As many of you already know, a second earthquake (7.3 magnitude) struck Nepal on May 12th. This one, with an epicenter much further north, primarily affected Mount Everest and the surrounding villages but still resulted in a death toll around 80. And I am still going.
For the moment, my fieldwork plans have not changed significantly from the first post-earthquake revision. My plane tickets are booked, my itinerary still valid (as far as I know), my visa approved and my passport returned from the embassy. This does not mean, of course, that tensions are not already running high. My family is concerned for my safety and my committee is already bandying about some possible alternative plans should Nepal prove to be too geographically unstable for this summer’s planned project. There is the possibility of additional intensive language training, perhaps a supplemental religion class, even a full-scale project redirection back to northern India where my original fieldwork was conducted in 2012. I have “a lot of balls in the air,” as they a say. A metaphor one of my more theatrically inclined undergraduate professors at UW-Madison used to favor at particularly stressful times of indecision. Right along with “herding cats.”
But if I can go, I will go.
Barring a third natural disaster between now, then, and afterwards I feel it still imperative that I get on the ground as soon as possible. The trekking company that I have booked my transportation through is already using their resources to move relief supplies into the western provinces and with any luck, I’ll be joining them. This is how anthropology can both “see” as well as “do,” or in more disciplinary jargon, “observe” as well as “participate.” I know that things will be complicated and difficult once I arrive, but this was never a vacation. And I know that many will still be without adequate food, shelter, and medical care. But I also know that ritual, pilgrimage, and religious renewal are already re-taking hold throughout the region as people struggle to not just preserve their lives, but to sustain the spirit that gave them breath in the first place.