Resilience thy name is Man Kumari

Man Kumari sits in the shade of a tree following the devastating flood.

Baluwatar, Jhapa 30 August 2017 – Man Kumari Gurung was sitting in the shade of a tree to dodge the scorching heat of a summer day. It seemed that she was a stranger to that place and taking a rest in a homeless area. The only functional and useful thing around her was a tube well.

There were debris of Man Kumari’s house and shed. A few pieces of clothes were hung on a tree to dry. When we reached there sought her permission for an interview, villagers began to join us increasingly.

‘Misfortunes never come singly’ goes an English saying. It seems that the proverb had been coined for Man Kumari. She had a series of misfortune in the past, but she bore them bravely. 

The swollen Lohandra River flooded the entire Baluwatar village situated near the banks of the river on the night of 13 August 2017. The settlement was blanketed by the flood waters. Before Man Kumari could flee the place, the level of the flood water rose quickly.

The 54-year-old woman from Jhapa Rural Municipality (RM) ward no. 2 Baluwatar was forced to clutch a tree amid torrential rains and see her house, shed and cattle being swept away by the massive flood. It was a heart-rending scene for the aging poor Man Kumari.

Her 2 cows with calves, 3 billy goats, 2 nanny goats, and 1 kid worth Rs 160,000 was swept away by the flood and she was helpless to save her pet animals. “I cried when my all animals were swept away, but no one could save them”, she said.

The flood water soon rose to her neck. She was alone that day. Her only son had been to his friend’s house to stay away. Her daughter is in the Maldives in search of a job. Soon after the flood, Roshan Bhujel, a neighbor, and her son Arun Bhattarai rescued her. She spent the night clinging to a tree amid heavy and incessant rains and wind.

The completely damaged house of Man Kumari at Baluwatar.

Jilted by her husband, Man Kumari was living a very hard life as she had to rear two children and educate them. A couple of years ago, her 2 buffalo was stolen. Her hope of educating her 2 sons and a daughter was dashed as the (buffaloes) source of income were snatched away from her.

Her livelihood has been exacerbated by the flood. She had difficulty in sending her youngest son to school due to biting poverty. Now the situation has become worst.

When the flood swept away everything, she had difficulty in even charging her cell phone as there was no electricity in the village for 15 days. Her phone went dead for a week and the telecommunication network became dysfunctional for 2 days.  

She went to a nearby school for shelter the next morning where 315 people had been taking shelter. She has been taking refuge at her neighbours whose house are still standing.

Despite all the mishaps, Man Kumari behaves in a confident manner and does not let herself down. ‘Discretion is the better part of valor’ applies to Man Kumari. She not only exudes confidence in reviving her livelihood, but also consoles her neighbours.

“I tell my neighbours not to lose heart. I ask them to think of me who has lost everything and yet has not lost hope. If I can survive, why cannot you – who are less affected compared to her – come back to previous condition?” she instills hope among the affected fellow men and women.

She does not believe in the local government agencies for their relief and early recovery. However, she pointed out the need for toilets, safe drinking water in order to remain healthy. She also cautioned that an epidemic may outbreak to the carcasses scattered nearby the villages.

“People have begun to fall ill. Many are suffering from common cold and fever, but we neither have money nor means of transport to take them to a doctor. I hope non-governmental organization should support in WASH to save us from another disaster,” she appealed.  

Story by Ram Sharan Sedhai, and photograph by Yogendra Gurung LWF Nepal