How Would an American Respond in the Aftermath of Nepal Earthquake?

I have to preface this blog entry with two things:

  1. This is Drew writing this (which will be blatantly clear for those of you who know me… but Lauren wanted me to be clear on that anyway).
  2. Although I’m new to blogging I’m pretty darn sure I violated several blog etiquette practices… especially in regards to length and a severe lack of pictures

With that aside…

What would happen if America was in the same situation that Nepal is in right now?  What if an earthquake destroyed a large percentage of the buildings in your neighborhood, but your house was still standing and structurally sound?  What if many of your neighbors were forced to sleep outside on the streets in tents or, if they were lucky enough, in cars during daily thunderstorms for multiple days?  Would you invite them to share the shelter of your home?  But what if you didn’t really know them very well? What typical American really knows their neighbor anyway?  They could be dangerous… especially in times like this!  Once you invite them in, who knows how long they will stay… their house is destroyed or so damaged that it should be condemned, so they could expect to be their a long time….

20150426_141403

Hundreds of people have been living in tents near our house.

How would an American respond to the current food and water crisis most Nepalis are in right now?  Here in the part of Kathmandu I live in, it took several days for the stores to start opening up again (the majority are still closed).  During those days, most of us didn’t have access to clean water…. (see our previous post about the water crisis) or food except for those living close enough to where they were handing out rice.  So what would you do if you found a shop that opened and had water for sale?  What if you were one of the first to notice that the grocery store was opening?  How would you respond?

What if the banks and ATMs had all closed for multiple days and you had no access to money (especially if your pile of cash was buried under the pile of rubble that was once your house)?  When the banks opened up what would you do?

With the danger of making blanket wide assumptions, I’ll tell you how this American thought to respond and what a contrast that was to the Nepalis around me.  The house we are renting survived… no cracks in any walls.  Pretty amazing, really.  Around me several neighbors are still living outside in tents.  I’ve seen my share of post-apocalyptic films (no shortage of them lately).  I know what comes next… looters.  Once the frequency of aftershocks had spread out to a few minutes between them, I ran inside (as my neighbors were yelling at me that it was still too dangerous) to grab all the valuables and food I could and stuffed them in backpacks.  What didn’t fit I hid as best as I could… then locked every door including the gate to the courtyard (which meant the neighbors were going to have to find another outhouse to use as our had quickly turned into the communal one).  Even though my building looked okay… I was taking my family to our office which I knew had been built to withstand 8.0 magnitude earthquakes with American architects, engineers, and general contractors.  When we arrived at the office, I found out that our Nepali hosts had invited over a hundred people to take shelter there.  I have to say, that wouldn’t have been my initial choice.  I also noticed that we were the only ones who had any kind of belongings with us.  Were we just braver than others (or just plain stupid) to risk running back into our house and grab things?

So it was going to be a little cramped, but I had safe shelter.  Check.  Now I needed to worry about my water and food supply running out (because I had my own stash in my backpack).  Water was going to be the big issue.  You can read our previous post about the steps we had to go through to secure a good source of water.  The day after the earthquake, I noticed one small corner shop was open.  I knew there would be a small chance that they would have water, and with the impending water shortage coming but I thought it was worth asking.  To my surprise they did have some, so I bought as much as I could carry.  Was I the first to discover this supply of clean water?  Several people saw me buying the water but didn’t seem eager to get their own.  Strange.

Food was more difficult to find.  Our office building had recently received a large shipment of rice so they were set.  Except as an American, I was going to have a really hard time eating rice for every meal for the near future.  Four days after the earthquake I noticed the large grocery store near us was open.  I convinced the Nepalis I was riding in a car with to pull over.  I was prepared for pandemonium.  This was going to be like Black Friday on steroids, right?  I mean if we are willing to trample a grandma to grab the last Talking Elmo, what was this going to be like!  I was so surprised to find the store was exactly like every other time I had been there, except a lot of food had fallen on the ground during the earthquake.  I grabbed a basket and started looking for the high nutrition and enduring food.  I bought more granola bars and nuts than I’ve ever bought in my life!  When I went to checkout, each register has one or two people standing in line.  I couldn’t believe it!  All of the grocery stores in the city had been closed for 4 days!  Then I looked at what the guy in front of me was buying… a razor for shaving.  That’s it!  And the guy behind me… he was super agitated because I had so much stuff in my basket and he only had a carton of juice and a box of diapers.  Unbelievable!

