After finishing her bachelor’s degree in psychology, University of Groningen, Alka Tiessink decided to travel for a year before beginning a master’s degree. While visiting the city of Pokhara in Nepal about a month ago, she faced the most frightening experience of her life.
‘We were meditating and suddenly, everything started to move. I didn’t know what was happening. It took me a lot of time to realize it was an earthquake. Although it was around one minute, I felt it like ten.’
After the earthquake, she found a safe spot and informed her father that she was fine. She was able to be in constant contact with her parents and they were often her only source for updates.
The days following the initial earthquake were also tense. ‘We were sleeping with the light on, doors open, and even wearing our shoes so that we would be ready to jump in and run. We practiced our way out day and night with shoes or flip-flops. I was constantly wearing my money belt with all my money, passport and insurance papers inside’, she recalls.
Alka tried to help as much as possible while she was there. She signed up as a volunteer at several hospitals, but by then, they were not looking for any volunteers. Despite her willingness to stay and help, her family pleaded for her to return to the Netherlands – six days after the earthquake, she abandoned her initial plan to stay for an entire month.
She and four other Dutch people who were also in Nepal stayed up all night and organized their trip back home. In the morning, they left all of their belongings for the locals and took a taxi to the airport.
Although they asked the taxi driver not to drive through the city centre, he overlooked their request and gave them a ride downtown. ‘He wanted to make us realise that we need to help them’, Alka says. ‘It was heart breaking to see him trying his best to keep us there. We saw everything you see on TV, but I felt happy that I saw what exactly happened. It feels like you leave those people, who can’t leave Nepal since it’s their home, with nothing.’
Today, Alka is safe in the Netherlands, but her thoughts are still with Nepal. She organised her own small-scale fund raising to help: she is sending the money directly to the people that she met there.
‘After a week of being home, I am slowly getting out of survival mode’, she says. ‘My body wants to sleep, but my mind is still awake. However, when things are shaking, with every kind of vibration, my eyes open wide. That’s something I still have.’