too fast. As we crested a small hill the gears would not engage. I jumped out and saw the back right wheel was sticking out 1.5 feet, just barely on the truck. A few small cars passed us, but the big busses and trucks could not. A mechanic arrived in two minutes, and in 15 minutes the new part was installed, the wheel back on. During this time an angry German film crew criticized us on our poor choice of places to break down.
We got on the village road, a 4×4 mud bath, as it got dark. It was a grueling four hours. We arrived at the supply relay station about 10:30 p.m., set up the tarps just in time for a torrential down pour. The French being French, brought some fancy stinky cheese and fresh homemade bread. We picnicked in the rain as we discussed the distribution strategy for the next day. The earth shook and Micole, the Nepali independent-aide worker, reassured me that is was just the landslides.
At dawn the rain continued to pour. The relay station was set up 100 meters from a massive landslide that blocked one of the remote access roads. The villagers started showing up around 6 a.m. They walked down from the steep mountainside villages that have been cut off. I could see the slide areas all around us.
The issues with distribution became quite obvious: people wanting more than their share, families sending different people to collect, people fighting over supplies and how they should be distributed. None of the groups, like us, at this location were professional relief groups. But Karma Flights had been there for five days and slowly figured out a system. The only doctors on site were four foreigners who happened to be in Nepal, two left that day.
By 10 a.m., 200 villagers were at the supply station, many having come a few times already. Villagers were sneaking around the ropes just grabbing whatever they could, kids were pulling up stakes from the tents of the aid workers, I saw another villager roll up the tarp we slept on and pack it away very quickly.
It was clear they wanted the tarps more than anything else. Everyone was sleeping in shelters, even if their homes still stood. They would not sleep alone, in some cases five to seven families would all be sleeping in one shelter, for fear of being alone.
Because the destroyed villages are on the mountainsides, they cannot be reached by the aid workers directly, adding to the already extreme challenge of trying to help everyone fairly. One local guy, Sanjay, offered to take me to his village, just 30 minutes walking uphill.
“Everything is broken, all houses destroyed” he told me. On the way we passed over a damaged suspension bridge and crossed three landslides. Nine out of ten houses I saw on the way were collapsed. Gunchoktar Village was devastated. Sanjay took me to his ruined house. “My sister in law was killed here. I ran away, that why I am alive.”
He explained to me most of the village animals were killed as well. “They will begin to stink and this very bad,” he continued. “We put all our dead family and villagers in one hole, we burn them later when we can get them down the hill.”
When I returned to the supply station, hundreds of people waited. Many vehicles, buses, trucks, relief workers, media, many people were coming into the area making a bad road worse. At a landslide there was a bus that would not pass because the road was too narrow and the cliff side was weak; twenty vehicles waited to pass. Only one guy was digging, so we mobilized and got more people involved. I saw two military guys just watching and yelled at them in Nepali. They hustled and got to work. At least one did. When I asked why the other wasn’t working, he pointed to his gun. We had eight people push this bus pass, it began to slide towards the cliff and just barely made it by a few inches and a lot of good karma.
It was a long, muddy and dangerous trip but we made it. A few times it made me think, “Everyone is telling me to be safe, but trying to help at all is unsafe.” When we got back to Pokhara I saw my camera bag was missing. My heart sunk. “This can’t be happening.” All of my batteries, my lenses, my SD cards, gone, and with them any chance to continue the coverage of this disaster. But I had my camera around my neck and a single battery. Thank God.
We cannot open a Nepali bank account here. The government has taken all the new bank accounts that were opened since April 25 to lend to their own efforts. It’s pretty sad, actually and a sign of how this will go for the next few years. It makes me feel like our efforts are now that much more important.
Hamilton Pevec is a documentary filmmaker and former Carbondale resident. He and his Napalese wife, Devika Gurung, live in Pokhara. He is not a trained aide worker but is working to get supplies into isolated areas of Nepal. Donations are being accepted at Pevec’s account at Alpine Bank-Carbondale or susiladharma.org. He told The Sopris Sun he is not requesting funds, just your prayers for the people of Nepal. His e-mail address is email@example.com.