Moving on…..

IMG_1427Moving country, moving house, changing job, divorce and the death of a partner are reported to be some of the biggest causes of stress. The first three mentioned on that list, I’ve experienced with far too much regularity.

I’d love to say that I’m so accustomed to moving country, ergo house and job that it doesn’t take a feather out of me, but I’d be telling lies.  I don’t even move countries, but continents; from Indonesia (South East Asia), to Sierra Leone (West Africa), to Afghanistan (Central Asia), Iraq (the Middle East), Kenya (East Africa) and back to South East Asia, the Philippines and Thailand.

Because the nature of my work involves humanitarian response I have rarely stayed anywhere for longer than a year. Picture if you will the number of ironing boards, clothes irons, clothes hangers, wine glasses and coffee pots that were bought on arrival and distributed on departure from each country.

Bangkok

My last sojourn involved being based in Bangkok, which is a great city, when you’re well paid and can afford the lifestyle it has to offer. For the more fortunate ex-pats the choice of really good accommodation close to the city is extensive and the high prices reflect the quality of what’s on offer.  I may as well be living in a caravan if I don’t have an oven in the kitchen and when I lived in Manila I had a two-ring stove and a microwave that never worked. After some time I found it just plain depressing not to have access to a decent oven, especially when I didn’t consider Filipina food up to my gourmet standards. My stipulation that the apartment must have an oven in the kitchen guided me on what was available for the price range.  The Thais like to eat out and as most non-salad food is fried, there are few apartments even in the high-end range that offer an oven in the kitchen.

I got lucky in my quest for living accommodation and ended up in a very large 2-bed apartment located just off the main shopping area. It was situated on a minor soi (side street), sufficiently out of the way so as not to feel overwhelmed by tourists but removed from the noise and the bustle of a big Asian city like Bangkok.

Before Bangkok became the big bustling Asian city that it is, it was made up of a series of lanes and alleyways that defined the city.  All human life lived in these lanes and alleys. You could buy anything you needed from fruit to fridges, sinks to sofas; have a haircut; enjoy a massage or eat your dinner on the side of the road.

Shortcuts

When I moved into the apartment in Bangkok, you could take a ‘shortcut’ to Luan Suan, an upmarket street, which is home to Gagan Restaurant one of the top three restaurants in Asia (and serving the most fantastic Indian-fusion food).  There are also some decent restaurants on the street and access to the Bangkok Transit System (BTS).  The shortcut was a series of small narrow lanes, with a huge tree almost similar to a willow tree more common in Europe, whose branches hung low, forming a semi-circle, marking the entrance to the laneway. You felt as if you were stepping into another world, and indeed you did step in to some unique culture, that’s not found in many other cities or places.

Motorcycle taxis weaved between the street food-sellers, the cyclists and the pedestrians who frequented the street. There were several massage parlours and the women would sit outside on the steps when there were no customers, often eating meals there.  There was one or two hair salons, a house where English lessons were conducted from the open carport at weekends, small grocery stores and a variety of eateries from a colonial style house converted to a restaurant, to small family run restaurants. The small restaurants usually entailed some plastic chairs and tables on the street and a mobile kitchen with open fire and boiling pots of fat for cooking – little regard for safety there. The plastic dishes from the restaurants were placed into large buckets and in the evenings as I took the shortcut home, the owners would wash the dishes on the street with water from an unidentified source. Sitting among cockroaches one evening while eating at one of these restaurants guaranteed a lost of appetite and I didn’t repeat the experience.  I was also turned off from eating local when travelling by car one day, I noticed two restaurant workers, during a quiet period sitting beside the kitchen and one woman was scouring the other’s hair for head lice.

Luan Suan itself is an upmarket street with lots of ongoing building construction at the top of the street towards Lumpini Park. I had a few friends who lived off Luan Suan and would frequently walk over to them for dinner.  Garbage from the restaurants would be left out in plastic bags on the sidewalk, ready for the bin collectors to come at night and clean the streets.  As you walked up the road, rats would scurry out and of the bags of rubbish and scatter at the sound of voices or footsteps.  I had never seen so many rats in my life and the open drains gave them easy access to scurry up and down the road. I took to walking down the street clapping my hands like some mentally deranged eccentric, but it worked and I once spotted seven rats scurrying out of some plastic bags, down the open drains.

