In the (unimaginable) past, this jostling of the earth crust created the Himalayas. Now, the Indian plate slides under the other 2 inches every year - but gets stuck for decades. Pressure builds up. I don't know how to say these words so that they may reflect the kind of pressure, or the forces at work. And I have no words for the terror I feel, writing this.
On 25 April 2015, there was a sudden release of this built up underground power; a sudden move, a thrust, an earthquake. It had more energy than 20 nuclear bombs - the equivalent of 200 years' of Northward movement of the Indian tectonic plate. It pushed the Himalayas southward, and lifted the Kathmandu valley, shifting it 3 meters to the South, like shaking a heavy carpet. It lowered Everest by an inch (to be measured more accurately this year...); I have all this data from a National Geographic documentary I forced myself to watch.
The earthquake - and its most severe aftershock, on 12 May - killed 10,000 people and injured 22,000. It triggered avalanches and landslides that obliterated whole communities, in the Langtang valley and around Everest. It displaced more than one million people, and destroyed invaluable cultural landmarks - temples, both Buddhist and Hindu; not just empty museums of a foregone age, but very much part of Nepalese daily life and spirituality.
Footage from the earthquake shows some of these buildings falling. It shows flocks of birds darting across the sky, and - like in a mirror - flocks of people underneath, rushing already to help the victims. Rescue teams, human chains, incredible survival stories.
There is another narrative, the "could-have-been-worse" viewpoint, supported by some striking statistics: the earthquake happened at lunchtime, on a Saturday. Children were not at school, people were not indoors, but out and about. A year earlier, an earthquake forecast for Nepal had imagined as many as 40,000 dead; in April 2015, four times fewer people lost their lives. A report, after the event, declared at least 10,000 children saved by the fortuitous timing.
I cannot tell you how much I love this fact; it's more than the normal degree of joy, that things turned out well for these children. The truth is, I feel part of that tribe of children, saved. On 4 March 1977, a Friday night, I slept in my bed, sick with a fever. A nuisance: my parents had to cancel going to a dinner party. The earthquake woke me up: the room shook, lamps swayed and broke, the floor - or was it the earth itself? - groaned as if a giant was waking. The door batted open and shut like a wing, catching my mother's face as she ran in to grab me. The fridge - in the hallway outside - fell with a colossal thud. Above my head, the walls were splitting open, plaster rained on my bed and I rolled away from it, until I fell on the floor. A moment later I was in mama's arms, and then it was over.
At the other end of town, the building with the dinner party, and half of my family, were gone. Two tribes - the lost, the saved; and earthquakes blindly herding us into one or the other; and still we go back and trust the same buildings, the same earth crusts to hold us safe, and we accept forces and odds we can't begin to understand.
If you got this far, maybe you'd consider leaving me a short message - it's lonely to keep writing without anyone stopping to say hi.