Pandemic or No Pandemic | Life in The Himalayas Must Go On
On their way to the day’s festival celebration, or out to the fields where they’ll plant what will sustain them for the months ahead, villagers in the Himalayas hear news of a lockdown in the valley below, of a virus that’s spreading at unprecedented speeds, of people unable to work due to the non-essentialness of their business. But their own lives carry on, these new rumors being a little more than the day’s gossip. Fear and worry manifest in some while carefree indifference marks others. But, pandemic or no pandemic, there are things to do, people to meet and fields to tend.
While life in Kathmandu and many other cities around the world has been, for the most part, put on hold due to efforts to restrain the spread of COVID-19, life in the small pockets of life in the Himalayas is just getting started. The sun that the winter chill kept hidden for so long warms the earth and is a welcome for people, families, neighborhoods back outdoors and for many, into the fields.
But life certainly looks different. Village to village travel is prohibited, locals are encouraged to stay inside to the best of their abilities. Donkeys that would normally carry goods up and down the mountainous trails are prohibited from traveling for fear of the virus traveling with them. But for agrarian and tightly knit communities of the Himalayas, life on lockdown does not and cannot look the same as it does for the rest of us.
Most homes in the Nubri Valley keep enough rice and lentils on hand to last an entire year without needing to travel or buy expensive supplies from guesthouses. Currently, guesthouses in the Himalayas are suffering from the lack of tourism, but many are able to get by on what they’ve saved and what they grow for themselves. Springtime is the beginning of planting season after a long winter in the mountains.
The field is where life happens, where food grows, where tired winter-worn muscles are renewed. While most urban, city dwellers have been forced indoors, to grocery shop sparingly, and to work from home, those who inhabit these villages cannot afford for life to slow down. Families and communities deeply rely on one another for their daily needs. Social isolation just won’t do.
With news of each extension of the nationwide lockdown that began on March 24, local leaders have tightened their grip on travel allowance to and from neighboring villages. Even the Nubri Learning Center was scheduled to resume classes in April but has been unable to welcome their students back due to the lockdown. Teachers and, in some cases, out-of-school students are also getting out into the field! Everyone has time to lend a hand, now.
Aside from being able to enjoy the rare visits from friends outside their immediate circles, the day to day means of survival that existed before the pandemic still exists today. Nepalis and Tibetans residing in these high mountain villages have a certain strength that will outlast many tragedies. We saw it with the earthquake of 2015 and we see it today!
The chatter of the COVID-19 epidemic from the valley below and beyond lingers on the lips of villagers who, despite the nationwide lockdown, still find themselves in close quarters with their neighbors. This chatter can and has induced some fear about the mysterious disease wreaking havoc in the rest of the world. Thankfully, we’ve been able to meet them in those places, no matter how hard they are to get to.
In the latest supply of preventative and medical equipment that was sent to the Tsum and Nubri Valley by helicopter, we had the special privilege yet again, to see the strength and joy of the people in these places. There seems to be an inner resilience-- a birthright-- that no global catastrophe can shake. While we were able to help deliver a very tangible source of hope in this trying and scary season, we were met with a sort of normalcy that the rest world is craving.