The number of rats around food helped my decision to shop in the supermarket. The other option was to spend the day going from market to market to buy vegetables and then trying to find transport to do so.  The variety of vegetables and fruit is remarkable but then you have to know how to cook the local food to really experience the scale and variety of food on offer.  I tended to stick to what I knew, but paying Irish prices in a country where labour is cheap is upsetting added to the fact that there is some conglomerate capitalist rubbing his greasy palms at the prospect of massive profit.

Super-markets

Bangkok has many expats living in the city and the supermarkets cater to all nationalities. There’s nothing (well, maybe Helmanns mayonnaise) that you can’t find in the big supermarket from smoked salmon to salami, but I frequently chocked on the prices I paid. For some reason instant coffee is a premium produce with security tags on jars of Nescafe, the way you’d see them on bottles of whiskey elsewhere.  A 100 gramme jar of coffee costs about €20. The cost of wine in the country is outrageous and after India, Thailand has the second highest taxes on wine in the world. A bottle of Carlo Rossi (the cheapest, most awful wine in the world) is about €20 a pop, so I would use every opportunity when travelling to bring an extra large suitcase and lots of towels to wrap enough wine to open a small shop.

Members of high society in Thailand like to be seen drinking wine in the roof top bars of the fancy hotels dotted around Bangkok.  It’s considered a status symbol and gives these posers, a sense of sophistication. You can’t buy booze in the afternoons, apparently because children get out of school during this time and the king thinks it may influence the younger generation.

Royalty

Any public criticisms of the king of Thailand, no matter how minor, will ensure a long jail term.  It is difficult to access if he is genuinely as popular as the media make him out to be, as saying otherwise would ensure time behind bars. According to the media, there is a fierce public loyalty to a man who is reputed to be one of the wealthiest in the world and whose family behave like feudal overlords in the 17th century.  At the cinema the national anthem is played before every movie and if you don’t stand to attention, then I dread to think of the consequences.  If you happen to be walking in Lumphini Park at 6 p.m. or past a military establishment, then you must stop while the anthem is blasted over megaphones.  The city is littered with enormous posters of the king and queen over many years.  In one poster, himself is dripping in sweat and when I asked one day why would you use such a picture, I was told that it reflected how hard he worked for the Thai people.  The notorious traffic jams in Bangkok are frequently caused by military escorts forcing the traffic to stop as a motorcade containing members of the royal family, going to or coming back from shopping sprees!

Happily there is one unmarried princess, who works tirelessly for the poor and marginalized in a deeply divided country.  The 87-year old king is crippled with failing health and lives in his own personal hospital.  His queen is similarly in bad health after a stroke in 2012.

The heir apparent, the Crown Prince (63) is surrounded in controversy.  His dog Foo Foo was promoted to the rank of Air Marshal and on his death received a four-day Buddhist funeral followed by a cremation. On the dog’s birthday, photos were released of the Prince’s naked third wife and the dog at a birthday celebration (he is now on his fourth wife, according to reports).  Many Thais, who would prefer to see his 60-year old sister, known for her altruistic and charitable work, accede the throne.

The support for whoever accedes to the throne very much depends on the military who are the real power kingpins in Thailand. The first woman prime minister, Yingluck Shinawatra was removed through a military coup in 2014 and there are no signs of any early return to democracy, despite promises of reform. Shinawatra, is a wealthy businesswoman whose eldest brother Thaksin was also a previous prime minister. Reports accuse her brother, who fled the country when he was deposed, of ruling through his sister and using power to further business interests.  It’s very much an urban/rural divide with the Shinawatras’ being voted in by and representing the rural population. When there was a water shortage due to El Niño in 2015, the government cut off the water supply to the farmers while car washing and water for plants was still available in Bangkok.

It will be interesting to see what will happen when the king dies and many believe that the military will use his death as an excuse to remain in power, until things settle down.  An Irish friend who believes the king’s death is imminent is stacking up on bottles of gin for over a year now, as he believes there will be a ban on the sale of booze in the kingdom for at least six months after the royal death!

Another form of Chinese torture

Unlike the price of booze, the Thai massage is famous and costs as little as €10 for an hour’s therapy.  The local massage comprises of slight women walking on your back and yanking limbs and muscles you never knew existed.  Language can also be a problem and much to my shame my Thai was limited to giving instructions to taxi drivers and some basic words for hello, thank you and wrong number etc. This made finding a decent masseuse a hit-and-miss affair, trying to explain that I have an arthritic hip and it shouldn’t be yanked or I’ll scream the house down with pain. Indeed a greater challenge was finding therapists who had some kind of qualification.

