I’m often asked why I do this. Why immediately depart from your normal life, family, friends, work, etc. to travel to a potentially dangerous environment and help people you don’t know? I’m sitting here now with an IV in my arm, two days of diarrhea, almost put in a Nepali prison, and I’m missing a small chunk of my right pointer finger. So why am I smiling?
Because of stories like Beastmode in the village of Sermathang.
We received tasking from the World Health Organization to assist remote villages in Kiwool, the Central Region near Langtang National Park, adjacent to the Chinese border. I was tasked to run UAV mapping and assessments, run technology, and assist with medical as needed. The drive was interesting to say the least, as we traveled in five 2WD Tata off road (ish) vehicles through the city (there are no traffic lights or stop signs here), then over 60 miles of (harsh) off-road trails when we ended up stopped in the very small village of Sinoche, where we found the road blocked by a landslide. Part of the team stayed in the village to run a medical clinic, and the remainder of us hiked up to Chhimighyan then onto Sermathang.
As part of the away team, we grabbed our gear and made the hike. It wasn’t terribly far but there was a 2,700’ elevation change between the towns. I live in Austin, TX, and I’m pretty sure our highest peak is a sea level. We arrived at the village and hoped to go directly to work, but they wanted us to meet the local leaders first. While our team lead handled that, we found a place to setup camp and started talking to some of the local children. In our conversation, they mentioned a local play area that had been overrun by debris. Rather than sit and wait, the group decided it was time for some old school TR-style work. Four of us grabbed our gloves and had the kids take us to the play area.
Let me set the scene for you – an open courtyard, beautiful prayer flags flying, and we are overlooking the Himalayas. Even with the massive destruction of the village around us, the area was breathtaking. It turns out the old community center had been destroyed by the earthquake and fell into the courtyard. Tons of stone, along with wood, glass, doors, decorative metal and other debris, covered this area. Time to get to work, so we start sorting and stacking debris into piles. Reusable items (windows, doors, beams, etc.), scrap wood, stones, and trash (broken glass, plastic, etc.).
This is when we all met the child soon to be nicknamed “Beastmode.” Most of the kids in the village are assisting us at this point, and Chris, Adam, and I were getting it done along with our new tiny friends. Little Beastmode quickly stood out. He’s about four years old, wearing a diaper and pinkish sweatpants. He didn’t speak at all, only grunted. Cute kid, and what really stood out was his attitude, determination, and drive.
I mentioned the tons of stone for a reason, the majority of the structures that collapsed are all constructed from stacked stone. We would try and hand this kid a small stone to take to the pile, and he’d look you in the eye, grab the stone, and throw it away. He would then look around, pick up the biggest stone he could find and will himself to getting it to the pile. This happened over and over. Beastmode was killing it and motivating us all.
He then saw me make a improvised shovel out of an old metal sign. Beastmode came over, grabbed it from my hands, and started to shovel. He and I shoveled the entire walkway and stairs. When complete, he dropped the shovel and headed back to the rock pile. Like a boss.
At one point, he grabbed a fairly large rock, took two steps, and dropped. Beastmode went down hard. Chris ran over to him and picked him up to make sure he wasn’t injured or crying. He shook Chris and his manly beard off, stood up, dusted himself off, let out a loud grunt, and kicked the crap out of the rock that knocked him over. Then he grabbed a larger rock, carried it to the pile, and threw it down in victory.
This child was amazing – his drive, determination, desire, and work ethic pushed us all.
I’ve seen a lot of things good and bad in my years in the field with TR. What never stops driving me is the people. If I never flew another UAV, touched another satellite link, or completed any mapping, it would be OK. TR has given me a conduit to make an impact on others, and in return, the impact on me has been profound.
I never did tell the story of almost ending up in Nepali prison. You’ll have to buy me a beer sometime for that one.