“Oh, amore! I got something for you a few days back that I keep forgetting to give to you!” Michele shouted towards me from the living room, nonchalantly.
Excited and curious, I frolicked out of the kitchen going towards him and his backpack, holding a bowl of freshly baked banana oatmeal cookies. “What is it?” I asked extra smiley while dropping the Havaianas from my left foot on the way because of my dance/jumps/walk.
“Tadaa!” – he pulled out a nice and shiny reusable water bottle from inside the backpack. I laughed and kissed him thank you – finally a proper bottle to bring around during these hot days we’ve been having in Nepal. He had been commenting lately on the horrible state of the over-used plastic bottle that I had been carrying around for way too many weeks now, having never made the time to go buy a proper one.
“What was…” – I attempted to ask, looking at Michele’s face, which went from laughing – to confused – to shocked – to scared, in a fraction of seconds. A strangely strong vibration came from underneath our feet as if an immense balloon had popped in slow motion under the concrete floor of the house. It lasted for probably two seconds, but it felt like it happened in slow motion. That sensation matched the sound of what -I imagine- a “slow bomb” would sound like. Then, the awful sounds of crackling wood all around us, all over the house. That’s when it got scary.
“EARTHQUAKE”! He pulled my arm towards the nearest door. I still held the bowl of cookies in one hand and was half-barefooted as we reached the grass outside, speechless. I could hear my heartbeat coming from the middle of my throat.
Dogs were barking all over the neighbourhood, scared pigeons and crows flew away loudly from trees, cars moved and their alarms went off, people talked louder than usual outside.
The weirdest part was that, although it all sounded different and unsettling, nothing looked different (thank Goodness). But we kept on staring at the house, as if expecting to see something, to check if there was more going on, to check if there was something that we had missed. Nothing moved. Not even the wind.
My heart was pounding super fast as I sat in the middle of the garden holding our dog, who run after us, for the first time ever leaving his dinner unfinished.
Michele left me at that safe spot and went to check with the front guard if everything was ok. He came back semi-smiling “he said it was not a strong one!”. Imagine what a strong one is supposed to feel and sound like!
I laughed, relieved, as if that had settled the question: it was over now. Only then did I notice that I still had a bowl of cookies in my hands, which the dog was attempting to get to.
“But yes, by the way, that was indeed an earthquake.” Michele held me and we just stood there on the grass, relieved and in disbelief, eating cookies and looking at the house while our adrenaline levels went back to normal.
Later that night we found out that the earthquake was 4.1 in Magnitude but its epicentre had been just a few kilometers from our house. That is why we could hear it so loudly. It had never occurred to me until that moment in the garden that the floor is the one thing we cannot run away from. We can technically protect out heads from rain, blizzard, lightning… But our feet are attached to the ground no matter where we run to. Even at a spot that is safe from falling buildings, one still has to feel the unsettling vibrations and hear the noises of an earthquake. There is no hiding from the earth’s movement.
I have been here for two months now, and I have come to terms with the fact that I now live in an area with intense seismic activity. “Come to terms” as in: I have packed an emergency bag, talked to several people about how to react in case of emergency, am fully aware of the possibility of having to run to the nearest door at any moment (and always look for the exit spots when I walk into a new space), and practically every time I have a shower I fear an earthquake is going to happen and I am going to have to run around naked (seriously). Still, nothing could prepare me for the feeling and the sounds of an earthquake. That is what I learned last Saturday.
Our neighbourhood went back to normal sounds and movements within ten seconds while we still squatted on the garden, starring at the house and being devoured by mosquitos, waiting for something else to happen next. Finally, we returned to ‘normal life’, went back inside and ended the night watching a TV show, cuddling on the couch as if nothing had happened.
One forgets. It is something scary to think about and go through but, once it is over, I simply forget. I first came to terms with being exposed to earthquakes when I went through the first one here in Nepal, last February. Since then, I packed and ‘trained’ and felt more emotionally ready to deal with the eventuality of it happening again, and then I carried on with life and forgot. Next thing I know, another earthquake hit and there I was, running around barefoot, carrying a bowl of cookies -instead of something useful such as a phone which had been sitting right in front of me-, starring at the house from the garden, open-mouthed, still not fully realizing what was going on. And the worst part is that if Michele hadn’t screamed ‘earthquake!’ I don’t know how long it would have taken for me to realize what the hell was going on. Now I must confess that since Saturday, every time a motorcycle passes by with a slightly louder tube noise, I look at the lamps hanging from the ceiling to see if they are moving “for no reason”. Just in case.