SHAKEN NOT STIRRED : Making the most in an earthquake

Look at that, it seems you’ve not only survived an earthquake but also Part 1 of this article.

So there I was, stuck in the most devastating earthquake in 2015 – Kathmandu, Nepal.

The irony? It was my birthday and we were supposed to spend the weekend relaxing & lazing. Instead we spent our time being fit –running from buildings, rationing food and generally walking everywhere. It’s the best birthday gift I’ve ever had: An (almost) toned beer belly.

Now I’ve heard a fair number of horror stories from travelers across the globe : altercations with authorities, mugging, riots, floods and whatnot. So when I got back from Nepal, everyone treated me with kid gloves for a long time (even went for a counselling session) After all, I was expected to be traumatized.

But the truth is far from it. Yes, I was shaken, but I wasn’t stirred. How, you ask? I am going to walk you through my experience of how I survived. Rather how my mind survived.

So let’s speak about that, the tough stuff – The mind stuff.


A pitcure of faith: Boudhnath Stupa before the earthquake

Still Alive? Make the most of it!

Earthquakes are often like cocktails at happy hours: they’re on repeat for less. Only in this case, they’re called aftershocks (note, that’s a great name for a shot). So in the three days of seismic activity, we may have lost count of the number of aftershocks, but we didn’t lose the fear of dying.

And that is the absolute naked truth: no matter how prepared I was, the thought of dying would not leave me. It loomed over my head and with each passing aftershock, it became more real. We never knew which one would be our last.

The fact is, I had always imagined dying on my own terms. My Eulogy would read ‘She came, ate and conquered’. And then Frank Sinatra would sing ‘I did it my way’. And everyone would toast while drinking Dom Perignon. Channing Tatum would cry the most. It would be perfect.

Instead, there I was, between rattling buildings, screaming people and a mountain range away from the people I loved the most (the best friend being the exception).

And while I was imagining dying on my birthday, I thought of everything I’d always wanted to cross off my bucket list. Wait a minute, I didn’t even own a bucket list! I mean, which 20 something year old does? And what a waste of life to die without a bucket list.

I asked the best friend this question. If we were going to die right now, what is the one thing you’d like to do before the inevitable? The answer was clear: There is one thing I’ve always avoided but deeply desired: Butter. Lots and pots of it. Its like Julie (from Julie & Julia) “When I have thirty days to live, am going to spend it eating butter” Crap, I didn’t have thirty days to eat butter. I had just now.

And that’s the first thing I did as soon as we hit our hotel – request the owner to open his stores and pull out the mother stock. He was amused, but graciously accepted and even accompanied us. After eating a few kilos of butter, I realized that I wasn’t ready to die. But If I had to, I’d die happier.

I am not saying I am brave or that I am of strength. All I am saying is that no matter how helpless we feel when things happen to us, we always have a choice – to be scared and wait to be saved Or to be scared and carry on.

I chose to be shaken, but not stirred.

So I’ve come to a simple conclusion – there’s no point dwelling on the thought of death. Make friends with this simple realization: If you have to die, you will. So stop thinking about it, because it will make you do crazy things and drive you insane.

Instead, find the closest, most achievable positive and actionable thought to replace it. It could be speaking with loved ones, praying, donating, singing, drinking tequila or in my case eating your face off.

And Inshallah, if you have time, give everything you’ve got to make it happen.

Better still, start doing everything now.

 diaster_ collage

(L) The abandoned streets of Thamel – Kathmandu’s busiest tourist spot. (R) Remains of an ancient monument in Durbar Square.

Being Human(e)

I am a skeptic and I always have been. I don’t believe our diversity can ever bring us together. I stopped watching 9 pm news, turned off google news to shield myself from the knowledge of divisive politics and avoided Twitter like Ladies Nights at Hauz Khas Village.

I’d like to believe this was one of the biggest reasons the universe decided to shake things up. After the very first tremor, I saw hundreds of people come together to help each other. Tourists, police, locals, hospitals – all working for one common aim. And it spurred me to help.

Our hotel decided to open their kitchen & bar for service. One of the few in the touristy area of Thamel, to serve hot food and drinks in the time of calamity. The owner’s idea was to keep things as ‘normal’ as possible. He was terribly short staffed and we decided to step in. I took over the bar and my friend helped in service.

That was the day I made met an old friend – Faith and a new friend called Best ever Negroni recipe (courtesy a lovely Hungarian couple who made me make about a hundred of them)

I met scores of stranded travelers, all scared and anxious like me. We helped each other talk things through, establish contact with our homes (there was a complete network breakdown in the city) and drank through the night as if it was our last.

That night, I got two messages from home, at different times, but both said the same – Reach the airport ASAP, we’ve organized your rescue in the Indian Evacuation flight. To the extent that the Indian MEA had even offered rescue for my American friend, on humanitarian grounds.

Both times, we thanked but refused.

No, I am not brave. Maybe a little foolish. And yes, I was caught in a terrifying act of nature that was out of my control. But what I can control, is how I live it and manage to crack a smile every now and then. And maybe even help, while being a part of something much bigger than me.

I would highly recommend participating in community building activities in a disaster situation. Use your skills and donate your time, no matter how small to help out. As a traveler, this could be your way of making a difference. And not to mention, it is highly therapeutic and very satisfying. You too can leave your mark.

Kathmandu will know me as ‘the girl who got everyone drunk on the night of the earthquake. So much that they forgot the ground was shaking!’.

Earthquake Swag!

Travel is unpredictable

And while you can never be 100% ready for the worst, here are some suggestions to be a little better prepared:

Know your numbers:  If you’re travelling abroad, you must have the number of the Embassy and your country’s External Affairs department. This was you’ll be able to touch base to you’re own people at any time. A big shout out to the MEA for constant help and support through this period.

Make your attitude Emergency Ready:  Account for the possibility of emergency and be physically and mentally prepared.

Be in Communication:  Don’t make the mistake I did. Travel with a local number/connection for your phone. Trust me, being stuck in a disaster without the ability to communicate is much scarier than 20 missed calls from Mum on a Saturday night.

Be Kind: Everyone is stuck, everyone will be scared. Don’t be selfish and try to remain civilized. Don’t push & shove like at public places like an airport. Control the Indian in you.

Rebuilding is heartbreaking: You may be leaving the country dealing with disaster, but think of those who live there. Be empathetic and even after you’ve left try and help in rebuilidng in whatever way you can.

And last, but not the least, Pray. To whatever power you believe in. Pray for luck on your side to be able to come out a devastating earthquake without a scratch, and someday write about it. Ironically.

(All Images by Ishita Thakur)


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