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The Quiet Side of the Quake

Sometimes an earthquake won’t leave tracks.

Aerial images and footage of Durbar Square in Kathmandu  – a hub of the city’s most elaborate architecture and historic buildings – have become the iconic representation of what was lost during the earthquake: Nepal didn’t only lose lives, but part of their culture was erased.

True, the quake’s damage is undeniable. But for some, the earthquake wasn’t as hectic as it was for others. One volunteer I interviewed was in Thamel during the first quake – Kathmandu’s tourist sector, which is characterized by its crowded, narrow streets. It seems like the perfect formula for destruction, especially during an earthquake. She told me about what happened in the basement of the building she was in.

“We didn’t see anything damaged. Nothing really happened here.”

“The people were running – I don’t know why they started running. I told them to calm down.”

She noted a role reversal: she imaged the locals would be used to the earthquakes, but instead the tourists played the role of the voice of calm.

“The tourists stayed put and were pretty calm, while the locals were panicking.”

After all the commotion ended, she realized that Thamel was largely untouched.

“We didn’t see anything damaged. Nothing really happened here.”

Unlike the leveled parts of Kathmandu and the cities in the valley, the city of Pokhara was strangely unaffected. The roads are clean with no signs of debris. Another volunteer, who was in Pokhara at the time, told me she was in a children’s shelter during the first quake.

The earthquake wasn’t filled with panic or distress – like in Kathmandu. Instead, she considered the initial earthquake as not scary, but fun.

“It was fun because we were with the kids. The ground felt like it was moving – we were surfing, pretending there were waves on the ground.”

The ground shook, and although they weren’t falling over, she noted something weird.

“Between my feet, I felt like the ground could crack at any moment.”

Later that night, at a cafe, she and the rest of her volunteer team understood that the earthquake was more than just a wave passing through.

“We all checked our phones and heard the news. We realized the earthquake was major.”

The earthquake, nameless and terrifying, can roll through a city and terrorize its people – but sometimes it won’t leave tracks. In a way, it’s refreshing to hear stories of safety, or accounts where some dodged the danger of the quake. Because, especially for huge disaster stories, the news covers just the opposite.

“Pokhara was a big bubble,” she continued. And, using the same words as the volunteer from Kathmandu, she noted:

“Nothing really happened here.”

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