The first of three teams leaving for Nepal began their journey in the Denver airport sitting in front of a ticketing counter. It was clear within the first few hours that great things were upon us. From Denver, we landed in New York where we had quite a long layover (approximately eight hours). Our next stop was Abu Dhabi. Through the plane’s windows, we could see the distance between us and the continental United States growing. It was at that moment that many of us realized just how far from home we were going. We can’t say we stopped in Abu Dhabi–because really, we ran the entire time–through security and customs and to the terminal and gate, breaking a sweat to catch our next flight and begin the final leg of our long journey to Nepal.
April 25th, 2015 marked the day a series of devastating events would be set off by an initial 7.8 magnitude earthquake hitting Nepal. More than just tremors, the pain felt that day, and every day after, spanned across the Himalayan nation and throughout parts of India. Although The Invictus Initiative has been working in Nepal on a number of humanitarian efforts since 2011, including most recently post-earthquake distribution of water filters and medical kits, this trip would be the first time a larger group would be on the ground working with those affected to alleviate suffering and build relationships with the goal of empowering the Nepalese people during a period of rebuilding that will likely span many years.
On the morning of our first day,we woke early and had breakfast, explored the bustling city briefly, and met Shesh and Ganga, locals and friends of The Invictus Initiative, who would help us in our endeavors. By this point in the trip we were becoming a close-knit group–one could say we were beginning to bond. Around 10:00 AM the same morning, the team took a bus ride with Shesh and Ganga to our final destination, Bhaktapur. As it is tradition in Nepal to greet guests with khata scarves, Ganga so very kindly blessed each of us by draping a scarf around each of our necks. When it was Sonny’s turn to receive his khata, Ganga looked up at his 6’3” frame, laughed, and simply said two beautiful words that had the rest of the team in stitches: “baby man.” Little did Sonny know that the name would stick.
Ganga proceeded to share with the team the many testimonies from her friends and family who had experienced the earthquakes. She told us about a four-month-old baby that had been lost for 22 hours in the wreckage from the earthquake before being found. Also, she told us the story of a girl who ran out of her home, turned around to go back for her clothes, and had the entire building collapse on top of her. While she shared these stories along with many others, it was clear to see the emotional effect the earthquakes had had on her as well as on the people she knew and loved. After learning more about the spiritual beliefs of the area and the response of the government and outside NGOs (non-governmental organizations), Ganga took us around the city to see the many temples in Durbur Square. The destruction caused by the earthquakes was apparent, as many of the ancient temple structures throughout one of Nepal’s largest temple cities had been decimated and lay in rubble.