A Japanese friend who previously lived in Bangkok, pointed me in the direction of the Chinese massage spa just off the BTS.  The place fascinated me and was just a 10-minute train ride from where I was living.  It was on a minor soi and when you turned into the compound a couple of dogs lazed under the trees to escape from the heat of the day.  This was no luxury spa – there were two rooms and a row of uncomfortable wicker chairs in both rooms.  There was a third room with a plastic sliding door that was almost permanently pulled shut, which fascinated me; well at least what was behind it interested me.  It was like some form of religious temple and there were days when lying on the wicker chair and for the want of something to look at, I would strain to get a glimpse of what was going on inside.  Some days when it sounded as if there was chanting and on one particular day tens of young people poured out, as the door was firmly pulled behind them. There were very few foreign clients, but some pretty fancy cars with Thais or Chinese would pull up outside for this no frills establishment. Lots of certificates covered the walls and like most other places there were some therapists who were better than others.

You couldn’t make an appointment because of the language barrier and I’m not sure they even took appointments, so you ended up with whatever therapist was next in line.  Like most places there were good and not so good therapists, but I hated when I arrived and it was  ‘Granny’s’ turn.  The woman must have been in her 80’s and she had a habit of holding my foot under her armpit while working on the other leg.  Another woman, who appeared to be the boss, spent most of her time watching Chinese soap operas on her smart phone.  They must have been short of staff one day when I ended up with her as a therapist and she had some English.  Without doing anything else she touched my feet and told me my knees were inflamed and then pointed to my hip.  She pointed out some other ailments by just touching my feet; I have to say I was fairly impressed by her skills.

The type of massage practiced by the Chinese was Rwo Shr, brought from Taiwan by a Swiss priest Father Josef Eugster, who introduced that particular method to many countries in Asia. Many people like to be cosseted in a spa with essential oil and have a massage that makes them fall asleep.  I much prefer to have a medical massage that sorts out some of the pains and aches I have developed with increasing age and I have to admit, despite the excruciating pain experienced during the massage, I came out walking on air and feeling fantastic.

I recommended the Chinese massage to a few friends, some of whom are yet to forgive me for the pain they endured and who have never returned to these gifted Chinese therapists.  I eventually found something nearer home, practicing the same method of reflexology, but with much more comfortable chairs and soothing music in the background to take my mind off the pain.

Bangkok is a big, brash South Asian city where everything and anything goes.  It’s exciting and exhausting, it’s hot and sweaty; it’s rich and poor. But whatever it is and however it wears you down at times, it’s an exciting place and there’s always something new on the horizon – it just depends on how you look at it.

Photography by Orla Fagan

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Until next time

yours

Fagan

ORLA FAGAN HEAD SHOT

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The case of a well-dressed young Hungarian woman with the refugees at the Eastern Railway Station in Budapest

Refugee Crisis in Hungary

What happens when you have 5 minutes until your train leaves and there are three thousand migrants standing in your way? The personal account of Rita Perintfalvi. For the original article please click here.

“The train to the Promised Land: the refugees and me, waiting/longing for the early morning train.

The newspapers are filled with stories about the refugee crisis, I know. But I was there this morning, wanting to catch the early train to Vienna to get to work, as I do every week. The train was to leave from a different platform than usual. I quickly realised that it was because this platform could be cordoned off and the police could form a protective shield around it. I had 5 minutes till departure, so I had to rush, when I was suddenly faced with hundreds of refugees in front of me, who were waiting outside the cordon…

View original post 583 more words

NEWS FEED: Orla Fagan reports into RTE Radio and Television live from Bangkok

Bangkok Explosions – update.
9 O’CLOCK NEWS RTE TELEVISION 17th August Top Story
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RTE RADIO 1 DRIVETIME 17th August 2015 Top Story (in at 06:40)
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ORLA FAGAN HEAD SHOT
Reporter Orla Fagan

What to do Kathmandu

 

Old Friends

My good friend James was visiting me in Bangkok on his way back from the UK to Myanmar, staying the weekend.  We returned from a morning of vigorous (a euphemism for torturous) massage on the Saturday morning when a message popped up on my mobile phone asking if I was preparing to write a Situation Report.  Thinking my colleague had lost her marbles I asked her had I missed something in the few hours I was out having massage and lunch.