After 4 days of being closed the grocery store was surprising empty of people and full of food.

After 4 days of being closed the grocery store was surprisingly empty of people and full of food.

Had a similar experience at the bank.  There was only one bank that we could find open 4 days after the earthquake.  It was a large bank in the center of town.  It did seem like there was a lot more people than normal standing around, but I later found out the bank had allowed workers from nearby office buildings that were condemned to setup shop there.  Inside, almost ever teller was open.  Crazy!  We exchanged $5000 which took the better part of an hour due to such an unusually large request.

I could go on and tell you about my experience buying out all of the prepaid minutes from a local shop for my phone that had run out… and how they thought I was crazy.  Or how the lines at the fuel pump are only slightly longer than they usually are even though there is a fear that an aftershock could cause more landslides cutting off incoming supplies.  But I think you get the point.  These guys need a refresher on the doomsday manual!  How can they protect their own with behavior like this… you got to be two steps ahead of everyone else to survive (I caught myself saying this several times to my Nepali friends here who reacted with blank stares).  That is what survival is all about in a crisis right?  Survival of the fittest! Every man for himself.

As I step back and look at the bigger picture I see a very different system here.  I’ve heard so much about individualistic vs. collectivistic cultures but I never really got it until now.  I’m an American.  I value my freedom and ability to make my own choices.  Success is measured by how far I rise above others around me… whether we are talking about school, business, net worth, longevity of life, etc.  It is all relative.  In a crisis, success is the ability to out-think and out-maneuver all those around me and secure as many resources as possible for me and my family.  That’s American wisdom… at least my understanding of it.  Here in Nepal, my survival at the expense of others (no one else is getting granola bars for around here for awhile!) is selfish, strange, and frankly irrational.

How can one possibly enjoy their standing house while all the others around them are sleeping in mud puddles out front? What is the point of surviving a crisis with flying colors if in the long run I’m the only one around left standing…  Is life really worth living in isolation anyway?  Will those who outlived their neighbors to survive on into a “post-apocalyptic” world feel like they’ve succeeded?  Not here in Nepal.

I hope I’m in Nepal if/when I have to experience another crisis like this.

#nepalearthquake

UPDATE: check out how we have gotten involved in the relief effort and how you can play a part too.

 

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33 thoughts on “How Would an American Respond in the Aftermath of Nepal Earthquake?

  1. I am so glad that I found your blog. The pictures and descriptions are wonderful…don’t sell yourselves short. This particular blog brought tears to my eyes because I have thought about how Americans would react…every man/woman/child for themselves. Sad but true. I pray for Nepal…and for America, that Americans would come to realize that serving others is so much better than serving self. Stay safe…..

    Liked by 1 person

    • You make me miss home so much more :-(. Thank you for giving Nepal the respect she deserves Drew. It is because of people like you, we Nepalis continue to smile. May safety and wellness be with your family.

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  2. A Very Powerful Blog Post Drew! Thank you for sharing your heart and thoughts with us. We are lifting you, Lauren, the kids, and the people of Nepal up in prayer.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Drew, you and your family are so important to us and we are so grateful for your safety. This was such a powerful reflection thank you for sharing. Another framework this might be thought of through in addition to collectivist versus individualistic culture is: a person’s cultivated sense of psychological safety. From ages 0 to 2 the answers to the questions “Is the world safe?”, “will others be there for me?”, “What am I worth? ” are being answered in the need and response experiences of an infant. One place we can loom in trying to understand people and culture’s responses to trauma is how they love their babies and the kids.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Thank you for sharing Drew. You, Lauren, and your children, as well as the people of Nepal are in our thoughts and prayers everyday!

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  5. Drew,

    Hi! I’m Kelly, I work with Adam! Your piece was so powerful that we’re going to present it in group tonight. So thanks for doing the work for us. 😉

    So thankful that you and Lauren and the kids are safe. You’re doing amazing work. You all are in my family’s thoughts and prayers.

