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It had been 15 years since I’d been to Nepal. As a result our buy-out of my former partner, our supply chain had broken down on so many fronts: malas, tingshaw, Ghanta & Dorje, gongs: we had run out of most of these items in the past year. And although I managed to find antique bowls, it always meant pulling a numerous reproductions into the net as well. So our supply chain had to be repaired. It was ambitious to the point of crazy, really. How was I to pack a three-week buying trip to Nepal into just nine days? That, in a country itself still in repair after the horrific earthquakes of April and May of this year. Still, nine days, plus the onerous travel time on either end, was all I could be away. So it had to work.
But as it turned out, the upheaval from the earthquakes was only the beginning. After a decade or longer of political infighting, On September 20th, Nepal formally adopted a constitution; its first, following a civil war that killed 13,000 people and ending 239 years of monarch rule. But it was not to be a unifying event that we had hoped. The Madhesi people of the southern plains, on Nepal’s border with India, complained of becoming “second class citizens”, and protested that the constitution diluted their vote. Almost everyone I talked to had a different understanding of the Madhesi situation, but protests became violent almost immediately gave rise to paralyzing strikes and 40 deaths. Violence broke out in Western Nepal, also for the charge of under-representation. The constitution created a second class citizenship level for children born of Nepalese mothers and foreign fathers. Some called the constitution a “conservative backlash”.
Then India’s Prime Minister, Narendra Modri, spoke out against it, which created an uproar in Nepal and the great fuel crisis began. India, surrounding Nepal on three borders, closed their borders, and as Nepal was reliant for fuel from India, cars had no petrol; restaurants lacked cooking oil. The Nepali government rationed petrol to keep government and tourism vehicles running, but petrol sales to private vehicles slowed to a trickle. This created long lines of vehicles parked in the roads extending for blocks, some waiting for gas for two days. A competitor called me and asked it I was going to cancel my ticket. “Jimmy Carter canceled,” he said. “I’m not Jimmy Carter,” I observed. I had to go. Canceling my ticket wasn’t an option, so off I went on my first buying trip to Nepal in 15 years in the middle of an unprecedented fuel crisis.
But the Nepalese are an endlessly resourceful people. As there were no taxis, I hired a driver to get around who procured
gas from the black market. So much had changed in Kathmandu. The air was clogged with pollution. Where once platoons of bicycles were the Nepali middle class mode of transport, now armies of motorbikes choked the streets; entire families often sandwiched together on them. Nearly everyone wore masks, respiratory illness was rampant. In addition to the gas shortage, restaurants taped limited selections to their menus due to lack of cooking oil. Getting milk was a problem, so I never knew if Chai would be served. So this was not the Nepal I remembered.
In Thamel, the tourist section of Kathmandu, my perch at the Kathmandu Guest House was an oasis. The first hotel in Thamel, it had a huge, manicured garden trimmed with pots of bright marigolds and dotted with garlanded statues of the Buddha. My nine day visit coincided with Navarati; (meaning nine nights) a holiday commemorating the triumph of the Goddess Durga over the evil demon Mahishasura. The Autumnal Navaratri precedes Nepal’s biggest festival, Deshain (meaning 10th day), when the country sacrificed goats and went back to the villages to celebrate the festival with their families. My goal was to be out of the country before the bloodletting began. I booked full days with my singing bowl suppliers, while trying to carve out time to locate the vendors of incense and mala beads, and to hopefully connect with Seejan’s family, as well as do a little pilgrimage to Pashupatinath.
As I’d heard from my suppliers many of the small Tibetan dealers where we used to buy the findings for our malas were breaking early for the holidays due to the gas shortage. So on the day after I arrived, I set off with a Nepali friend to go to Boudhanath Stupa to try to find a Mala supplier I had not seen in 15 years. The Stoupa had suffered damage on its dome, and I was crestfallen to see the dome completely barren – its brick steeple and been removed, and the aerial array of prayer flags missing from the empty sky above.
The smooth, polished Bodhi seed malas we got from dealers 15 years ago were abundant – we used to sell them wholesale. Now shops and alleyways were overstuffed with garlands of malas with huge, course Bodhi seeds, and there was no evidence anywhere of our old quality. We spent the afternoon flitting from shop to shop with samples, until, until we found one shop with one, lone mala of the smallest, smoothest Bodhi seeds I had seen in years. The young man behind the counter wanted a ransom for it, and it took us a little while to put it together, but he was in fact the son of our former supplier – in a new location. Once we were reacquainted, he combed his displays and pulled out some beads of our old quality – the last in stock he had.