Indeed, I had missed the Nepal earthquake and emails were arriving by the minute with updates of the situation in Kathmandu and the office there.  I had travelled to Nepal a month previously to provide training on the communications aspect of an emergency to public information officers and to local journalists.  There was never a more timely training, but it wasn’t sufficient.

The phone calls from the international journalists began in earnest . As the afternoon wore on it became more obvious that the situation on the ground was not good at all – I knew  I would be returning to Kathmandu. I left the house for a few hours to have a meal with friends, all the time aware I would be packing bags at some stage.

Heading to Kathmandu

Another colleague called on Sunday morning to say if I dashed to the airport I’d make the flight, but I decided it was best to aim for the following morning and at least know that I had packed the necessities to last a few weeks if the situation was dire.  Monday morning bright and early I took the taxi to the airport, meeting more than a few familiar faces queueing for the Thai Airways daily flight to Kathmandu TG319 departing at 10.30.

Part of me was dreading the flight –and as I arrived to the airport another colleague who travelled the day before texted to say he scored five hotel rooms.  If the hotel was damaged then we could stay in the garden in our tents but at least would have access to a hot shower in the morning.  Things were looking up.  The flight took off and we were on our way to Kathmandu.

The time difference between Kathmandu and Bangkok is one hour 15 minutes, which confuses the life out of everybody. I’ve seen mathematicians taking their fingers to try and figure out the time difference with Nepal.  One hour into the flight I duly set my watch to Kathmandu time and enjoyed what I thought was going to be the last bit of decent food for a while.  It seemed to be taking an extraordinary amount of time to get to our destination until I realized we were circling and circling and then circling some more.  The captain came on the intercom and announced that we were going to Calcutta to refuel as there was a bit of a backlog in Kathmandu.  Apparently there were 14 flights circling in the air.  We arrived to Calcutta and I sent off a couple of emails apologizing for my delay to a meeting I was due to attend.  In fairness we didn’t stay long on the ground in Calcutta and once more took off headed for Kathmandu.

People were walking up and down the aisles of the plane, talking to each other, reconnecting with others met on previous missions, swopping business cards. I began watching the flight path on the TV screen as it kept starting at 40 minutes and counting down to five minutes before it would start again at 40 minutes.  We turned back to Calcutta, supposedly for the night where Thai Airways was to put us up in a hotel.  When we arrived there were five other flights ahead of us and all the passengers had taken our rooms in the hotel!

In the row behind me there were some Eastern European medics, who, judging by their tshirts were responding to the disaster.  The oldest member of the group began complaining about the flight, asking if they expected us to sleep on the plane and would they offer us a cup of water for a shower.

Passengers

There are some people who should just never volunteer to respond to a disaster. What did he expect? We also had 70 passengers who were from the Japanese search and rescue team, travelling with their rescue dogs on the flight. I could only imagine their frustration.  The Thai Airways pilot stayed in the air all day, trying to get us in to Kathmandu because he knew most people were on the flight as part of the response. Forget the fact that he went way over international standards for flying time, the man did his best to get us there and I pointed it out to the medic who complained.  Once again we took to the air, returning to Bangkok to spend the night.  We arrived back at 1 a.m.

Funny, the following morning, the row of seats that the four medics occupied the previous day, were empty. They just didn’t show up.

As we attempted once again to make our way to Kathmandu – everybody looked tired.  We were all dressed in the same clothes but at least I had found a 7/11 store to pick up a spare deodorant.

A state of calamity

We got to work as soon as we landed. I was fortunate I knew the crew in the UN office in Kathmandu, so understanding how they work made my job easier.

There were many differences between this response and Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines just 18 months earlier and a few similarities as well.  We have a highly competent Irish-Scot, Jamie McGoldrick the Humanitarian Coordinator in Nepal who is a former TV and radio producer and who knows the media, again making my job way easier.  He’s articulate and sharp, unlike his cohort who was in charge during Haiyan.  Media wouldn’t have been her forte.

It’s easier to respond to an emergency when it is an island country – you can just ship in the humanitarian aid.  Nepal is landlocked and it has just one runway in its main airport, with an apron that can take just five planes at a time.  Transporting goods from India through the road network was an alternative, but it didn’t solve the problem of transporting goods to the remote villages.

Kathmandu, what to do….

