I have had a wonderful three days in Kathmandu — wonderful in large part because of how absolutely normal they have felt. I have lived in the same house that I did in 2009-2011, and seen lots of old friends. I’ve been to aarati at Pashupatinath, I’ve picked up necessities at the Bluebird Departmental Store, I’ve visited with people’s assorted relations, I have gotten squashed and hot on the Nakkhu public microbus.
Somehow, this was not at all what I was expecting. People here had told me several times that Kathmandu was very much back to business-as-usual, but I just couldn’t process it. After all, hadn’t I spent weeks in April and May morbidly looking at disaster-photos, crying over all kinds of places I knew?
Here’s the thing, though: when the earthquakes first happen (they are still happening, by the way, on a small scale but almost daily basis), people rushed out to photograph the most impressive ad horrifying examples of damaged houses and temples and businesses. It makes sense: that’s what people will spend hours and weeks looking at.
But nobody took pictures of the houses and temples and businesses that were actually OK — and in Kathmandu itself, that’s most of the houses and temples and businesses. Certainly there are houses that are gone; certainly there are beautiful and important temples that have been reduced to rubble. Certainly there are structures that will need to be demolished and rebuilt. Certainly the open space of the Tundikhel in the middle of Kathmandu is stacked with bricks and rebar, around the lines of tents for people still displaced.
But numerically, the structures of the capital are overwhelmingly intact, and the families are overwhelmingly in apartments or houses. Kids are going to school, buses are running, vegetable markets are operating. There’s even pretty good access to electricity, which is an unusual bonus in the capital.
This reality was completely invisible to me before I arrived, though, because of the ways Kathmandu has been photographed after the earthquake. So to try to tip the balance just a bit, here are some photos of buildings that have not fallen down:
(I could seriously go on and on and on like this. But hopefully you get the beginning of the picture.)
Tomorrow I’ll be heading to Dhading district, to a village estimated to have lost upwards of 80% of its houses. So that will be an entirely different story — one which I’ll be able to tell once I’ve returned to internet contact. But for now, cheers from Kathmandu-as-usual.