Suddenly the ground beneath me begins to shake furiously. The tiles under me too. I don’t quite realize what is happening. It’s getting worse, shit, this is an earthquake.
This isn’t the special effects of a movie. It’s real. I’m in Darjeeling, India, near the border of Nepal.
After searching for tea in Taiwan and Nepal, I set on with my journey to the famous tea-growing area in Darjeeling. Flash forward and I’ve been staying with this farmer for a few days now and I’m about to leave to New Delhi where I’ll be researching Indian tea culture.
We’re having quite a nice casual chat just before I’m about to leave, and all pickers and farmers have come down to wave goodbye to the Dutch tea-buyer, or (what I might call myself) the crazy lady whose been walking up and down tea plantations carrying her camera and bloc note.
I’m in the middle of the tea factory, sitting at a table, chatting away. Then, suddenly, the ground beneath me starts to shake. It takes me a few seconds before I realize that I’m in the middle of an earthquake, and it’s certainly not a small one! All the people in the factory stare at me, while I’m just thinking to myself that these exact same people would have to know what to in a situation like this. Spoiler alert: they don’t. I always read a ton amount of books before travelling somewhere, about culture, nature, stuff. I just never read something on earthquakes. I curse my younger self for not paying attention in Geography classes.
My brain is racing.. All the while I keep thinking, what do you when you’re in an earthquake?
I’m in the factory that looked so firm up until a few seconds ago, when it turned into a fragile something. Made from corrugated iron, two stories high. I need to get out, get out, I think to myself, I need to get out. I try running outside, but my attempt fails miserably. The floor is shaking so much, it reminds me of those funfair houses where you gets shaken up badly and need to get to the finish line. It’s like I’m in a movie. Some people are screaming, some are really quiet, but everyone is trying to get to safety. It takes several attempts, but I eventually run out of the factory. I stare at the mountains surrounding me. The same ones that looked like paintings, are now literally shaking. I want someone to pinch me. I am seeing mountains move. It’s surreal. I feel so small and useless, and I’m praying I get out of here whole. I spot the jeep, I’d stood in it and it had transported me and the tea leaves. I decide to run over, it’s heavy enough to hide under if the mountains or factory collapse. I grab the jeep, it’s shaking too. The vibration of the earthquake is massive causing the jeep to stand up, on two wheels. I have run out of ideas. It’s so quiet here.. No birds or people anymore, just a really heavy sound of moving mountains.
Then it stops. It’s done. It felt like an hour, or even longer. Truth is, it was only a few minutes. I have never felt so scared before in my life. I look around me; everyone is scared. I try to walk but my legs won’t move. I have had my fair share of exciting things, have travelled across the world, get out of my comfort zones, and am fairly uncertain most the time. But the ground beneath me has always been there, I’ve always been certain of that. Not today. I suddenly feel lost, so far removed from home, and my loved ones. All alone on a mountain in India, just a few minutes after it stopped shaking furiously. The most awful thing is that people do not have mobile phones here, and the children are at school a few kilometers away, so no one can check if they’re okay. They will just have to wait until the kids get home..
After about 15 minutes everyone gets to work again. The stuff that’s broken gets cleaned up and the tea pickers leave to go up the mountains again, for tea. I am so confused. It’s almost like nothing happened. It even brings me doubt as to whether I should call home. Would I cause my family unnecessary stress if I were to call home? Was it bad ‘enough’? I can’t seem to tell how bad the earthquake was from the position I’m looking at it, figuratively and literally. Eventually I find out it’s real bad, and call home immediately. No service. Of course. Everything is down. Gosh, I feel so lonely right now.
In the hour after the earthquake there’s tens of aftershocks. Slowly, news gets out, and I hear the epicenter was in Nepal. I hear that there’s not much left of the buildings in Kathmandu, and later on I learn that the hotel I was sleeping in a few days ago, is just a bunch of ruins now.
I decide to end my journey here. I want to go home. Partly because there might be severe other aftershocks, and it could get dangerous. I obtain one of the last tickets to the Netherlands from New Delhi. When we drive downhill, I can see the damage in the villages. The realization that I get to go home, away from this mess, but the people who live here don’t, hits me hard. That night I stay in a tiny village, a tiny home close by the airport where I’ll be catching a domestic flight to Delhi. There are a whole lot of aftershocks and I am unable to sleep. The next day, after take-off, the sweet ladies in the airplane hands me a Dutch newspaper, and I feel tears streaming down my face. I’m safe. I’m going home.
All farmers in Nepal and India we work with got out safe and well. By way of doing business with them we support the reconstruction of their sites and businesses. Most of the tea plantations are undamaged. The No. 081 will always be a special tea to me, in my heart. It’s the tea that moved the earth beneath me and the mountains above me.