Kathmandu is as chaotic as any Asian capital city – it’s polluted and normally choked with traffic because of the small roads.  On top of that every male driver thinks the horn on his car is somehow relevant or connected to his penis and he insists on honking his horn every five seconds, making it as noisy as every other Asian city I have ever visited.  It can take five minutes to cross the road, dodging cars, bikes, busses and motorcycles.  You need the agility of a prizefighter to weave and duck in order to avoid impact with the oncoming traffic. This time, when we drove in from the airport, Kathmandu was strangely empty – no traffic, no people and 90 per cent of the shops closed.

I expected to see something similar to Banda Aceh, Indonesia after the 2004 earthquake, as we drove through the city to the office, but it was surprisingly intact with little evidence of the earthquake.  Buildings remained upright and Nepal wouldn’t be renowned for its excellence in building standards, so that was surprising.  It didn’t take long to look behind the facades though and when I went out to some of the temporary shelters, I found thousands of people sleeping outdoors in parks, fearful to return home because of the aftershocks.  The city had emptied as the migrant workers returned to their villages high in the Himalayas to ensure family members were okay.

First time

The first time I visited Nepal we went left the office after work one evening looking for somewhere to eat.  Durbar Square is a 20-minute walk from the office and a UNESCO cultural heritage site. I knew very little about Kathmandu so I was blown away by the sheer beauty of the square – palaces and places of worship all in one spot. There was a holiday atmosphere, yet few tourists.  It was very much a place for locals, especially young people – hanging out sitting on the steps of the temples – the square had a romantic, magical atmosphere that made it such a pleasant place to visit.

When the Under-Secretary General Valerie Amos, visited for three days in the aftermath of the disaster, part of her itinerary included a visit to Durbar Square which was unrecognizable. It was reduced to a pile of rubble where the military worked to clear the square, there was so much dust you could feel its grit in your mouth and in your lungs.  At the best of times because Kathmandu is in a valley, like Kabul in Afghanistan, the pollution is trapped in the valley, leaving an acrid smell from the fumes that pour out of baldy maintained trucks and cars on the road.

Setting the wheels in motion

After a week in the office of the usual manic post-disaster response, I headed to Gorkha, (where the famous Gurkha army comes from).  I went to see the devastation caused by the quake.  It’s a four hour drive, through the most spectacular countryside and as an added bonus, the further the distance we drove from Kathmandu, the clearer the air.

Even the town of Gorkha, where the buildings looked as if they are naturally tilted, I was surprised to see so many standing.  We called into the local administrative office where we met a young man Suedip who was working in Afghanistan when the earthquake happened.  He worked for a non-government organisation when he heard the news and got on the first flight to return to his mother’s village to help out.  He spoke with passion about the work they had already carried out and how they were trying to coordinate.  They had distributed tarpaulins for people to have shelter, food and cooking utensils.  In a country where the caste system delineates the high from the low caste, boundaries were coming down like buildings in an earthquake as neighbours who would normally never speak, helped each other out.   If you wanted to look for a positive outcome of this terrible tragedy, then this was it.

We set up a coordination office there a few days earlier, so there was an office tent and a separate tent with camp beds. Nights were very cold and I felt guilty in my warm sleeping bag as most people slept outside without decent blankets.  On the first night we slept in a field with no access to running water, so a bottle of water was used to wash. We had a porta-loo of sorts, but having a pee with 467 bluebottles, isn’t a healthy scenario.  The following day we moved to a hotel and camped on its grounds, so we had access to a room with a shower.

I have a fear in these situations that I will literally be caught with my knickers around my ankles, sitting on a toilet when the next disaster happens, or in the middle of having a shower.  None of the doors of the hotel would close properly, no matter how hard I tried. Kirsty, a colleague travelling with us from the NGO Map Action went for a shower the day following a fairly big aftershock and got locked in to the bathroom, where the door refused to close the previous day.  She had to phone to another colleague to ‘rescue’ her.

Devastation in Gorkha

While my colleagues went off to set up the coordination structures for the response, I went with the driver Gyanu to the off-road areas to see what the damage was really like.  Neither of us having visited the area before, I asked him to just ask somebody on the street where the best place was to see the destruction.  He scored well.  The first person he asked happened to be the local health inspector, Sharad Shrestha who knew everybody in the area and had no hesitation to jump into the car with us and to show us to areas where some of the damage was greatest.

