Saturday wasn’t the day that I was expecting. It started ordinarily enough, shuffling sleepily around downstairs blearily making coffee and shoving the cat off the table so I could prop open the computer and catch up with the all important world of facebook. Five minutes of normality while the cat coiled around my ankles and batted at the trailing computer lead.
Scant minutes later I was sat bold upright, cat and coffee both abandoned, reading the reports of the 7.8 magnitude earthquake that struck Nepal not six hours ago. Nepal is a place close to my heart – I lived and worked there for eight months altogether in 2007 and the culture was close enough to my own part Indian heritage that I felt instantly and oddly at home there. There has never been a doubt in my mind that in event of need I would go back.
A few hours and a couple of phone calls later and I’m confirmed for departure the next day.
Preparing for Nepal © Emma Pedley
For the rest of the afternoon I’m trying to pack and at the same time dredge up some of the Nepali that I learnt eight years ago. Having only recently come back from a French speaking mission in the Central African Republic, the apparently minuscule language centre of my brain is rebelling big time. I repeatedly count up to six in Nepali, seven stutters out back in French.
After a painful half an hour of furrowed brow recall, I can introduce myself, ask if you have pain, and crucially, can remember the word to ask for the toilet. My fingers are very crossed that a little more will come to the fore over the next few days.
My feelings are mixed and complex as always. This feels like the mission that I always knew I was going to do, ever since leaving Nepal in 2007 where I was running a health and volunteer programme for a local NGO who had guardianship of two orphanages. This included a large component of earthquake preparedness and planning for the children’s homes as well as a constant awareness myself of the ever present risk of earthquakes.
I couldn’t enter a building without noting its exits and potential shelter points – doorways, tables, firehazards. The local markets down narrow ramshackle brick lanes, wonky building towering three or four storeys above either side til the sky was reduced to a narrow strip overhead. I loved those markets – the noise, the spices, the smells, and the garrulous women in bright saris squatting amidst their produce grinning their gap toothed, paan stained smiles at me whilst trying to marry me off to their sons.
I’m impatient to see the country that I love again and terrified it won’t be that country any more; desperate to be there already to help in whatever way I can and desperately wishing that help wasn’t needed. I’m actually trying to avoid looking at media pictures and footage of the Nepal post quake. I have a vivid enough imagination, and will be getting plenty of reality soon – voyeurism or speculation seems almost redundant.
As I write now, I’m a few hours from getting on a flight to Kathmandu, where, inshallah, other MSF team members will also be arriving from their respective countries. Beyond that I don’t know what will happen or what will be needed of me.
It will be demanding, unpredictable and emotional. But I’ll try to be ready for it.
At the airport, ready to go! © B. Pedley