Kartok Lama is a disabled woman from Langtang whose small teashop was destroyed in Nepal’s earthquake.
Her village was buried by an avalanche, but she is determined to rebuild.
In 2015, on April 25, Kartok Lama was in her teashop in the upper Langtang Valley. Nestled against a monolithic boulder which formed its back wall, her teashop in the Himalayas was a natural resting point for trekkers hiking through the 4,000 metre high valley she calls home. She had just finished filling three thermoses with tea when the earth began to shake.
The 7.8 magnitude earthquake that rocked Nepal last year was the largest to hit the country in 80 years. In Langtang, Kartok watched from her window as boulders cascaded from the mountaintops. In the next minute, the village of Langtang was buried by an avalanche carrying half the force of the Hiroshima atomic bomb.
Kartok Lama witnessed her village being buried by an avalanche during the earthquake. [Nat Needham/Al Jazeera]
From her teashop, Kartok saw ice and rocks in every direction. She was just beyond the direct avalanche zone where only a handful of people survived; the earthquake itself hurled people down mountainsides, while multiple landslides and minor avalanches caught others in their wake. When survivors began to appear in the open field around her shop, Kartok did what she did best: she served them tea.
That night, dozens of people crammed into her tiny teashop home, cut off from the outside world. Over the next week, nearly everyone from the valley relocated to Kathmandu, where they spent most of the next ten months living in camps and other temporary living spaces. There, Kartok became one of four female members of the 26 person community-led Langtang Management and Reconstruction Committee where she acted as a social mobiliser.
Over 150 community members have now returned to the valley to rebuild, but the Nepali government has yet to allocate any of the reconstruction funds (roughly equivalent to $2,000) promised to each family. To mitigate this, the Langtang Management and Reconstruction Committee pooled their resources to provide starter funds to the 116 surviving families hoping to rebuild. While Kartok supported this decision, she is now considered part of one family alongside her sister, her parents, her two brothers and their wives. Despite being a single woman who previously lived in and earned her own livelihood from her teashop, Kartok now lives in her older brother’s one room house along with seven other family members. She wants to rebuild her teashop, but she doesn’t have the funds or a business to generate them.
The remains of the avalanche are visible just beyond the makeshift structures of the new village as the sun sets in the Langtang Valley (March 29, 2015). [Nat Needham/Al Jazeera]
Langtang Langtang remains devastated. Today, it takes 30 minutes to cross over the two kilometres of shattered stone left behind in the avalanche zone. The force of the avalanche wind alone knocked over every tree in a forest on the opposite mountainside. One hundred and seventy-six local Langtangpa – more than half of the village’s population – and 92 tourists were killed. For Kartok and other Langtangpa, however, it is the absence of numbers that better conveys the magnitude of the loss. Many of the bodies have not been found. No traces remain of the people or homes of the former village of Langtang. It is the instantaneous elimination of a collective community that is the irreconcilable tragedy of Langtang.
Kartok’s determination to rebuild her life in Langtang is part resolve, part necessity. She plants potatoes because if she doesn’t, there will be nothing to eat in October. She is working with the Langtang Memory Project, an effort to collect oral testimonies and photographs of Langtang; without it, there may be no culture to remember. She is going to rebuild her teahouse and name it Hard Rock Café, because the only way to survive, she says, is for "our minds must be strong - like this rock."
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NEPAL'S HARD ROCK CAFE
Camera and Editing:
Amanda Needham and Nat Needham
Annette Ekin and Hassan Ghani
Special thanks to:
Jennifer Bradley, Kartok Lama, the Langtang Management and Reconstruction Committee
Kartok is one of many survivors whose stories are being collected into a living archive by the Langtang Memory Project: www.langtangmemoryproject.com