Rising Above the Himalayan Tremors

Exactly 737 days ago, my world literally shook, and since then, my life has trail-blazed diverse galaxies of epic milestones. Well, six days ago, we remembered the second year anniversary of the great Gorkha Earthquake that hit Nepal on April 25, 2015.

I survived the strongest tremors a teenager could ever ride: an M7.9, M7.3, and almost 500 aftershocks.

It was a typical Saturday morning during my fourth year in Kathmandu, Nepal. I wasn’t expecting anything out of the ordinary, except that I was going to learn something new from our usual church service.

While our preacher was retelling a biblical story about how two imprisoned apostles, Paul and Silas, survived an earthquake, little did I know that I would survive an earthquake myself! I was busy writing some notes when – suddenly – the lights went out.

For a second, everyone thought it was the regular power cut. Then, at 11:56AM, the shaking started.

At first, I assumed it was only a small and short earthquake. But it continued, and for the next 90 seconds, I felt like I was on a boat riding over turbulent waters – while being glued to my aisle seat. I realised that the earthquake was something big, something cataclysmic. It was the strongest I’d ever felt.

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These were the recorded tremors during the first 2 months after the earthquake.

The rest of the audience either ran out to the parking lot or ran to hide under tables. Some lost their balance and stumbled because of the earthquake’s force. My younger sister hid under her seat, since she was small enough.

After the main shock subsided, we gathered ourselves outside and tried to call our loved ones, but the cellular network had been jammed. Then, we decided to continue our church service from where we dropped off, and even laughed together because our service had turned into a 4-D ride. You see, it’s not everyday that a sermon about an earthquake happens before an actual earthquake!

Tears for fears

We later drove around Kathmandu and discovered that the city – as well as the whole country – was rampaged by the earthquake. We passed by toppled-down buildings and saw long cracks on certain roads.

One of the more dramatic damages we spotted on April 25, 2015.

Fearing that the buildings would collapse over them, Nepalis huddled outside their homes and in the middle of the road, as aftershocks occurred every 15-20 minutes.

That night, my family were the only ones in our neighbourhood who slept inside our house. Everyone else slept outside in tents or in the open. The city was swallowed by darkness.

Nepalis sitting in the middle of the New Baneshwor road.

Nepalis huddled and walking on the street at the crossing of Thapatali Chowk.

During the four days that followed, we didn’t have electricity. So, in the evening, we ate dinner lit by candlelight and emergency lights. We also had to manually fetch water from our in-house well.

The faces of Ground Zero

Despite the difficulties, our church quickly initiated relief operations which were based in my own house. Volunteers – church members and non-church members from seven countries and different walks of life – repacked goods in our garage and held volunteer briefings in the living room.

Dad briefing the volunteers in our living room. (Photo by Mags Yap)

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Volunteers hauling boxes of bottled water from our garage into a delivery truck headed to a village.

In the kitchen, I served in our Volunteer Care Department by helping cook several meals for an average of 40 non-vegetarian and vegetarian volunteers almost everyday.

A messy table and our happy smiles.

Villagers lining up for relief.

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Their smiles fill our hearts with joy!

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Malaysian Doc Ian does a medical check-up.

I also joined our teams in bringing relief goods to several devastated municipalities and villages.

My heart bled for the people who lost their homes and loved ones and lived in tents surrounded by rubble.

Typically, four or five families with men, women, children, and the elderly were cooped-up in those makeshift shelters. Some of them came from completely-flattened villages hours away from the capital.

Survivor: Reality Not-On-TV

We were connected to some tent communities in a municipality called Sanagaun by Saurabh, a versatile dancer who taught children there before the earthquake.

One of his students was a seven year-old girl called Rushika, who had a broken arm. We visited them to help her get treatment.

In Sanagaun, I followed my group into the bushes beside broken houses before we entered a long tent. As I removed my shoes at the entrance beside their cooking supplies, LPG gas, and stove, I quickly glanced around their tent made of tarpaulins, which was supported by wooden beams and poles, over which they hung their towels and clothes. Then, I sat on one of the rattan mats which served as their beds. Five families shared that makeshift shelter.

Rushika and her father.

I was next introduced to Rushika, who had cute braided hair and her right arm in a cardboard cast. Her facial expression was unchanging; it was as if she was still in a state of shock. I forgot what I said to her, but I do remember praying for her recovery and listening to her unforgettable survival story.

She had an older sister named Pujita, who had been the same age as me. During the earthquake, they were both inside their house. Pujita’s first impulse was to take Rushika outside. Then, the house collapsed on her. While saving her sister’s life, she gave up her own.

I can only imagine what Rushika felt. But as a consolation to her grief, I bet she has a deep sense of gratitude for her selfless sister and a resolve to live in a way that would make her sister proud.

Saurabh (second from the right) cheers up Rushika with a toy while he takes down notes for our relief operations.

On May 12, my dad took Rushika, accompanied by her father and Saurabh, from their tent to a hospital near our house. It was also my dad’s birthday, and we were prepared to pause our relief operations just to surprise him with a birthday cake when he came home.What we weren’t prepared for was a sudden M7.3 aftershock which rocked us that morning.

