Part V: The Message and the Mission
When I left Ben Gurion Airport last Sunday night the security agent said to me: תצליח במשימה שלך ותחזור הביתה בשלום – “You should have a successful mission and return home safely.” I was moved by the words as I wasn’t really thinking of myself heading out on a mission but just offering a little bit of help, however possible, and letting those affected know that there was love and caring for them outside Nepal.
As I passed immigration, I saw a poster that I’ve seen many times before. It read: “Outside Israel – The country is You! – Represent Us With Honor!” I always found it to be a nice and catchy message. But as I headed towards my gate, I thought: this week that message will have real meaning, and I must do my best. Maybe I am on some kind of mission.
While I didn’t have a specific goal in mind other than to help however possible, I felt that I managed in that regard and did fulfill a “mission.” My more personal goal was to make it home for Shabbat (and avoid another earthquake while on the runway). So on Thursday afternoon, I returned to my hotel one last time to gather my belongings and check out.
When I arrived, I noticed that hundreds of tents had been set up on the lawn outside the hotel. A strong sense of guilt shot through me. While I was staying in a 5-star hotel (although it was far below that in actual standards), thousands of people were living in tents not 100 meters away.
After I first arrived in Nepal, someone asked me how I found the people to be. At that time, I mentioned that I was struck by their stoicism. I had also noticed that, when given assistance, many individuals seemed passive – not ungrateful, but almost indifferent. As I talked to survivors more, I realized that gratitude was indeed there and that the seeming stoicism I saw was both a part of their culture and of the uncertainty and fear that threatened to overwhelm them.
Still yearning to talk with more survivors, I had the taxi stop and got out before reaching the hotel entrance. Having given out everything that I had brought with me, I had nothing of any material worth left in hand. But I wanted to let at least a few more people know that one more person in this world cared about them. I return, I heard personal stories that increased my knowledge and understanding of their situation.
Here are a few of their stories:
Yash. When I approached Yash, I asked him what he was doing to best cope with the situation. He teared up as he stated that it had been almost three weeks, and they still don’t know what’s going to happen. This week’s quake made him realize there will likely be more. He asked me to look around – people had hardly anything to eat and no access to money, as the banks are closed. Their homes were destroyed, so they’re here on the lawn – and it took them two weeks to make it this far. He told me he had lost all the documentation showing the land he owned, so now he’s not even sure how can prove his ownership. If unable to do so, he worries about how he’ll make a livelihood.
Narmaya. Narmaya comes from a small village near Porkhara. Her English is fluent, so she was able to tell me an amazing story – or rather, miracle – of how she survived the April 25th quake. While her husband was in another village nearby, ironically building a home, she was outside the house getting ready to wash clothes. Her four-month-old daughter was napping in her crib inside the house. As Narmaya prepared to turn the water on, she felt as though the earth was moving. She attempted to grab the water pipe, but fell. Narmaya turned toward her house and saw it literally collapse before her very eyes. She feared that her infant daughter was dead, but her 13-year-old son dug through the rubble and, after four hours, managed to pull out the surviving infant. Her baby, Shristi, lay in her arms as she told me this amazing story. Narmaya believed that what happened was a miracle from God, but she was heartbroken that so many others from her village were killed. Like others, she worried about what is in store for the future.
Sudip. This gentleman told me he was most grateful, as he has his entire family with him now in Kathmandu, including his wife, three children, two brothers and their families, his parents, and his wife’s parents. While all his clothing, documents, valuables, and land have been buried, he told me that he has what he values most. Sudip said that for the first week after the quake, they slept partially under corrugated aluminum. By Sunday they had made their way on foot to Kathmandu, where they slept under the trees and miraculously survived Tuesday’s tremors. Again he stressed that his family members have each other, and they are determined to survive. Sudip’s message was inspiring, and his positive attitude was one I had seldom found here. I found myself wishing that, instead of the diseases that have begun to spread in Nepal, this man’s positive energy could be spread instead. I certainly caught it from him.
As the wheels of my plane lifted from the ground on Thursday evening, I had a feeling in my stomach that I once had nearly 29 years ago when my wife Carol and I left the Soviet Union after visiting with Soviet refuseniks. It was a feeling of relief that we got out safely. I vividly remember praying then that the people we met would one day return home.
Friday I returned home again to so many of them – to Zion, to Israel. I returned to my children – able to visit with my son serving in the Air Force for our nation. This past Shabbat, I prayed that the people I’ve met will be able to return to a new and safe home. I continue to pray that the citizens of Nepal – each and every one, individually and communally – garner the strength the overcome the fear that has overtaken them and that they will have the ability, with help from the outside world and the One above, to rebuild a better and stronger nation.
May we all have the fortune to gain happiness, live in peace at home, and learn from one another. The people that I met last week instilled in me a sense of greater pride for who I can be, and I hope this experience will make me a better person. To the Nepalese survivors, I say: Thank you — be strong and courageous חזק ואמץ. And may you come out from this ordeal stronger as individuals and as a country.
I hope I represented my country well and will attempt to continue to do so on each journey through life, both locally and abroad. I hope to be able to continue to help others – in Nepal and elsewhere, and I encourage you to do the same.
In the final chapter of this series, we’ll look at the ongoing need for assistance in Nepal and how readers can help in the recovery process.