If you could save just one object from an earthquake, what would you choose? Three months on from the Nepal earthquakes that killed thousands and devastated the capital and its surrounding areas, nine survivors tell the stories of the precious items they managed to salvage.
Dalli Maya Maji, 65 – A water jug
Dalli lives in the village of Chandani, where several people lost their lives during the earthquake. After her home was destroyed, she dug through the rubble to rescue her brass water jug.
“Somehow in all the chaos I found my water jug. I can’t remember how long I searched for it, I just kept searching. I had worked many hours in the field to save up and buy this water jug. I had had to travel to the neighbouring village to buy it,” she says.
“Having the jug means that when visitors or family come I can serve them water in the right way.”
Meena, 33 – Her baby
A few minutes before the earthquake hit, Meena put Sundari, her seven-month-old baby, into a wicker basket. While the baby slept, she took her grain to the mill to be ground – but then the earth started rumbling.
“I ran home. I ran while the ground was still shaking under my feet,” she says.
By the time Meena got home, her house had collapsed, and a wooden beam had fallen on the baby’s wicker basket. She could hear Sundari crying so she knew she was still alive.
“My husband and I started to remove the debris, but it was taking so much time. I rushed to ask neighbours to help us, but they were dealing with their own suffering, there was distress everywhere, screaming and crying. And all the time I could hear my baby crying.”
She says that for a desperate hour, she scrabbled through the rubble to free her child – eventually some neighbours were able to help, and together they freed Sundari, who was covered in scratches, but not seriously injured.
Sangata Tamang, 41 – Prayer beads and bells
Sangata keeps her most precious items – a collection of brown and black beads, small brass bells and what look like carved effigies or figurines – wrapped tightly in a muslin beige cloth.
She says: “If these were lost for ever, I would feel so bad because our beads are holy and important to our worship.”
Rahar Singh Tamang, 60 – Larja Purja (red paper)
Rahar’s house was badly damaged in the earthquake, and is now held together with corrugated iron sheeting and tarpaulin. He says the most important items he saved were the “Larja Purja” – or red papers – which are his certificates for proof of land and house ownership, as well as the yellow papers that prove he has paid his taxes.
“My Larja Purja papers were kept inside a small black book that I keep locked. For the first days after the quake I could not return to our home, because the shaking just kept coming. Then, after about 10 days, I found the courage to go inside and get the box.
“Without official papers, things can go wrong. You need to prove that you are the one who owns the land and the building.”
Panch Maya Tamang, 40 – Her drum
Clasping what looks at first sight like a rusty hub-cap, Panch breaks out into a smile as she makes rhythmic music with her instrument – a home-made drum made out of deer skin. She regularly plays the drum at weddings and religious festivals, and she was desperate to save it after the earthquake.
“I can’t remember how long I’ve had this drum. It has been with me always. I remember when it was new and the deerskin was newly stretched across it. It plays just as well today as it did then,” she says
“Music is important for us during special occasions. Even with the misery of this earthquake, we still need music. That is why the drum is important for me, my family and for my community.”
Krisma Lama, 19 – School certificate
Krisma lives in the village of Balthali, which sits on a plateau amid terraced rice fields.
Krisma had already sat her School Leaving Certificate (SLC) exams before the earthquake struck. Without the certificate to show that she had passed, however, she would not have been able to continue her education.
She says: “I was proud to receive my SLC certificate. It is a good achievement for me. I kept it locked away in a cupboard. After the earthquake it was still there safe, inside the cupboard.”
Shyam Bahadur Tamang, 70 – Woven wicker grain separator
Shyam says his home was taken down after the earthquake by the army, as it was deemed unsafe, teetering on the edge of a cliff top. The most precious item he saved was his wicker grain separator.
“I was right here in the house when the earth started to move. I spent a lot of time dashing in and out of the house collecting my belongings.
“Although its women’s work to separate the grain, I do it. I’m old but I am still useful. When the family sit down to do this work, I join in with them. It’s important for family to clean rice together.”
Suku Maya Tamang, 35 – A bag of rice
Suku says her five-year-old son was playing outside the house when the earthquake struck, and her 15-year-old daughter was working in a nearby field.
“When the shaking started, it was difficult to keep a hold of my son. He kept slipping through my hands, like rice grain through fingers,” she says.
“I don’t know how, but I rushed inside the house and pulled out our sack of rice, and ran down the hill holding my son and the sack.
“I met my daughter down in the village. She was crying, and we were all afraid.
“We have been careful not to eat all the rice quickly, because we first have to find our feet again, so for now this bag of rice is still feeding the family.”
Rama Napal, 53 – Gajali the calf
Rama remembers working in the fields when the earthquake struck. She ran home to make sure that members of her family were safe – but after that, she was determined to rescue her prized calf, Gajali.
Animals are crucial to subsistence farmers like Rama, providing milk, meat and a source of income. They are also an important part of the spiritual life of communities. Rama named her calf Gajali – which means “eyeliner” – because of the animal’s sensuous eyes, which look as if they have eyeliner around them.
Rama says two of her cows and five of her goats were killed in the earthquake, and she spent three days digging through rubble to find Gajali.
She says: “I heard no sound from Gajali, after digging the earth looking for her. Then on the third day as I was moving the earth, I saw her tail shake. Many people in the village came to help me dig her out.
“I was so happy I cried, and I gave Gujali water and grass. This is a very special calf to me. I’ll never sell her.”
Pictures and interviews courtesy of Cafod