I am writing to you from Kathmandu, where I have resided for just over a week now. I am living every day in the unknown, halfway across the world from my home country; a distance that has brought the theme of home and homeland to my mind. As an American, my ancestral story stems from places other than the territorial land that I was born in. It is a story that is grounded through word of mouth, through what our grandparents tell us about the journeys to the land of America of our past generations. An examination of the case of Nepal yields different stories of home, different attachments to the soil that they reside on. Their ancestors can be traced back for centuries to this very soil; displacement from this soil, damage to this soil then becomes devastating.
This attachment becomes emphasized–becomes apparent–in times of disturbance. The national identity of Nepal is comprised of many facets, one such being the numerous structures dating back even as far as the 16th century. These beautiful structures weave together the historical story of the nation throughout the landscape; telling stories of kings and wars, shrines of gods and goddesses. It is within these structures that the people see themselves reflected; they see their stories come together as a whole.
The April 2015 earthquake, damaging some of these structures partially and some completely, damaged also the national identity of the country. These once magical places–sources of pride in the eyes of many of the citizens–have been reduced to piles of stone, supported now by wooden stilts, representing the blow to the identity of these people on that day in April. This attachment to these structures became even more apparent to me when the family I am staying with brought out a book to introduce me to their country. Ironically, it was the day that I was traveling to Durbar Square to see some of these damaged structures. As the father turned the pages, the family gathered around pointing out the beauty that once was.
Mentioning that I was visiting this historical site, the family pointed out to me that the beauty was no longer there; I would see the destruction of these sites. Their words characterized the bruised identity of the nation following this natural disaster.
The broken structures represented a nation’s identity, the Nepalese people’s attachment to their soil, the landmarks of their collective stories; however, in this destruction, there is a sentiment to rebuild. A sentiment to remember the past, and in this memory, resurrect their national identity.
This picture above embodies the process, slow in nature, yet moving forward. The women in the picture are seen wiping debris off the damaged structure. It is a process characterized by a nation’s pain; it is this pain that provides the motivation to continue, to remember, and to rebuild.
Since my time in Kathmandu, I have begun my work with a displaced community from the Langtang Valley; a community that has lived in the mountains of Nepal, now residing in makeshift homes here in Kathmandu. In my coming blog posts, I would like to slowly introduce you to their stories. For now, I will leave with you a quote from one of the community leaders.
“These bones belong to our family members. We need to rebuild from love. If we don’t work now, we lose our identity.”
–Lhakpa Tamang Jangba
It is people like Lhakpa that can foster community; it is people like Lhakpa that inspire me.