In the second-floor clinic of the hospital, Dad wondered if it was his last birthday on Earth as he watched the windows sway from the left to the right. But, thank God, they all made it out without a scratch, and we celebrated his life as he entered our house.

Rubeeta and I.

Another story I’d like to share is Rubeeta’s, who’s one of my best friends. She had a brush with death when she narrowly escaped her collapsing mud-and-clay house when the earthquake started. I saw the remains of what used to be their beloved abode. During the M7.3 aftershock, what was left of it toppled onto the ground.

She and her family lived in a makeshift shelter until last year, 2016, the construction of their new house was completed. After the earthquake, she was given a scholarship at St. Xavier’s, one of the best schools in Nepal, and now she’s about to enter university. Talk about rising from the ashes!

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Rubeeta’s house before the M7.3 aftershock.

Filipinos represent!

We were interviewed by Jiggy Manicad, a news anchor from one of the leading TV networks in the Philippines. We represented Filipino aid, and our friends and family back home proudly watched us in a couple of nationwide news reports.

It feels great to be on TV, but it feels even better if it’s for a cause. (Photo by Normi Herrera)

My experience with this awesome news crew was one of the things that inspired me to consider becoming a journalist. Jiggy Manicad is the man on my left, and his crewmen are first and third from my right. (Kudos if you spot Krishna the photo-bomber 😂)

He wrote “Thank you Kabayan!Kabayan is what we call fellow Filipinos, especially those we meet abroad.

I also got the autograph of Atom Araullo, another news anchor and journalist-celebrity, but I was so starstruck that I (sadly) didn’t start a conversation with him. 😭 😂

OMGGGG I CAN’T BELIEVE WHY I WASN’T A FANGIRL BEFORE WAAHHHH

I even got featured in a Canadian magazine for the Filipino community. They published an unabridged version of a blog post recounting my firsthand experience of the earthquake.

Gathering life lessons

As two years have gone by since this out-of-this-world experience, I’ve learned many things. Like, I know it’s going to be years until some physical and psychological trauma wears off. For example, I get alarmed whenever I feel a slight tremor (it’s so serious that even if someone just shakes my chair without me seeing, I instantaneously read the faces of the people around me to confirm if they feel an earthquake too).

I also learned that when I serve, it has to be done with my whole heart. Then my character will change and so will the people around me. When I volunteered almost everyday, I found many reasons to complain, but I ignored them so I could focus on my work.

When I’m called to do my chores and asked to deliver huge responsibilities at school, I will remember the heart I had during the relief operations.

These are our Nepali volunteers, along with some UAE-based Filipinos who visited Nepal to volunteer with our church. The shirts worn by most of them were designed by me. They read: “I Survived to Serve”.

Shaking the unbreakable

My dad’s response to the aftershocks surprised the Nepalis who were with us. We’d hear panicked people shouting and screaming outside, but inside, Dad set a house rule for every volunteer: they were not allowed to shout, panic, and run when there’s an aftershock.

And he created a peaceful and positive atmosphere. Throughout an aftershock, he’d keep his cool and encourage us by saying, “It’s okay, don’t panic. It will be over soon.” He’d sometimes even crack jokes like, “Keep calm everyone – a huge truck is driving by!”

Bible commentator David Guzik says, “In one sense, crises do not make the man. Instead, they reveal the man.”

I think that the crisis revealed that Dad was ready to use his leadership position to point to God as our source of security when he constantly spoke cheerful words and set a good example in all aspects. When troubles come my way, I want to be like Dad.

A lasting legacy

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Maradee, one of our fellow volunteers, in front of the fire station on April 26, 2015, the day after the earthquake.

Dozens of structures in Kathmandu – such as UNESCO World Heritage Site temples, arcs situated next to the main roads, a 9-story lighthouse, and a fire station 200 meters from our house – collapsed because of the earthquake.

We’d tour those temples for hours and pause in traffic next to the arcs. My dad plus my little brother, who was relaxing inside his stroller, would even kill time while in front of the fire station, as Mom was busy with an errand nearby.

When the earthquake happened, the facade of the station was thrown out into the road.

This was the road adjacent to the station. The day before, the debris from the fire station blocked the road completely.

As we passed by those ruined places, we realised we could’ve been standing inside or next to those buildings – and buried by them.

I believe that God gave us another chance to live, and every breath that I take is a miracle. All the more, I’m reminded that I should make every second count, because disaster – whether man-made or natural – can strike anyone anywhere; anytime.

I also wonder what kind of legacy I’m going to leave behind.

Will I be a hero like Pujita, Rushika’s sister? Will people remember me by the words of life I said?

And, today, what am I doing to build up the legacy I want?

As a Switchfoot song goes:

Life is short, I wanna live it well – one life, one story to tell. I got one life, one love, one voice – maybe that’s enough. One heartbeat, two hands to give. I got one shot, and one life to live.

What about you? What kind of legacy do you want to leave? Share it in the comments. 

Posted by Issa Adalia

Teen blogger since 2012. Homeschooled rockstar. Filipina globetrotter. Rookie artist. Asian in Armenia. Rescued by Jesus.