Fifteen years ago, we had to go through rooms of antique bowls to find the good ones. Now, I had to go through a warehouse of singing bowl reproductions – tens of thousands of them – just to find the real antiques, good or bad. All of our suppliers had tons of this material – all of which, they insisted was “old”. Some of it was, but the great majority of it was new. It was remarkable how beautifully crafted so much of it was. Still, one supplier had been holding rare material for me for some months’ time. When I got into the room with the material, a reverential feeling came over me. I had never seen so much rare material in one place. My only limitations were time and budget, although I pushed the envelope on both. Then, The next push was to get it out before the city shut down. I had so much competent help from my supplier’s workers! I kept them working late until the Nepali equivalent of Christmas Eve.
On my one morning off, I paid a visit to Seejan in his village to see his Mother-in-law’s house and to meet his family. Although his wife was doing Puja at their temple for Navaratri, I was able to connect with his daughter Ritisha, (9), and his son Yunish (6), and bring his mother-in-law a coconut from Pashupatinath. The countryside was rebuilding, but Seejan’s mother-in-law’s house was cobbled together by stacked bricks on a dirt floor. They are still trying to amass enough funds to rebuild. To rebuild a home in Nepal takes $3,000 – $5,000; they still have $2,500 to raise. If you would like to help Seejan and his family rebuild, please donate to firstname.lastname@example.org and write “Seejan” in your notes.
At 11:56 am Saturday, April 25th 2015, the Kathmandu valley and surrounding areas were devastated by a 7.8 earthquake. The death toll mounts daily, so by the time you read this, today’s count of 7300 lives lost will be heartbreakingly out of date. The country’s economy has left a vulnerable, impoverished population in the countryside without aid of its young men, who have emigrated to Gulf states for labor and are unable to return due to feudal government work policies of those governments. So elderly villagers have been left to dig their dead out of the rubble, with aid supplies backlogged at the airport due to government red tape.
I had dreaded this day for years. Back in 2001, I had read in a New York Times article that Nepal was overdue for a major earthquake. This article worried me, because so much of Kathmandu was built with brick construction.
A few weeks later, the morning of August 28th – also on a Tuesday morning – I awoke from an early morning nightmare. I had seen people buried in mountains of bricks and rubble. Panicked, I picked up the phone and called the Hotel Norbu Linka in Thamel where we stayed when in Nepal, and asked the staff if everything was OK. Everything was fine. But two weeks later to the hour, I would awake to news of September 11th, 2001. That was also a Tuesday morning.
Things had changed so much in these 14 years. By the time I got the news of the Nepal quake, I could log into Google’s People Finder app for the Nepal earthquake and knew instantly that my most reliable supplier and a good friend were marked as safe. But it took days to learn the fate of others. I could not reach Seejan Basnet, my account rep for our shipping company, who was off-line on Skype. For years, he was the one who arranged for our shipments and prepared my statements. But business relationships are still relationships, and all weekend I was hammering away on Skype, Google and email trying to get any information I could. Finally, early Monday morning, my phone flared up.
Like so many thousands of other Nepalis, his family’s home was completely destroyed. What follows are excerpts of four days worth of Skype exchanges, as we struggled to get him and his family out of open fields and into a temporary room. At Seejan’s request, I have corrected some spelling. The rest of the communications are as they happened:
[4/26/2015 2:26:09 PM] Shakti: Are you ok???
[4/27/2015 12:15:27 AM] *** Missed call from seejan basnet. ***
[4/27/2015 12:15:54 AM] *** Missed call from seejan basnet. ***
[4/27/2015 12:16:18 AM] seejan basnet: Im safe
[4/27/2015 12:16:33 AM] seejan basnet: But we lost a lot of lives…..
[4/27/2015 12:16:49 AM] seejan basnet: We are completely lost evthg
[4/27/2015 12:17:08 AM] seejan basnet: Pls pray for us
[4/27/2015 12:17:20 AM] seejan basnet: Tremor still hitting
[4/27/2015 12:17:36 AM] seejan basnet: We all are living outside in field
[4/27/2015 12:17:48 AM] seejan basnet: No home food water medicine
[4/27/2015 12:17:58 AM] seejan basnet: Situation is really bad
[4/27/2015 12:33:41 AM] Shakti: Seejan did everyone at Speedway survive? Is the building still there? I am trying to raise funds to send to disaster relief agencies. Please let me know if sending $$ will help u. I’m praying for u all
[4/27/2015 12:36:09 AM] Shakti: Also please let me know which agencies are helping the most-
[4/27/2015 1:19:28 AM] seejan basnet: One of our staff died today
[4/27/2015 1:19:33 AM] seejan basnet: Other safe
[4/27/2015 1:19:40 AM] seejan basnet: Crying for help
[4/27/2015 1:20:16 AM] seejan basnet: No food water medicine
[4/27/2015 7:58:40 AM] Shakti: I deeply regret your loss, Seejan. I am praying for you and your families. We will do everything we can to raise money to get you aid.
