Fadi Itani flew to Nepal following the earthquake. Now, having returned home, he reflects on the hidden impacts of the disaster, and how Nepal deserves more than just a quick glance.

"Structurally unsound. Do not enter."

“Structurally unsound. Do not enter.”

After seeing so many damaged buildings, it felt surreal to spot one road that looked totally unaffected by the earthquake. I stood and looked. On the right-hand side of the road was a beautiful old house with yellow writing on its front door.

I asked what the writing meant.

“Structurally unsound. Do not enter.”

How many other crumbling buildings seem safe, I wondered.

Like a surgical procedure, there was a neat line where some of the home had been lost.

Like a surgical procedure, there was a neat line where some of the home had been lost.

The next sight affected me in a similar way. Imagine sitting down to a family meal. A hob, a kettle, shelving, pots of food. I could see all this. It felt like an intrusion on somebody’s private life. The side wall of the house had gone. Like a surgical procedure, it was like it had been neatly severed from the top of the house down. Everything inside remained untouched.

A man approached me and asked if I wanted to hear the story of what had happened. He said: “This is my house. On the morning, when the earthquake hit, I was down the road. When it happened, all my family – my wife, my children, my parents – were at home. I ran home, barefoot, and saw the front of the building. I was so happy to see it unharmed.”

Only for a second

“I went around to the entrance to check on my family and that is when I saw the whole north side wall on the floor. I told myself ‘my family has gone’,” he continued.

“I walked over the rubble to the ground floor of the house and found them all in one room, unharmed. I hugged them and we walked out.

Sarana with her father and brother

Sarana with her father and brother

“I was even happier when I learned what my daughter Sarana, who is just nine, did. She was with her brother in the upper floor playing. My son thought the earthquake was a tractor passing by. He was lying with his back to the wall when it started giving way and falling. My daughter swiftly pulled him by the hand before the whole wall fell away.”

This man told me he was now living in the school next door, with ten other families, and would stay there until he could rebuild his house.

It made me think about the long journey the people of Nepal are facing. At home, if the electricity or water goes off for an hour or so, we get frustrated. How lucky we are to suffer so little.

In Nepal, in the space of a day, people went from sleeping soundly in their homes, with the comfort of familiar blankets, to huddling next to the rubble of their houses. Others are so scared that their houses might collapse that they are choosing to sleep outside. The makeshift shelters I have seen are from bamboo or tree logs, covered with plastic sheeting, and rugs lining the floor. If they are lucky enough to find another piece of plastic, they put this under the rugs to stop the damp from seeping through. Many have not been this lucky.

Many of the Nepalese families we met no longer had a kitchen, a toilet, a bath, a sitting room. They had lost their privacy. In one of the assessments we carried out, a woman approached a colleague and gently and shyly reminded him that women had different needs. Together, using bamboo and sheeting, they built an enclosed toilet. It was a reminder to us to continually look beyond first impressions and see the real situations. Very little remains unaffected.

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