It has been awhile since I went to the camps in Kathmandu. I went a few weeks after the earthquake when people were just arriving from different affected districts, living in tents or under tarps, with no belongings, plastered limbs and bandaged wounds, no water or toilets. Bode Camp in Bhaktapur has evolved into a temporary community living space. The camp is organised into common areas, common kitchens, shared tents, water points and toilets. It has an office area, a child friendly space, a library, a computer and a printer. It has a group of young and motivated volunteers organising and coordinating to make sure their families, their neighbours and community members from their villages have basic living amenities.
When you ask them their plans for the next few weeks, they talk of leaving, of going back home, of rebuilding their homes and their lives. When you ask them if they have received any accompaniment in the planning of their return, they reply they are grateful for all the support they have received and shouldn’t we all do something for ourselves, by ourselves.
The camp clean and well maintained seems only like a temporary arrangement. Sleeping space and kitchen space is shared mostly between 3 and sometimes 4 families. People are mostly seen spending time in the common places. There was a TV crew shooting when I was there and all the people were watching the shooting. Women’s groups and mother’s groups have been formed and trainings in knitting are provided. There are carpet making workshops mainly with women, taking orders it seems from Chinese carpet sellers. This is the only visibly income generation activity. It seems some men and women are involved in daily wage work mainly in construction.
I was accompanying a team distributing baby kits and soaps and talking about basic hygiene practices for Cholera prevention. We went from tent to tent with a list of names distributing soaps and talking to whoever would listen about Cholera and essential hygiene practices. A little girl tagged along, she insisted on counting soaps for each tent.
We walked along with women and men from the camp, listening to their stories, casually as if in friendly conversation. Many had seen their houses and those of their neighbours collapse. Others had seen and walked past dead bodies of people they had known. They now recounted it in an emotionless voice as if the grief long forgotten. But the occasional distant look or long pause reminding us of the pain of dreams and hopes lost. New dreams and hopes will come but the mourning of those that are lost is not yet over. Young adolescent girls, wiser than their years, narrate their experience. There is sadness in their stories and nostalgia in their smiles. But there is an unmistakable strength in their voices. Yes this experience will mark their life, it may be an event they will narrate to their grand children, but they will survive, they already have!