[4/27/2015 9:47:15 PM] seejan basnet: Thk you
[4/27/2015 9:49:29 PM] Shakti: I am sending our a newsletter tonight to 4,500 people asking for financial support to the major disaster relief organizations. Have you started to see some supplies yet?
[4/27/2015 9:49:56 PM] seejan basnet: Not yet
[4/27/2015 9:50:05 PM] seejan basnet: Every thg running out soon
[4/27/2015 9:50:19 PM] seejan basnet: Now serious issue is health problem
[4/27/2015 9:50:50 PM] seejan basnet: Epidemic disease like diarrhea fever n flu increasing
[4/27/2015 9:52:35 PM] Shakti: President just authorized 10 million in disaster relief for Nepal. there are many organizations like Red Cross UNICEF, Doctors Without Borders, AmeriCares, etc who have teams there already. Help is coming.
[4/27/2015 9:58:52 PM] Shakti: Please let me know if there is anything I can do for you, Seejan.
[4/27/2015 9:59:29 PM] Shakti: Please have faith.
[4/27/2015 10:02:15 PM] seejan basnet: Ok shakti ….
[4/27/2015 10:03:01 PM] seejan basnet: Currently my wife’s house is completely damage and 4 children n two old age woman compel to live out in open sky
[4/27/2015 10:03:17 PM] seejan basnet: If u cld do some thg pls that wld be great
[4/27/2015 10:03:50 PM] Shakti: How can I help?
[4/27/2015 10:03:53 PM] seejan basnet: Its marter (sic) for lived one than the dead
[4/27/2015 10:04:25 PM] seejan basnet: Any fund more or less to rebuild temporary shelter
[4/27/2015 10:04:31 PM] Shakti: If I send you some money Western Union, will it help you?
[4/27/2015 10:04:47 PM] seejan basnet: Jst my plead dnt take it negativly
[4/27/2015 10:05:02 PM] seejan basnet: We have lost evythg
[4/27/2015 10:05:15 PM] Shakti: OK send me your Western Union details. We will send money tomorrow.
[4/27/2015 10:05:26 PM] seejan basnet: Thank u so much
[4/27/2015 10:05:53 PM] Shakti: Of course. I can’t send much but I will do my best. How are you re-charging your phone?
[4/27/2015 10:08:07 PM] seejan basnet: Any amount i would be thankful
[4/27/2015 10:08:27 PM] seejan basnet: Walking 5 km to chg battery
[4/27/2015 10:09:32 PM] Shakti: Ok no phone call then. Save your battery. Is your dog ok?
[4/27/2015 10:09:55 PM] seejan basnet: Dog ok both
[4/27/2015 10:10:04 PM] seejan basnet: Actually they saved us
[4/27/2015 10:10:20 PM] seejan basnet: They were one who noticed it first
[4/27/2015 10:10:58 PM] Shakti: Good news amidst so much bad.
[4/27/2015 10:11:28 PM] Shakti: How did you dogs save you?
[4/27/2015 10:12:33 PM] seejan basnet: They bark with untensionly (sic) we cld know somethg bad going to happen
[4/27/2015 10:12:37 PM] seejan basnet: We were alert
[4/27/2015 10:12:43 PM] seejan basnet: Alert save us
[4/27/2015 10:13:03 PM] Shakti: Good dogs! 🙂
[4/27/2015 10:13:17 PM] seejan basnet: They are
[4/27/2015 10:17:00 PM] Shakti: OK – one last question. Did Speedway survive? Is the buidling o?
[4/27/2015 10:17:04 PM] Shakti: OK?
[4/27/2015 10:17:24 PM] seejan basnet: Building ok
[4/27/2015 10:17:29 PM] seejan basnet: One staff dead
[4/27/2015 10:17:35 PM] seejan basnet: Buried alive
[4/27/2015 10:17:42 PM] seejan basnet: Dead after a day
[4/27/2015 10:19:07 PM] Shakti: It is so tragic. Was it someone I know?
[4/27/2015 10:19:21 PM] seejan basnet: He was new
[4/27/2015 10:19:31 PM] seejan basnet: 21 year of age in warehouse
[4/27/2015 10:21:03 PM] Shakti: I am so grateful the rest of you survived. OK I’m going to sign off and get this newsletter out. We are offering to give 5% of all singing bowl sales to disaster relief. I hope to raise more $$. I will be in touch tomorrow. Keep the faith! Good bye for now.
