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My heart breaks at the destruction in the Nepal earthquake last week. I lived in the Himalayan kingdom during the early days of the civil war. I struggled to make sense of the violence and human suffering in the most beautiful place on earth. I learned that Nepal can be both Shangri-La and Hell on Earth.
At night, the dust was carried to every corner of the Kathmandu Valley by strong winds. There was no electricity to power lights and chaos ruled in the darkness. Food was often difficult to find and terribly expensive when it was available. There were times when we cried in the darkness, shivering from the cold and fear.
Despite the hardships, despite the violence, despite the poverty, despite the heartaches, despite everything, there wasn’t a day that the Nepalese didn’t greet me with a smile on their faces. They opened their homes to me. Barely able to feed themselves, they fed me. During the darkest days at the roof of the world, we took time to celebrate birthdays and holy days. We took time to rejoice in the beauty of life.
Over 15 years later and half a world away, I was high in the Pyrenees Mountains watching my favorite places in Nepal being destroyed in a matter of seconds on television. The night before the earthquake, Laura and I had discussed planning a trip to Nepal to try and find my host family (I had lost track of them during the protracted civil war). Little did I know, less than 24 hours later, there would be another reason to make the trip to Nepal – to support the people who loved and supported me.
As I watched those horrific images on television, my thoughts rushed back to walking around Durbar Square with my young host brother “Charley” in the late afternoons before curfew took effect. Seeing the tears in their eyes on TV, my thoughts rushed back to my weekends exploring the back alleys of Bhaktapur.
I learned one key lesson in Nepal: never underestimate the resiliency of the Nepalese people. When you are born into one of the poorest countries on earth, you don’t have the luxury of failing. The Nepalese people have always found a way to overcome.
In the aftermath of the Nepal Earthquake, I’m confident they will rebuild their lives…with smiles on their faces. That’s what you do in Nepal.
This article was originally published in May 2015.