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Routines and Patterns

We’ve finished our first set of schools and tomorrow we’ll finish our second. Our routine is becoming predictable. We wake up early and stuff ourselves with a huge bowl of oatmeal, embellished with nuts and fruit. Sometimes that is our only food until dinner, so it volume is essential. I take a bucket shower, organize our equipment, and then we leave.

For the last several days we have been commuting to Alapot, a village at the end of the road headed north from Kathmandu. It’s probably only 15 kilometres from the dense northern districts of the city, but it takes an hour to creep along a pock-filled mud road, with occasional stretches of asphalt. Rolling on to and off of the infrequent paved patches seems to actually make the drive even slower. The roads are jammed with small venders carrying wares and school buses belching black exhaust as they ferry village kids to private schools in the city.

The further we are from the city, the more damage we see. Old Buddhist monasteries and Hindu temples are shored up. Adobe homes, once the primary building type, are now piles of brick, mud, and the remnants of people’s lives.

When we reach the schools, we talk to the principal first. He patiently answers our questions and shows us damaged and abandoned classrooms. This often takes hours. Teachers occasionally pass through and interject — I suppose they are graciously covering the principal’s lessons, though it is never mentioned.

As we walk around the school, students crowd around and giggle, trying their English with me or shyly answering Bishnu’s quizzes on their learnings and earthquake knowledge. Recently, I had younger students hold tape measures and stiltedly vocalize the measurements to me in English. For fun, I would make them add the dimensions on the blackboard to practice their mathematics. Like students everywhere, they struggled with decimals.

We then talk with school parents and community members. The pattern of those conversations is striking. Communities that participated in a retrofit are knowledgeable about earthquakes and can even conceive of good building practice. The masons are confident and astute in assessing why buildings fell or survived. Many of these families built homes with earthquake bands or stronger cement. In communities without retrofit projects, the people are noticeably overwhelmed — not only was the earthquake a surprise to them, but they can’t make sense of the damage patterns. Now they are bereft.

It is fascinating that such stark differences can appear side by side. The last two schools we surveyed were only a 15 minute walk from each other, yet one was ready to build better, and the other was not. The communities without retrofit projects have begged us to stay longer. After we are finished surveying, the principals have sometimes dragged Bishnu into rooms full of curious teachers and parents who want guidance. They are hungry for knowledge which has been given to communities just next door.

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