Nepal is an agricultural country and because of the mountains, farmers have created steps into the side of the hills, to grow their crops – rice, corn and vegetables.  Just a half hour drive outside Gorkha it was a very different reality.  The terrain is challenging at the best of times and its people are tough, living so remote from the rest of the world, walking or using donkeys to transport goods to the village – they are a resilient, hardy people.  However, the earthquake had utterly demolished houses built of mud while many of the animals, mainly water buffalo, fettered under shelters died, leaving farmers without a means to plant crops.

They were lucky in a sense – the earthquake happened coming up to midday on 25 April, a Saturday.  Over 3,000 schools were destroyed – unbearable to think of if it was a school day. If the quake had occurred during the night, hundred of thousands of people would have lost their lives. On a regular Saturday, people were out and about in the fields working, reducing the death toll but leaving them without homes and sometimes livelihoods.

We parked the car and walked up to the villages to speak to people.  One man I met showed me a photo of himself and his wife on the balcony of their home and stood on the rubble with the satellite dish sitting on the top, so I could take his photo.  Even if there was a house left standing, people were so nervous they slept outside under tarpaulins.  It was interesting to see just a solitary door standing while a building was completely demolished – something that stuck in my mind.  We called up to the Nareshwar Health Clinic where Dev Nath Yogi was waiting to see the health inspector.  The back wall of the clinic displayed a major crack and is about to fall down, so the ‘treatment room’ and pharmacy was a desk at the front of the building.  Recovery from such devastation will take some time.

I returned to Kathmandu, after two days, leaving the remainder of the team behind to work on getting the aid out to those remote villages I had visited.  I was happy to go back to my comfy hotel that didn’t look as if it was going to fall down.  They were busy days, trying to advocate for the Nepali affected by the quake and raise the funds for the response.

Sounding alarms

We were located in the UN compound in Kathmandu, where most of the offices are fitted with an earthquake alarm. It’s not that you wouldn’t feel a major shock, but sometimes tremors can build into something bigger and you need to be aware that the tremor is starting, in order to ‘leg it’ out the door.  One day while conducting a press briefing with mainly local journalists, the alarm sounded.. bong, pause….. bong pause… Everybody ignored it.  I interrupted the briefing to point out that in fact it was indeed an earthquake alarm.  When it went off again several minutes –there were fewer pauses between the bongs.  It was the shortest press briefing in history and we made a good escape from the journalists and the quake by evacuating to a safe area.

I was frequently summoned to Jamie the Humanitarian Coordinator’s office for meetings and it was at one such meeting on Sunday afternoon when the alarm went off.  Myself, Jamie and another colleague, Stine took to the stairs like three demented escapees fleeing from the unknown. Stine, a tall, fit, much younger woman led the pace and I was on her heels.  I don’t think I have run as quickly as that in 20 years and once we reached the outside I gasped for breath after the dash.

With no proper space set up for the influx of surge staff, Leszek and I were sharing a desk. At lunchtime he went off looking for another colleague on the same floor, when the earthquake alarm went off.  There was no pause this time; it was just a high-pitched screech of an alarm indicating that this was a serious quake.  I fled from the desk, leaving everything behind and ran outside the area heading for the stairs.  I passed the doorway leading to Jamie’s office, which is double the  size of an average door and I spotted another colleague under the doorway holding on. Remembering the solitary doors that had remained standing in Gorkha, I jumped under the door.  Soon we were about eight people all squeezed in.  Stine, whose office was facing the door where we sheltered, came out of her office as if in slow motion; she was like an old woman with her arms stretched out, fingers splayed, trying to keep balance.  Once she realized she wasn’t going to fit under the doorway, she retreated back to her office and under her desk for protection.

It was the longest 45 seconds of my entire life.  I could feel my breath shortening in panic as I gulped for air. I didn’t want to die.  I was told that the building was earthquake proof, but if something is shaken for such a long time, eventually even the strongest building will give and tumble down.  We had experienced a 7.3 magnitude earthquake; the original quake was a 7.9, considerably stronger.  As the alarm bells slowed, we rushed down the stairs out of the building and on to safe ground.

After an hour or so, Leszek made a dash to recover his laptop and also recovered my phone.  I was reluctant to retrieve my laptop and it was at least five that evening before I took up the nerve to race upstairs and pick it up.

There had been several aftershocks that Leszek had felt during previous nights, enough to make him run outdoors.  I was obviously too tired and slept through them all. It probably had something to do with the fact that I had earplugs to block out the noise. The crows go berserk when an earthquake occurs, waking up Leszek, while I slept peacefully on.

