Higher yet we go
This morning began with the shifter between my legs. The engine rumbling beneath, we headed further up into the mountains. In a different truck this time, though we had a smaller crew we were more crowded and I was in the middle of the front. Second gear was notably uncomfortable. The driver pushed my knee to the left so he could steer, a moment later to push it back to the right so he could shift. On repeat. There was nothing more to do than submit.
We were headed through the clouds to visit the homes we had sent roofing to the day before. I recall wondering if there was such a thing as a pinnacle. When we finally arrived at the first cluster of damaged houses, we parked the truck where there was a small group of people waiting for us and followed them down a narrow path through the trees. It quickly opened up into a field of corn and other crops; on the other side of which were a cluster of three houses made of the typical mud and daub walls usually painted in cadmium orange, framed by wood and with corrugated aluminum roofing. These small conglomerations of houses turned out to be quite typical. The first thing I noticed was that the pattern and shapes of the cracks looked exactly like the ones I saw in Haiti in 2011. A Mandelbrot set reserved solely for earthquakes.
The damage of the houses varied from subtle cracks to piles of rubble with most somewhere in between. Many of the houses we couldn’t even enter for fear of imminent collapse, but we were allowed to go into one to see that sometimes barely visible damage on the outside can hide total destruction on the inside.
Our all wheel drive truck, a crude Chinese clone of a Land Rover, bounced and lurched up the dusty mountain roads for most of the day. We started off from Butwal at the crack of dawn. Proudly strapped to the hood was a banner loudly proclaiming that we - Manimukunda College from Nepal and One Big Boost USA, Nepal and Haiti - were bringing aid to the community. There were eleven of us crammed inside and a cacophony of boxes and bags strapped to the roof.
Along the way we passed many checkpoints. At most of them we were waved on with little notice but at the crossing into the Gulmi district we were stopped and questioned for nearly half an hour. Police wanted to know where we were going, what our intentions were, what cargo we were carrying and most importantly who were the foreigners in the car. They wanted to make sure we knew the rules set forth by the Nepali government. Our Nepali partners assured them that we were aware, and that they were professors from Manimukunda College. The last detail was what freed us. As a well respected school in Butwal, the closest city, we were free to continue.
The roads are bumpy, lumpy and crude. In many places it looks impossibly narrow for such a truck to navigate, while any mistake would send you careening down the mountain, truck and bodies irretrievable. Many times some or all of us had to get out of the truck and walk, the truck otherwise too heavy to lumber up the mountain. But up we went, higher and higher till one could hardly imagine going any higher. To think they call these hills! I suppose when the backdrop to them is the Himalayas they do seem rather insignificant. Our single blessing was that the road was dry. Dusty, but dry. Had the monsoon season hit in full force it is doubtful we would have made it at all. Somehow, through the persistence and great skill of our driver, we did make it.