This posting won’t have pictures – because it’s about an experience.
We’ve been here over a month now, and when we arrived, we saw that people were still focused on aftershocks: they had all downloaded apps on their phones that reported every aftershock, its Richter rating and epicenter and time of day. People would sit around and focus on the list: “Did you feel that one last night at 3:30 am?” “There was one at 10 pm, a 4.2 out of Dhulikhel…” I wasn’t sure that was particularly healthy for them to do, to be so focused on the earth’s every move.
And I never felt a thing. Either I was not as sensitive to the movement, or was sleeping really well. There was only one time, around 6 pm when we were in our hotel, when suddenly there was a jolt; it felt as though the hotel had been struck once by a giant hammer. That was it. An odd sensation, but over so quickly that within moments it was forgotten.
Then two night ago, something entirely different occurred. It was about 10 pm and I was getting ready for bed. Suddenly heavy shaking began. In that instant, thoughts come simultaneously, and what I remember was thinking, “It’s happening, is this real? Door frame!” [Over and over in our travels while seeing wrecked homes, we had been struck by how many doorframes were still standing, the only part left intact.)
But there was something else besides the shaking. There was a SOUND. There was an immense yawning roar that accompanied the shaking, and that, for some reason was more frightening than the shaking. It was like a monster emerging from the depths. It sounded dark and unfathomably enormous. At that instant, sound also erupted on the surface: Dogs barked hysterically. Birds flapped and shrieked. But the worst to hear were the terrified screams of children in every direction, screaming for their mothers.
It only lasted maybe 3 seconds, the shaking and the roaring. But it was enough to make my heart pound heavily. The children kept screaming though as their mothers comforted them, and the dogs kept barking for a while, and the hotel hallway filled with people emerging to see each other with wide-eyed looks of fear and shared and experience.
Afterwards, realizing how short it was, all I could imagine was that happening for one full minute, and the terror of what such an experience would bring. No wonder people slept in tents for a month. I see now too how uniquely traumatizing an earthquake is, because of its complete unpredictability. A hurricane, tornado, flood, even war – those things can be heard and felt before they arrive. Perhaps the only comparable event would be a bomb, and in fact, that was one of my other first thoughts when it happened. Because of the sound, I thought it was a massive bomb at first, until my mind made sense of what was happening.
We found out the next day, from someone’s phone app, that it was a 4.6 (only!) with its epicenter at Brikhuti Mandap here in Kathmandu, just about a 15 minute walk from where we are.
I have felt quakes and tremors before, both here in Nepal (from the Gujarat quake) and in Kabul. But this was unlike anything I had ever experienced before. Even though physical recovery is well underway here in many places, I don’t think anything except time will help the minds recover,Earth and slowly dilute the fear that is so close to the surface.