Surviving the Nepal earthquake in 2015: a memoir of a calamity

This is a topic I have written on countless times in my life. And over time, although the topic has remained the same, the days and the events have changed. During my school years, it progressed from the day I got scholarship in fifth grade board exam to being placed at the top of the list in HSC and later, being placed 1st in DU entrance exam. As I left my academic life behind, this changed to the day I got married (instead of being a bashful bride I was thrilled getting married to the man of my dreams) and then the day my son was born (the day I experienced love in its purest form – loving another human being more than I love myself). Basically, every time I narrated happy events that I loved thinking about. But all that changed on 25th April 2015; a day that redefined the concept of memorable days.

April 25 Saturday was a weekend. Schools were closed and like thousands of other homemakers, I was in the middle of weekend chaos of juggling housework and the kids. Added to that misery, was the fact my husband was away on a business trip to Dubai. So it was up to me to single handedly manage my sons aged 7 and 4. They were shouting, screaming and laughing in some noisy boisterous game upstairs and as usual making my temper rise to the boiling point while I tried to prepare lunch. “Stop Shouting! If you are going to be noisy, go out in the garden! Let me have some peace!”

Reluctantly both of them came down, went out to our front garden and immediately started shouting even more. Exasperated I went out from the back to the kitchen garden to pick a few herbs. My housekeeper was doing the washing in the hard cement enclave next to the garden. Having finished picking the coriander, I was going back to the kitchen when suddenly the whole earth shuddered as if a sleeping giant in the centre of the earth had suddenly awakened and was surging up to the top.

I started swaying and falling over. I clutched and clung desperately to the iron pole meant to hang up the washing as before my eyes my housekeeper toppled over with the whole bucket of clothes. The solid concrete beneath my feet didn’t feel solid. It was not just shuddering; it was actually rippling like gigantic waves. But instead of the blue ones of the sea beach, these were grey concrete waves.
The whole world seemed to be tilting from one direction to another and I watched helplessly my housekeeper, unable to stand up, roll in the soapy water on the ground along with the bucket and half washed clothes. For a few seconds I really didn’t understand what was happening. I remember thinking, “Oh my God! Is this keyamat ( doomsday)?” Then suddenly it hit me. It is an earthquake; an earthquake of a magnitude I had never experienced before. Instantly the next thought that raced through my mind, “my children!”

Without even thinking, I let go of the iron pole and started running to the front garden screaming my lungs out and calling their names. At least I tried to but as the ground kept on rumbling and shaking, I stumbled, fell, tried to get up, crawled, rolled, and dragged myself.

Glasses of windows shattered and showered from the top, and the half built building next door crumbled to the ground. In midst all these, I honestly don’t know how I managed to get to the front but when I did, what I saw… I will never forget. Both my boys were sitting on the ground, their arms tightly wrapped around one another, without a single sound and just staring at me with blank expressions. I fell on them hugging them tightly, crying tears of relief that they were ok at the same time comforting them in my steadiest possible voice that it’s ok, it’s just (!) an earthquake. Soon my two housekeepers managed to join me and we all just stood together hugging each other, me reciting Aytul Kursi and they, their religious prayers as the whole world swayed around us.

The rest, as they say, is now history. An earthquake of 7.8 magnitude had struck one of the poorest countries in the world. In seconds, homes and historical sites crumbled to rubbles, thousands died instantly, thousands died a slow death trapped underneath the snow and rubbles and millions became homeless, shelterless.

Sabrina on the right of screen, sharing food with neighbours in an open tent

The two days that followed later almost seem surreal to me: staying out in the garden the whole night in the dark with my sons, not daring to go to sleep because of the continuous, constant aftershocks (more than 50 in a span of 24 hours), putting up a brave front to my boys, trying to make them see this experience as an adventure, assuring my near hysterical parents , my anxious husband, concerned friends, colleagues, students  who were continuously calling to check if  we were ok, trying to save cell battery charge as there wasn’t any electricity, salvaging the dry food, water I could find among the broken glasses and chinaware and my overturned fridge.

Touring the neighbourhood with other neighbours to see if everyone was safe, setting up tents, pitching our food together, feeding the children and elderly first, travelling halfway across Kathmandu by foot, later car, to get to the airport, waiting at the crammed airport for 12 hours without hardly any water or food, getting on Bangladesh Biman, flying back to Bangladesh!

All these incidents till today, seem to be muddled up as if in a dream. It’s only when I hugged my father who had been waiting, or should I say living, at Dhaka airport for 24 hours for me to arrive did it finally dawn on me… I with my two son had survived. And it was only then that I allowed myself to cry.

Today if I were given to write about my most memorable day I would say April 25, 2015, the day of the earthquake. It’s not that surviving the earthquake unharmed turned me in a saint but it taught me to be grateful for the unnoticed little blessings of my life.

Sabrina with her boys Ayan and Araf

I am now grateful for the noisy chatter of my boys that reminds me they are alive and well enough to shout, scream and laugh. I am grateful for my quiet introvert husband who managed to calm me in the state of panic in his quiet, rock solid reassuring way even from afar. I am grateful for the life partner who forgets to bring flowers on my birthday but manages the herculean task of booking tickets for us by lobbying to God knows whom.

I am grateful for my over protective father whose frequent phone calls that had irritated me before, were my constant reminder of how much I was loved. I am grateful for my religiously inclined mother who had often nagged me to pray, for it was probably her constant praying without even getting up from the prayer mat those two days that kept me unharmed. I am grateful for the friends who called and also who didn’t which helped me realize whose heart I am in even when not in touch. I am grateful for the colleagues who showed me through their concern that ‘colleagues cannot be friends’ is a misconception.

I am grateful for my Facebook-crazy students, who seem to forget what I teach them in class but remembered me spontaneously at the critical moment, and sent me hundreds  messages on FB even though I had tortured them in writing the ‘dangers of face book’ essay. And most of all, I am grateful for the experience of 25th April. Because that day made me realize a memorable day is not confined to a certain moment or a specific day. Every day that I am alive to live is a memorable day in my life.

Sabrina Shaila

Mother, daughter, sister, friend, former educator, current environment enthusiast, trailing spouse and better (sometimes bitter!) half. These are a few ways Sabrina would describe herself (and not necessarily always in that order).During her 7 years of expat life she has made three countries her home. Of these three countries she remembers Nepal with special fondness not only because it was the first country of her adult expat life but also because she spent three years of her childhood in Kathmandu while her father was on assignment there. By the strangest coincidence, her elder son was exactly the same age she was when she had moved there as a child and both went to the same school in Kathmandu!