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A Week Spent in a Tata Sumo - My experience of the Earthquake and its aftermath

By Fr. Savio Rai SDB
Top: Fr. Savio Rai (in red T-shirt, foreground) and others engaged in relief work. Bottom: The Tata Sumo in which Fr. Rai spent a week
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Kolkata, May. 6. [Fr. Savio Rai, here gives a first person narration of his experience of the earthquake that struck Kathmandu on 25 April 2015, and its aftermath. He is a member of the Salesian community of Don Bosco Kathmandu.]
I spent one week in a Tata Sumo Jeep - during the day visiting the villages with relief materials and during the night sleeping in it as I was afraid to sleep in my room due to mortal fear of another quake. Life brings such twists and turns into its rhythm that one has to be always ready for the unexpected. Who ever knew that the 7.9 Earthquake would bring such disaster and turn the lives of millions of people upside down!

On 25 April Saturday, (In Nepal Saturday is the weekend holiday and Sunday is a working day) after the Holy Mass I came back to the house and was trying to prepare myself for the next day's Leadership animation porgramme for the newly elected monitors, captains, and house leaders. Meanwhile Leonard (the Plumber) came along with another man to meet me. I do not know why I was feeling very uncomfortable around 11:40 am and wanted to send them away. I just wanted them to rush down to the basement for some work. So I got up but they seemed to be in no hurry and wanted to enjoy the coffee and biscuit more. Anyway I told them that we shall go down and have look at Leonard's new bike. So we hurried down from the top floor to the school gate.

No sooner had we reached the gate than big quake was felt. Initially I thought it was a huge lorry passing by but our guard shouted, ''Father Earthquake!'' I just shouted back, ''Run'', and I dashed towards the paddy field. But to our surprise the water tank that was latched with the iron bar collapsed and water gushed down.

At one moment I thought my God I am going to drown since I do not know how to swim. For a moment I thought I was inside the water tank which was almost 20 feet deep. Anyway we ran like drunkards and managed to get hold of the wall but could not jump over it. The wall was like the dancing car in the movie ''PK''. My right leg was on the wall and the other was left dangling in the air and I was swinging from side to side. The shake was such that I was thrown down to the field landing on my knees. I was totally feeling giddy and I saw the buildings on the hills collapsing like a pack of cards, and for a brief moment it looked like I was acting in the movie ''2012'' .

Thereafter fear crept into me so badly that my head kept paining and rotating. Even the slightest shake of the door or the window gave me a fright. I did not want to enter the house again after seeing the building shake. So I decided to make the Sumo my temporary home. This Jeep became by bedroom, office, parlour, cyber-cafe, recreation room and all in all. Most of the time I did the updates on the School Facebook or wrote reports to the province sitting in the jeep. It was uncomfortable to sleep in it but I  got used to it once I knew there was no other go. I would take the jeep and go for the relief work and scouting the other affected areas during the day. Here inside the Sumo I was mosquito free and shake free, because if I happened to sleep on the floor, every moment I would imagine the quake and sleep would not come.

A week went on like this sleeping in the jeep and even when things became normal I could not but sleep in the jeep. Only after I sat and typed this story, I bade adieu to the cozy jeep and returned to my room.

It was a week with lots of fear, tension from people, nature and other elements. It was a week where I had to be cool and calm though tensed within myself as I had to lead the faithful in liturgy, to interact with the people, to say no to the people who just wanted to take things away. But within these moments my Holy Mass, rosary and prayers kept me going.

I was a happy to be with the people to help them in whatever way I could and also was happy to organize some relief work with my generous staff, alumni and supportive staff under the guidance of Fr Jijo John, the coordinator of NEPAL DON BOSCO SOCIETY. It was a moment of fear, but at the same time a moment to be near to the people. It gave joy and peace and this will be cherished for a long time to come. A week in the jeep, a week as a Gyspy, a week filled with terror and fear, and above all a week close to the people in need.



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