[4/27/2015 10:22:00 PM] seejan basnet: Thk you and good bye
[4/27/2015 10:22:04 PM] seejan basnet: Namaste
[4/27/2015 11:16:36 PM] Shakti: is this your family?
[4/27/2015 11:16:44 PM] seejan basnet: Yes
[4/27/2015 11:17:06 PM] seejan basnet: Mother in law n children
[4/27/2015 11:17:50 PM] seejan basnet: Water shelter n medicine 1st need
[4/27/2015 11:18:03 PM] seejan basnet: No government representative till now
[4/27/2015 11:18:20 PM] seejan basnet: So i m asking help directly from donor
[4/27/2015 11:19:24 PM] Shakti: what is your email
[4/27/2015 11:19:46 PM] seejan basnet: Seejan.email@example.com
[4/27/2015 11:27:12 PM] Shakti: I heard it was raining – is that not true?
[4/27/2015 11:28:27 PM] seejan basnet: It was raining but not continuously
[4/27/2015 11:28:36 PM] seejan basnet: With pause
[4/27/2015 11:30:12 PM] Shakti: good thing
[4/27/2015 11:32:59 PM] seejan basnet: Specially children are at vulnerable
Tuesday April 28th, after some delays with Western Union due to difficulties on the Nepal side, I was able to wire a donation to Seejan. By then, the family was living in a tent encampment, alongside hundreds of displaced Nepalis riding out the aftershocks.
[4/29/2015 8:48:44 AM] seejan basnet: I got money and hand over to my mother in law she was very happy…..She was very pleased to you
[4/29/2015 8:48:57 AM] seejan basnet: She insisted me to show your pic
[4/29/2015 8:49:35 AM] seejan basnet: She thank u a lot
[4/29/2015 8:52:03 AM] Shakti: I hope this gift makes it a little easier for your family. Please let me know what happens with your family next. Is there other shelter you can find?
4/29/2015 8:55:00 AM] seejan basnet: She was very happy how outer world reacted to her need
[4/29/2015 8:55:04 AM] Shakti: How can we get you out of that tent, Seejan?
[4/29/2015 8:55:27 AM] seejan basnet: Actual its nightmare to get fund or some aid from nepal government
[4/29/2015 8:55:47 AM] seejan basnet: There is corrupt people they use it for themselves
[4/29/2015 8:56:12 AM] seejan basnet: Still im trying to collect fund
[4/29/2015 8:56:20 AM] seejan basnet: Fund still far not enough
[4/29/2015 11:16:16 AM] Shakti: Let me know how much you need to rent a room in a flat so you can get out of the tent.
[4/29/2015 11:16:27 AM] Shakti: I will try to raise the $$ for you
[4/29/2015 12:48:58 PM] seejan basnet: Ok i will search room tomorrow
[4/29/2015 12:49:16 PM] seejan basnet: Let you know if i get some
[4/29/2015 12:49:20 PM] Shakti: Have a good night Seejan! 🙂
[4/29/2015 12:49:33 PM] seejan basnet: Thk you very much again
[4/29/2015 12:49:43 PM] Shakti: You’re so welcome
[4/29/2015 12:50:25 PM] seejan basnet: Good nite
[4/29/2015 12:50:36 PM] seejan basnet: Actually its late in nepal
[4/29/2015 12:50:44 PM] seejan basnet: We need to sleep
[4/29/2015 12:51:11 PM] seejan basnet: But this after shock compel us to wake whole night up
[4/29/2015 12:52:40 PM] Shakti: Oh. I can imagine the body is on alert. Try to rest your mind then. Your family is safe. Everything is going to be all right.
[4/29/2015 12:53:33 PM] seejan basnet: Every asleep im the one guarding
[4/29/2015 12:54:00 PM] seejan basnet: Every one asleep…
The next morning, I heard that Seejan had rented a room about 500 meters from his mother-in-law’s property. Between widespread property damage and the crush of homeless families looking for shelter, the laws of supply and demand had more than tripled rents in the area. It is difficult for the family to make the adjustment to living in one room, but they are grateful to have it. Max and Lusi, the family dogs, are staying with Seejan’s brother for now.
But Seejan’s family needs help. He has drained his account and does not make enough to build temporary housing, which he estimates would cost about $2,000.00. If you wish to help Seejan and his family get back on their feet, please donate via PayPal to firstname.lastname@example.org and put “Seejan” in the notes.
We will be updating this blog regularly until we can help him build temporary housing. We are grateful for any support you can give.