Born again after the earthquake

National paralympian Ramesh Khatri. PHOTO: UPASANA KHADKA

I cannot believe that it has been five years since I lay in that darkness, underneath eight floors of a hotel in Gongabu, my legs trapped under a concrete beam.

I forced myself to remain conscious, that was the only way I could raise an alarm for rescuers. They finally came 24 hours later. I could hear them call from what seemed very far away. I was transferred to Teaching Hospital, where I would wake up three days later to realise that I had lost both my legs. 

I ran away to Kathmandu at age 16 with the hope of providing a better life for my family back in Dailekh. My father and his father before that were seasonal migrant workers in India. I spent my childhood going back and forth between Nepal and India.  

Elder sons are held in high regard in our society, they are expected to be the income earners to take care of the family. I felt responsible about looking after my ageing parents, and was determined to give my brothers and sisters a good education. 

My first job was to wash dishes at the hotel, but soon I learnt how to cook. I did not go back to Dailekh for two years, but was packing to return that very day. I had bought my bus ticket, but fate had other plans. 

There are no words to describe the pain and suffering of those two months in the hospital. Even after being discharged, every day was a struggle. I had to constantly fight to regain the life I had lost.

But I was resolute about achieving something in life. I had lost my limbs, but my determination was very much intact. With the love, care and affection showered by my sisters Jasmin and Puja Didi, and strengthened by support of friends, doctors and nurses, I began to see my goal in life with more clarity.  

I was taken care of at the Bal Poshan Sanstha, who helped and supported me physically, emotionally and with my physiotherapy. I was constantly encouraged by Sunita Rimal, who runs the organisation, who used to tell me: “Look at all the people who have disabilities just like you. Look at all the things that they can do. You can do them, too.”  

My physiotherapy continued with Humanity and Inclusion Nepal which trained me to use my new prosthetic legs. After transferring to the Nepal Health Equipment Development Foundation (NHEDF) where I was looked after by its manager, Samrat Basnet, I began visiting the Rastriya Apanga Kosh, where I would practice more physiotherapy.

But the Blockade made it difficult to commute to my physiotherapy lessons, so I familiarised myself with using a wheelchair. It was dangerous, I could have been hit by cars, but I persevered because I needed to get my leg muscles working again.

To my delight, with the help of Devina Bulot, Pawan Tuladhar, and Pawan Pradhan, I started taking classes at Navajivan Madhyamik Vidyalaya. I could not believe that within a year of the earthquake, I had the opportunity to study again.

After winning the ‘Differently-abled Idol’ prize by showcasing my dancing talent, I received much media attention. This encouraged me to then pursue my real passion: swimming. I began training at NSCIA, and won a competition, receiving the medal from President Bidya Devi Bhandari herself. By December of 2016, I had qualified as a national player through the national para-swimming association and went to Japan for training.

I then participated in the 2018 Asian Para Games in Jakarta after raising money required to attend from well-wishers. I competed in the 50m freestyle swimming category logging 46.49 seconds, and this got me a training opportunity in Korea, and attend the Dream Program 2020. The 2019 London World Championships was one of many competitions that I was not able to represent Nepal because of financial shortcomings, despite my qualification.  

I now share a room with a differently-abled friend named Dibas Pariyar. Since the lockdown started a month ago, life has been difficult. We are short of supplies, but cook and eat together from what Dibas can collect from various charities.

The lockdown is necessary, but has made life difficult for everyone – especially for people like us. But after being through so much, I feel this is just another hurdle that life has put along the way for me to overcome and become stronger.

Read also: Swimming out of the rubble by Girish Giri

Pemba’s story

Ramesh Khatri and Pemba Lama (pictured right) had been friends for over four years, working in hotels near the bus park in Gongabu. Saturday morning of 25 April 2015 was like any other. Ramesh and Pemba were about to have lunch when the building started shaking violently.

Pemba, quick on his feet, managed to run a few steps towards the exit. Ramesh did not make it. The eight storey building came crashing down on everyone. Pemba was trapped in a crouching position and rescued after five days, unhurt. Ramesh had his legs trapped, which had to be amputated after his rescue.

“I guess I have just about managed these past five years,” Pemba says over Facebook Messenger.  He went to India to find work, returned and worked again in the Gongabu area.

He is now learning to play the guitar, and practicing some rock lyrics through YouTube. During the lockdown he is helping his friends in a guest house. He got bored in Kathmandu, and tried to walk back to his home village in Nuwakot, but lost his way and had to come back.

Pemba adds: “I would really like to meet the policeman who rescued me five years ago, and thank him. I have not thought about the future. I will take what fate has in store for me.” 

Upasana Khadka

Read also: 

A tale of two disasters, Upasana Khadka

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