1. Find your gang. You are stranded in the middle of nowhere and the ground is shaking under your feet – well, it is not the best time to express your uniqueness and individuality. Stick to your hostel/volunteer/monastery gang or find someone else like minded, a group of tourists or another backpacker, so that you can brainstorm survival ideas together and stay sane in the world of aftershocks.
My experience: I was on the bus with five other volunteers on my way to Bhaktapur, when the first earthquake hit. The earthquake really makes you forget about formalities – these five people became my family for the next 4 days of aftershocks. We supported each other and I learned a lot from them. Everyone stayed calm and collected. People are social creatures so being in a group really made us more positive and confident.
2. Mingle with the locals. Try to strike up conversation with people around you – the locals can point out places where you can get some sleep, water, phones recharged and etc. Nepalese people are extremely hospitable to foreigners and will go out of their way to make you feel welcomed in their country, despite all the obstacles and natural disasters.
My experience: Since we did not have place to sleep we decided to try our luck and get into one of the empty busses gathered at the bus parking lot. The bus turned out to be a private bus, nevertheless the owners allowed us and several other locals to stay in for the night and even offered us dal bhat for dinner. They set up a dinner table outside, brought candles and shiny metallic dishes with plenty of food – in the end it looked like we were having a celebratory feast in the midst of dreadful disaster.
3. Have mighty sponsors. Chances are that you won’t have connection to your family and friends for the first 3-4 days, but if you arrived as part of a larger group, the company that arranged your tour is responsible for your rescue mission. Country Embassies, Red Cross, American Salvation and other charities are another example of organizations that have resources, connections and English speaking staff to advise on your next steps – reach out to them and see how they can help.
My experience: I went to Nepal to join women empowerment movement, organized by a local NGO. The NGO turned out to be quite rich and powerful. Since I lost connection on my phone I went to the Red Cross tent set up next to the hospital and called NGO’s manager from there. In the next 30 min company’s car arrived, picked everyone up and brought us back to Kathmandu.
4. Remain positive and don’t blow it out of proportions. Calm down and realize that however appalling these events are, they do not actually affect you – you don’t have a house to rebuild and your immediate family lives in another country, so there are not many things to worry about apart from your own safety. Your problems are miniscule compared to what locals have to deal with.
5. Take charge and try to help. So you should probably forget about shower, electricity and comfy bed for the next couple of days. Since those means of comfort are not available why not make use of your time helping at the hospital? It requires some skills, of course, but everyone can do basic cleaning and carry patients from their beds to the Xray room.
My experience: While being initially sceptical about the idea of helping at the hospital, I was nevertheless,willing to occupy myself so instead we spent the night carrying injured people bodies from the outside to the hospital. As long as you focus on the job it does not affect you psychologically, and that’s how I tried to approach it. The night went by fast and in the end I felt like I’ve accomplished something to be proud of.
6. Get out of the country. Now, let’s face it – you don’t have enough resources or necessary skills to make major impact. You are not a superman and you won’t save the country. Also by that time you are probably exhausted just like everyone else, having to endure no shower, lack of food and water. Do as much as you can do and leave. Once at home donate and spread the message. It is unwise to stay in the country at the time when it can’t even provide to its own citizens.
My experience: On the third day of aftershocks I I changed my air ticket and flew back home. The thought of staying and helping certainly crossed my mind, but having weighed down the scale of the earthquake and the range of my skills I realized that there was not much I could do. As volunteers we started to feel useless and burdensome for our hosts who were running out of food and water.
7. Deal with PTSD. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental health condition that’s triggered by a terrifying event — either experiencing it or witnessing it. Symptoms may include flashbacks, nightmares and severe anxiety, as well as uncontrollable thoughts about the event.
Having to go through the earthquake is a traumatizing experience, yet people often start to experience the symptoms long after the event is over. That’s how our mind protects itself – you need to stay calm and have clear mind in order to deal with implications caused by the earthquake.
My experience: While in Nepal I did not experience any negative thoughts, but after my plane landed back in Moscow everything changed. My mind almost shut down, I felt emotionally numb, avoided people and rarely went outside. The effect was mild and only lasted for four days, but I am glad I knew what was going on and stayed alert in case it would have progressed into something serious.