The soldiers were sitting around smoking cigarettes. Another long day. The villagers still coming to take bottles of water. Very few spoke, nods and forced smiles were the only acknowledgements between them. The houses that used to be there now just piles of rubble. Makeshift tents housing whole families, quietly talking among themselves, the older members sleeping.
It had just been another hot summer’s day. The sun shimmering off the water in the rice fields on the outskirts of the village. The Himalayan foothills rising into the distance, growing ever higher. Little snow left on the tops of the mountains. The children walking and skipping to the old brick building that was their school. An idyllic picture of life in this part of the world.
As the children sat down at their desks and the teacher quietened them down, everything began to shake. The walls cracking, pieces of rock falling from the ceiling. The children unable to move in their terror. From the outside the building had almost disappeared. A few children managing to overcome their fear and flee before it had all come down.
Standing high in the rice fields the farmers looked down on their village. Few houses left standing. Fear still keeping them rooted to the spot that they were standing in. The ground beneath their feet still shaking. Confusion, a complete disconnect from reality, unable to process what had just happened. What had seemed like minutes were only seconds, in those seconds almost everything had gone. And what about the children?
The sounds of wailing filled the air, despair and helplessness, not knowing what to do. The men rushing towards the fallen school, moving bricks and rock. Trying to move as much as they could before the ground shook again. Listening for muffled cries to give them a sense of where to dig through the rubble. Their houses could be rebuilt, the children couldn’t.
As the day wore on, they still dug. The soldiers had began to arrive. Bringing with them lights, water and food. Trying to move the grief stricken villagers away from the school. Grief does not listen to authority. Arguments, not enough was being done to help them. They were useless. They didn’t want water or food, they don’t want to sit down. They just want to find their children.
The soldiers were young. Not long having left school themselves. Trying to take control of a situation in which they had no experience. They were here to keep peace, to try to help but they were being pushed away, all the anger and resentment being taken out on them. They were as frightened as the people they were trying to control.
A moan from the rubble breaking the chaos that was breaking out. Everyone stopping, looking towards the fallen school. A small hand moving among the rocks. All resentments and anger forgotten as they rushed to pull out the child. Dazed and confused but unhurt. The small girl giving hope, breaking tensions. Now working together to rescue what they could.