I survived and have a story to tell
The college I work for had resumed after one and a half months following the devastating April 25 earthquake. I teach World Literature for Bachelor of Business Administration (BBA) 2nd semester at King’s College, Kathmandu.
The classes after the destructive earthquake are quite difficult for both teachers and students as the disastrous incidents are still fresh in their minds. The fun-related activities such as games, drawing and dance can be taught to younger students for the first or few days after the schools resume. Such activities give comfort for both teachers and students. Although I had learned many ways to teach the quake-affected students while I was still writing education related stories on behalf of the district based correspondents for Republica, I myself was puzzled about my lesson plan for the first class.
During the review process of syllabus and the course of study for World Literature, an idea struck my mind. I decided to teach a story related to the recent earthquake to my students. It was not only relevant as per the course I teach, but it was appropriate in the present context of Nepal too. In this blog, I share my experience teaching the first day when the new semester began following the earthquake. I also incorporate other teachers’ experiences about their first classes before I draw my conclusion.
First class after earthquake
Aftershocks are still on; many students have turned up to the college on the first day. Indeed it was a reunion for everyone. I felt that my students were a warrior who came back home after fighting a battle. Their faces looked curious; they were curious to talk to each other. Before they got a chance to talk with their colleagues, I had an ice-breaker activity.
“We are survivors, aren’t we,” I asked.
They shouted, “Yes.”
“Thank God. Everyone survived. So, everyone has a story of survival,” I added.
I told them to tell their stories. I could see they were hesitant to share their stories. Then one of them asked me to tell my story first and so did the rest of students. I told them my story as follows:
I had two different experiences in the last two deadly earthquakes: one in my living room and another at workplace, one escaping from the ground floor of three-storied building and another from the second floor of seven-storied building. Though both magnitude and duration of the second earthquake (7.4) was less compared to the first one (7.8), I felt more scared in the second one.
All of a sudden, all electronic gadgets in my room were automatically turned off Saturday noon. I had been working on my laptop at the time. At that inauspicious time when the clock showed 11:56, my bed started to shake and the TV set almost jumped at me.
I rushed to the door and stood between the pillars from where I could see and hear other people in my neighborhood yelling and running helter-skelter. I shouted at them not to run but stay inside safely till things were settled.
Nobody listened to me, and I was scared. The earthquake continued for more than a minute, and nobody was inside. I had never experienced continuous tremors and it made me lose hope. I was at wit’s end.
I came out in the open after it stopped. Hundreds of people had already gathered outside. I saw parts of some buildings and boundary walls nearby collapse. I tried to contact my family, friends and colleagues, but in vain. I browsed the net, which was luckily available. I tweeted about the earthquake and also posted a status on Facebook.
Immediately after the first quake, no Nepali media covered the news, except Radio Nepal. But I could read Facebook posts and tweets about earthquake from different parts of the country. Though there were reports about damage and loss of properties and lives in Kathmandu alone, at first, nationwide reports soon followed.
Through social media, I could learn that Saturday’s devastating earthquake measured 7.9 on the Richter scale with its epicenter in Gorkha district. Thereafter, international media was not only quick but also active in reporting the incident. Nepali media became active only after news spread through international media.
First, I thought it was an aftershock and decided to stay inside. But the intensity got noticeably higher. Then I managed to escape from the tall building that had started to swing and later developed cracks as well. Thank God, both the powerful earthquakes occurred during daytime.
Had they occurred during the night, or on workdays, human casualty, especially school and college students and structural damages would have been immense.
So far the death toll from May 12 quake with epicenter in Sunakhani of Dolakha has crossed 100. Likewise, the toll from the first quake with epicenter at Barpak in Gorkha is around 9,000 and twice many are injured, according to Nepal Police. Of 14 affected districts, Sindhupalchowk is the hardest hit. Over 3,000 people have been killed there.
All Nepalis, both in and out of the country, have stood by the victims in these difficult times. They have lent their helping hands with what they can. Although Nepalis had earlier been divided along political, gender, ethnicity and geographical lines, they are united now. Such a bonding was not possible in any other way.
Then the students started sharing with each other their stories. I could observe some of the important points they were making while listening to their stories. Some of the students were good at narrating the story, while others became hesitant as they could not fully narrate stories in English. Even I allowed few hesitant students to tell their stories in the Nepali language. The presentation of the stories by individual students varied. Some presented in details and interesting away, but others told very short story skipping the details. This is because of individual differences and diversity of students. I found that even the students who failed to stand up and speak out earlier told the story. There was an overwhelming response from students.
At the end of the class, I briefly introduced different genres of literature – fiction prose, poetry, drama and non-fiction. The story they shared is an examples of non-fiction, I told the class.
To conclude, I have also interviewed some of my colleagues about their first classes after the disasters. I found out that some of them began their classes with something related to the earthquake. For instance, an environment science faculty member held a discussion on how disaster brought environment problems in Nepal. As economics faculty provided shared his thoughts on how the earthquake affected the country’s economy.
The next day, I assessed the students’ interests, but many of them were no longer interested to talk about the earthquake. They argued that they were bothered by listening to their parents or neighbors and the other people, who always talked about the earthquake.
As aftershocks are still on, some precautionary measures are a must to save our lives from the future disasters. I facilitated a discussion on how to take precautions, and went back to a normal situation of taking classes. The college also organized some events like treasure hunt, which I believe helped students recover from the quake trauma.