    Kelly

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  6. Drew,
    Firstly, glad to see you and your family are safe. Secondly, thanks for the insights and their candor. They provide a wonderful view into your heart and a person who is evolving.
    Your last sentence is achingly beautiful and achingly sad.
    Stay safe……

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  7. Thank you for your eyeopening side of the story, a geniune one, a true portrait… Pray my country bounces back on the 20 years worth of development that it has lost in 2 days….

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  8. Very well structured. It hook me up until the end and the end was fantastic. I know that my people are crazy.
    I am a Nepali living abroad. I settled here for a better life. I was only young when I moved. Now that I can see things with a different prospective, I question myself. What is a better life? What is most valuable to you? I just wonder at times.

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  9. Hello,
    It is indeed impressive that you see the brighter side of getting back up following a disaster in a country that possibly lags a century behind (or more) in terms of socioeconomic development and living standards compared to where you come from. On a lighter note, however, maybe you have been watching too many movies, or playing too many post apocalyptic survival games in your console (there is no shortage of them either..). Or maybe, we haven’t seen enough of them, yet. And there is no way to tell how people are going to react following something like this until it actually happens and for everyone’s sake, I hope nobody has to deal with what we are going through. Maybe events like these bring people together everywhere, or maybe it is just me.
    I have seen people fight over relief and supplies in parts of kathmandu too, but to these people it was free stuff that some of them (painfully) could do without. This dark side is, limited to a small percentage of people, nevertheless, and is often overlooked.
    Regardless, your words are kind, and I am glad your family is safe. I feel good that you feel relatively safer here compared to elsewhere, and that this might give you a sense of belonging to our nation.
    Great writing, and to put it bluntly, Nepalese are good neighbors, provided you learn to live with the incessant advice that people here keep offering you..
    Thanks.

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  10. Really great post, Drew. Thank you for the perspective and insight–I’ll be rolling it around in my head for a long time. We’re SO thankful that you all are safe, and will keep praying for Nepal and the next steps. Strength to you!

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  11. We circle ourselves that only involves ourselves and our communities. We surround ourselves within this border and make them our truth. We are too busy in searching ourselves.

    But if we think from the other side, we see the same experience in a different perspective. We see a different border; a different culture and a whole
    different view of the same world we live in together. Truly, there couldn’t be just one way or one standard of doing things. We live in a diversified society and sometimes, we misinterpret and not realize what the true interpretations are. Having been able to understand those values and cultures and interacting them accordingly will get us an extra mile beyond our borders. What we consider normal then becomes a core value. By crossing borders and educating ourselves, we can get out of our misconceptions and see it from their eyes. After all, experiencing other cultures is a solid concrete that shapes your perspectives to accept differences than your own. It helps you understand better.

    Glad that Drew was able to realize the good part of Nepal i.e, the Nepali people. As a Nepali myself married to an American and having spent almost half of my life in the US, I have acquired a lots of good American customs that we Nepali don’t practice. When we take the time to learn about other ways of life, other people’s views, and other cultures, we open our minds to a vast understanding.We are able to have more compassion and feel interconnectedness to humanity. We begin to feel that we belong to the world. We forget our differences and celebrate our uniqueness and what everyone has to offer. We all can contribute something to the table that is extraordinary. Thank you Drew and Thank you to all the good people of the world for helping the earthquake vicitims of Nepal.

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  12. thank you for your honesty…once we’re honest to ourselves, we find it isn’t really difficult. it breaks my heart to read you withdrew $5000 so easily for your personal expense while we’ve been trying to do so much with the same amount – getting tents, medical supplies, food, water, transportation – in response to endless pleas of help from places where the government and aid agencies haven’t reached yet. this is not to chastise you for withdrawing your own hard-earned money, but just to reflect on how people in some parts of the world will needlessly die because they don’t have the little required to keep them alive. i’m sorry it’s been an emotional time for me and many others like me trying to help from outside Nepal in any way we can. the number of calls for help is truly staggering and however much i want to be supportive of the government, the mighty consortium between Nepal govt and aid agencies has been too slow and inefficient. and they have been most unhelpful to civilian groups – blocking supplies/donations and threatening prosecution if relief funds don’t go through govt mandated accounts. and all the while we’re getting pleas for help from places where “no one has reached yet”

