When I found out just how devastating the earthquake was that hit Nepal, I sobbed; I fretted; I was angry; I was out of my mind. I did not leave my computer for days on end, wondering how I can help, if I should fly there, wondering what is the Nepali government doing, what am I doing here, in Phnom Penh? I'd see a photo or a news clip and burst into tears.
I'm still randomly bursting into tears, a month after.
It was not at all surprising to me, one day after the earthquake hit, how Nepali communities and pockets of expats living there were organizing themselves and utilizing their skills and expertise to bring aid to earthquake survivors. It was not surprising when I saw that NayanTara, a dear friend and inspiring photojournalist, converted her family's hotel into an earthquake relief operations center.
She's still at it, working tirelessly long days, organizing day trips to villages that have been completely wiped out, all in between tremors and more earthquakes. She calls it a "soul shake down." They started with phase one, search and rescue. Then on to phase two, aid and relief operations to the villages the government was not reaching. Now they are thinking long term, planning vocational training and workshops for teachers, children and victims of the earthquake.
It's so strange to be in Cambodia when my favorite country (my home) is going through such a gut wrenching tragedy. I feel helpless and guilty. I was trying to invent ways I could help from here. When the government instituted a "circular" demanding money go directly into the prime minister's relief fund, smaller operations like NayanTara's group were worried funds they were raising online might not get to them. I thought maybe I could fly in with massive amounts of cash to help...maybe not one of my smartest ideas.
NayanTara had shown her series "Being Nepali" at the French Institute a few months ago. She signed the photos over to me, hoping that I could roll them up and bring them back to Nepal, or keep them forever all for myself. They were glued to heavy boards so I thought we'd have to destroy the prints. As soon as those prints popped into my mind, in light of the earthquake, I leapt at the opportunity to exhibit them here in Phnom Penh.
Managing this exhibition has been incredibly cathartic and inspiring for me. All of my friends got involved, who are probably sick of hearing me start sentences with "One time in Nepal...". They came together and helped me organize this beautiful exhibition. Without their help and the help of The Plantation (where we exhibited), this would never have been possible.
We raised money, we showed our support and love for Nepal, we candle light vigilled, we ate momos, we donated, conversations were had, tears were shed and we all looked at beautiful faces of Nepali people and drank and ate in the name of those we love, those who were lost and those who are working so hard to rebuild Nepal.
I'm hoping Photo Kathmandu still takes place this year. It may be too soon, especially since the location we were planning on exhibiting, Patan Durbar Square, is now piles of rubble. But maybe a photo exhibition about "memory" is a great way for people to heal and come together over this horrible tragedy.