Walking through the busy Thamel Square in Kathmandu today, I found it difficult to imagine what it was like here just over one year ago when an earthquake devastated Nepal.
A man selling trekking gear tells me that tourism is down around 30 per cent , but adds that business is picking up from the lows of last year, when visitor numbers dipped by 55 per cent. I saw signs of this recovery at the airport, where I spent almost one hour queuing for a visa amongst a multitude of foreigners lugging hiking boots. I saw it in the many, many bearded, pyjama-pants-wearing hippies strolling the streets of Thamel, Kathmandu’s largest tourist area.
The dashing and also bearded Prince Harry is currently here for an official visit, which has delighted locals and this writer alike. Urging more tourists to visit, he has declared that Nepal “is open for business” and there is no doubt that his highly publicised trip will boost trade.
Tourism aside, the bustling and charming city cannot hide the scars of the powerful magnitude-7.8 earthquake. Ancient temples and official buildings are marred by scaffolding, while bricks and rubble lie where homes once were.
The disaster on the 25th April killed 8,000 people, mainly due to poorly constructed buildings. Thousands are still homeless and living in these so-called ‘temporary’ shelters until they can find or build permanent accommodation. I visited one of these homes today and all of a sudden it seemed like the earthquake could have been last week.
Guyanilaz and Sanu Tuladhar lost their home when tremors shook Bunzmadi in the Latibur district. They have three daughters – two were in the house when the earthquake hit but luckily survived without any serious injuries. Five of them live together in a 15×10 foot makeshift house, with no prospects of leaving any time soon. Meanwhile, family income is down as farmland they once owned exclusively to grow orange trees, cauliflower and potatoes has been split into four to help Guyanilaz’s brothers.
Since they live in a culturally significant area, their new home must be built in the traditional style, to fulfil a certain aesthetic. However, it must also satisfy new guidelines to help the structure within another earthquake – an impossible situation for the family. The government has promised victims 250,000 Nepali Rupees (just over €2,000) to aid construction, but there is no sign of this money yet.
And then there’s the fear of another major earthquake – an ever present and ominous risk that hangs over the country’s recovery efforts.
We are welcomed to their immaculate home with kindness and, astounded by their positivity, I ask how they can remain so cheerful in such a difficult situation.
Guyanilaz’s answer is simple: “God will help us with everything. We are lucky to be alive and healthy and we are always praying that we can keep working hard and survive.”
Then Sanu tells me that she spent a day without knowing if her daughters had survived the earthquake because their village was blocked off for the day. After living though a trauma like that, it’s no wonder why they can live together in such a confined space can be bearable.
“The relief when I first saw them…I had everything I needed,” she says with a broad smile. Two out of three are attending college – one to be a teacher and the other an engineer – and the couple are immensely proud.
After one day in Nepal, I am sure of one thing – from the words of Guyanilaz and Sanu to Prince Harry to the thronged streets on Kathmandu – there is plenty of hope in this country.
Aisling Hussey is a journalist with the Irish Farmers Journal. She is currently in Nepal working on a project supported by the Simon Cumbers Media Fund.