Back to the 12 May and the 7.3 magnitude quake and we stood outside the building waiting for the all- clear but in the space of 30 minutes there were another five aftershocks, one measuring six on the Reciter scale.  After some time we headed to the tents that had been set up on the grounds, to do some work. The international media began calling so I got on with the job, setting up interviews.

Aftershocks

I recovered my laptop before we left the office for the evening and returned to the hotel.  Shops were once again closed as shop owners and staff went back home to their loved ones.  As we walked down the street on the way to the hotel, old and young, men and women sat outside on the pavement, afraid to stay inside.  Some of our own colleagues opted to sleep in tents in the hotel grounds. That evening, exhausted from the day’s events, I soon dozed off and slept with one foot on the floor.

I slept well until, what felt like a poltergeist banging my bed off a wall woke me up at 2.05 a.m.  Jumping from the bed, I ran down the stairs. A number of other hotel guests followed – we waited outside as the crows went bananas for several minutes.  Eventually we went back inside.  An hour later, sleep eluding me, we had yet another aftershock; this time not as strong but still enough to be felt and just three other hotel guests and myself stood outside the building.  The remaining idiots had decided it wasn’t worth it to take themselves out of bed and out of the way of danger leading me to believe that some people have shit for brains.  One man came down the stairs and sat in the reception area, presumably as a safety precaution.

Logic obviously doesn’t come in to the equation for many. When I stood outside the hotel the first time shortly after the first aftershock I noticed the perimeter wall of the hotel had collapsed, presumably from the afternoon’s quake.  A Swedish woman and her daughter were standing outside when I pointed out the collapsed wall.  “We don’t know if it was the earthquake that caused the wall to fall,” said the woman. “What,” I asked, “do you think made it fall – somebody blowing it down?”

Postscript

There was fun with hard work, stress and reward of a job well done.  But perhaps the most memorably documented moment of the three weeks I spent in Nepal was during the visit of the Under-Secretary General Valerie Amos. She was meeting with the Prime Minister and I had organized a TV interview with Al Jazeera, who had a temporary studio set up at the site of the nine-story tower, which was a national monument and had collapsed, killing many.  Markus my colleague who had led the mission was accompanying Amos along with her special assistant Manu (Emmanuel), on these official visits. I needed to ensure she would make it to the live panel interview.  The following is a transcript of the texts we exchanged on that Saturday:

Me:                Markus. The interview for Al Jazeera takes place in Dharara Square at 10.45. Orla.. There is an area where Valerie can prepare if she gets there early.

Markus:        But she has the Indian Amb(assador) at 10.30!! If the program has changed, I need urgent advice. Please get back to me now.

Me:                  Give me five.

PHONE CONVERSATION IN THE MEANTIME

Markus:          VA will need some stats on accomplishments over the past several days. How much has come in? Teams? Items? Some key snappy points on what has happened by 11.30 for Al-Jaz.

Me:                   On the case. Will get it to you and bring hard copy.

Markus:         Good. Just to confirm that you also be at Durbar Square.

Me:                  See earlier message. Dharara Square. Where the big tower was.

Markus:         Well copied. Yes. FYI VA will go back to PM so will be late for Al-Jaz.

Me:                  Straight to Al-Jaz after?

Markus:         Yes. On the way to square. VA wants to do this quickly. Few questions.

Me:                  This is a live weekly show.

Markus:         Where are you?

Me:                  Many gone for you… sorry Manu.

Markus:         What?

Me:                  Manu gone out to you.

Markus:         You see us?

Me:                  Where are you?

Markus:         Arrived at entrance to square. Same place as last visit.

……………………

Markus:          We’re at the wrong location.

Photography by Orla Fagan.  Click on pics to enlarge.

 

Until next time

Yours

Fagan

ORLA FAGAN HEAD SHOT

Call for Papers – Annual Conference of the Political Studies Association of Ireland, Cork, 16-18 October 2015

Irish Politics Forum

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Political Studies Association of Ireland Annual Conference 2015

Gresham Metropole Hotel Cork, 16 – 18 October 2015

The annual conference of the PSAI will take place in Cork over the weekend 16 – 18 October 2015. Paper proposals are invited from all areas of the discipline. A detailed list of themes is included below and is also available on the conference website at http://www.ucc.ie/en/government/psai/

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