Saturday, April 25, 2015.
Like most Saturday mornings, I was planning on sleeping in late and having a quiet morning. Instead I woke up very early to phone calls about a massive earthquake in Nepal, my native country and still home to many of my immediate and extended family members. I could not believe the devastating images on the news and my immediate concern was for my family. I actually wondered if I still had a family. Feelings of anxiety and fear rapidly became unbearable. My brother and his family had traveled to Nepal from the US to attend a wedding celebration and were still there. Thoughts of losing my entire family at once tore at my heart and soul in a manner I never felt before. I was living the most traumatic event of my entire life.
I tried every means possible to reach my family members. No response. I remained glued to the TV watching for updates. Every horrific image on TV of dead bodies pulled from the rubbles continued to fuel my anxiety, my fears, and my desperation. Yet, I could not look away. I couldn’t control my tears, I was heartbroken. My kids tried to hug me, my daughter would come by and wipe my tears with her tiny hands. But still, nothing could console me. All I could hear was my heart pumping inside my chest. My hands were shaking continuously, to the point where changing the TV channels on the remote was hard to do. I was on my knees at some point, shaking back and forth, not knowing what else to do, hoping to see clues on TV about my neighborhood in Kathmandu, wishing to catch a glimpse of something familiar from my childhood still standing. Yet, all I could see was destruction everywhere. I was crying alone, isolated from my kids to protect them from signs of my pain.
From the left: My sister, father, brother, mother, and me.
"There was an earthquake and we are OK."
It was 7:30 AM, and that was the text message I finally received from my father, “There was an earthquake and we are OK.” My sadness turned to joy - for one minute.
Now, my focus shifted towards my extended family members’ and friends’ wellbeing. My heart was filled with sorrow as I continued to watch the news coverage from Kathmandu. I grew up there and now so much was turned into rubble. Nepal lost many people and many of its iconic historical heritage sites. The devastation throughout the country has shaken the hearts and souls of Nepali people everywhere. As the day went on, there was more and more coverage of the destruction on social media. The news that the aftershocks were nearly as bad as the initial earthquake. For this reason, many survivors, including my family, were sleeping outdoors or in parked cars. I felt so helpless. At that time all I could do was watch the news. I found myself continuously checking Facebook, Twitter, email, and text messages to find out more about the chaos and hope for good news about from my loved ones. But then I realized there was something I could do. I could reach out to my wonderful circle of family, friends and co-workers here in the United States to share my personal story and appeal for their financial support to help the people of Nepal. To that end, I want to share some of my memories of my home, Nepal.
Memories of Kathmandu
The earthquake destroyed many meaningful places that held precious memories of growing up in Kathmandu. Darahara Tower and the surrounding area, where I would hang out after high school with my friends, was destroyed.
Darahara Tower, before and after the earthquake.
Many times my sister and I sat in cafés in front of Durbar Square sipping coffee, and now the historic square has been severely damaged.
Durbar Square, before and after the earthquake.
But while structures were damaged, people remained strong. My family told me that even in the middle of the chaos, people remained calm and did everything they could to support and help each other. Although there is much sadness and sorrow, my parents were quick to recount hopeful stories for me too. One of the best was the story of the The Living Goddess Kumari Temple.
The Living Goddess at Kumari Temple
In Nepal a Kumari, or Living Goddess, is the Nepali tradition of worshiping the manifestation of the goddess Durga as a child. The Kumari symbolizes the divine female energy, or Devi, in a young unmarried girl in Hindu religious traditions. To this day, she is selected from the Shakya caste or Bajracharya clan of the Nepalese Newari community. The selection process is especially rigorous and meant to uncover the incarnation of the divine in the mortal body of a little girl. The final choice is made by Tibetan lamas. They meet thousands of girls between 3 and 5 years old to find the incarnation of the Hindu goddess Durga and they evaluate each young girl based on 32 signs of divinity.
Once chosen, she and her family are moved to the Kumari Ghar Temple, a palace in the center of the city, built in 1757. Visitors often bring gifts and food offerings to the Kumari who receives them in silence; but she is observed closely by these audiences, as her actions are interpreted as a prediction of the petitioner’s future. For example, it is said that crying or loud laughter means serious illness or death, while picking at food offerings could mean an impending financial loss.
The Royal Kumari or Living Goddess. Image via Wikipedia.
My father told me that witnesses said when the earth started shaking just before noon, the family of Kumari had just finished their meal and were sitting together. After the first tremor came, the family started screaming in panic and wanted to run out of the temple. But the 7-year-old Kumari, sitting on her ceremonial altar, told them to be calm and not to rush out of the building. Kumari closed her eyes assuming her familiar prayer position. “While other temples and buildings on Mahapal Street of Patan came crashing down,” my father told me, “the Kumari Temple did not even lose a tile from its roof.”
Please help the people of Nepal
Most people visit Nepal for hiking, mountain climbing adventures, or to find out about Kumari, the only Living Goddess on the planet. Nepal is the land where I was born; its people are the ones that nurtured me during my childhood and shaped me into the woman I am today. I grew up in Kathmandu with all the temples and historical sites that will forever remain close to my heart. Those temples are gone now, but I’m confident that with your help the people of Nepal will rebuild and restore our heritage sites for younger generations and for the world to enjoy.
I have started a fund to support Nepal Earthquake relief. You can find it here: http://www.youcaring.com/emergency-fundraiser/nepal-relief-fund/344399# and any amount you can provide is appreciated.
I have been overwhelmed already by the support and prayers that Nepal has been getting from all over the world. Each and every Nepali is truly grateful for any and all the help. The amount of support I am getting from my friends and colleagues is heartwarming. I began the fund raising campaign because I want to do a little something to make a difference for my Nepali people. I am touched by all your support throughout this campaign, and I want to take a minute to thank everyone who was able to help by making a donation to my cause and thank Digital Guardian from the bottom of my heart for further supporting the cause by matching the funds donated by my fellow employees. I am proud to be working for a company that supports me so tremendously at this difficult time. All funds raised will go to Help Nepal Network.
Sujana Subedi is Principal Software Engineer at Digital Guardian.
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