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    • K, Thank you for your comment. This is Drew’s wife, and I wanted to make it clear that when Drew wrote about his impulse to take care of his own, he was talking about caring for the immediate needs of the 100 neighbors and disabled children that our organization was sheltering. Women and children were huddled together, waiting out the aftershocks without access to enough drinking water or water to wash hands and flush toilets. People all over Nepal need that help. Drew is now out in the villages passing out tents, food and medicine to many who have yet to receive help. We join you in supporting those who are hurting with prayers and practical help. –lauren

      Liked by 1 person

  13. Thank you for this post. I’m currently reading Atul Gawande’s “Being Mortal,” which is about a somewhat different topic (end of life), but I’m struck by a common thread. Gawande notes that people – of all cultures – change their perspective according to how much time they perceive that they have left to live. Younger people are more fixed on future plans and ambitions; older people, and those with terminal diagnoses, become more concerned with the present moment and with relationships with loved ones. Your post reminds me that even in the best of times, Nepalis face a lot of uncertainty and therefore tend to view the world like those in the latter category.

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  14. amidst all the gut wrenching stories of how the crises is still taking the lives of our people, how it has destroyed hundreds of years of our culture and history and how the government is being constantly blamed for the lack of management ; story like this brings into focus how those of us who survived have been coping up with the disaster. In a country like ours where still basic health needs are not properly met, this disaster has invited more dire medical issues; so the focus on psychological rehabilitation is a far cry….but this story of the spirit of our people and the support of our close nit communities and the incredible humanitarian support that the world has given to us, shows that we may actually surpass this………..thank you Drew

    Liked by 1 person

  15. My husband is From Nepal. I am fortunate to have spent time there. I honestly believe that it is not just an American who would react as you did, but a British, French, Western European, Mexican, Guatemalan, Belizian, Chinese, Russian, Tibetan, Indian and possibly every other race. It is my prayer that through this natural disaster Nepali people show the world how to be, leading by example, so that Nepal changes the world to be like it rather than vice versa. Nepal is the most profoundly spiritual country to which I have ever been, long may its spirit survive. Thank you for your honesty.

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  16. Drew, I was so moved by your post and it made me miss my home even more. Thank you for sharing the amazing resilience, never ending love and warmth of my culture… of my people. I am so glad that you are part of it.

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  17. A very compelling piece except for one thing. I was in San Francisco during the Loma Prieta and while that quake was nowhere as large of a disaster as the Nepal quake, there was definitely some impact. The neighborhood I was in when the quake hit, lost power immediately. Without street lights, traffic quickly devolved into a mess. I continue to be impressed and amazed at the behavior I witnessed and it was as far from what you describe as “every man for himself.” The first thing we noticed were the few people who came out of their homes to direct traffic in the intersections. Some people went door to door making sure no one was injured. A group helped lift a fallen bookcase off of a trapped elderly neighbor and there was hurried discussion about how to get him to the hospital by bicycle. This emergency taken care of, several families started bringing out their BBQ’s and setting up to cook a big feast. When we asked them, they said the power might be out for a while, so instead of letting everything defrost, they had a cookout for the entire neighborhood. We stayed around to help and then camped in SF for two days since the bridges and public transportation were down. When the Golden Gate bridge was re-opened we took the long trip back to the east bay. The major disasters I’ve been through have always restored my faith in humanity – even in America.

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      • Well, it wasn’t your AUNT Julie who wrote that rather cruel comment. Drew I know you are doing everything possible to help your neighbors, and are following the guideposts God is presenting to you. Be safe. We all love you so much.
        Aunt Julie

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  18. Wow..lost for words really..A powerful comparison to put things into perspective…
    I am from Nepal originally but have been living in the UK…I have had a chance to reach over and react with people from different parts of Nepal and blend/ ravel in the culture and their hospitality..and nowhere have I felt your observations hold so true….
    A spiritual place with peace loving people who would ask you “what good is your money if you cannot help those around you in need?”..a mystical blend of hinduism and buddhism and a tolerance for other religions….A connection with each other through history and society…although a minority would think for their individual selves, the majority would still reach out and help others…you have to be in it to feel it, live it, love it…you go as a guest and you leave as a friend…It will grow on you before you know it…Nepal.

    Great post..very touching..Thanks Drew.

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  19. Drew
    Careful..The Nepalese smiles will grow on you before you know it..
    Thanks for all your support to help the Nepalese at this difficult time.

    Like

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