When the first 7.8-magnitude quake struck Nepal, I was in the small village of Chaurikharka — just minutes off of the main trekking route to Everest Base Camp. I was wearing a long silk dress and a cowboy hat. Sherpa dress. It took me a second to understand what was happening, but only that. We screamed. We ran outside. We watched the buildings collapse around us, including the one we were in only moments before. The Earth made a noise that cannot be described accurately. (You could say it was something like a groan.) We stood in a circle in the rain, and the aftershocks rolled underneath us. We did nothing for a long time.
Before the second quake hit, we had just begun to pretend that life was returning to normal. Restaurants in Kathmandu were open. Electricity. The strange bliss of getting stuck, if just for a moment, in traffic. Then the Earth groaned again, and we crouched in the tiny driveway of the dZi Foundation office, covering our heads, moving away from the walls and the motorcycles pitching wildly on their kickstands. The 10-story building next door yawned over us — moving four, five feet in either direction. Someone had crawled out of a third-story window in panic and was clinging to the top of the concrete utility pole, swaying dangerously and silently. We could hear the masonry splitting around us. My house, as it turns out, was destroyed.
Eight days later, I stumbled into the white linen lobby of Telluride’s Sheridan Hotel, jet lagged and bewildered. I was looking for the bar. It wasn’t the bar. I wasn’t yet right. Every truck that passed, every slammed door still made me jump. I was quick to anger. I was drunk far too often.
I found the bar, and it was packed. Everyone was cheery, well dressed and loud. I was as nervous as I had ever been in my life. Twenty by Telluride. Could I even remember how to speak without crying? My home, my life’s work, my world was rubble and dust. My currency was plastic tarps and rope. I was 8,000 miles away. The Earth had learned to move.
I was slated to speak first. I tripped over a joke. The audience laughed, kindly. And, with that, my voice came — new, strange and strong.
The week dissolved into a montage of films and gondolas and strangers giving me hugs for no reason except that somehow I needed them terribly. I relished quiet perfection of snow and dark and the privilege to lose sleep on account of conversations, not on account of fear. We raised much-needed funds; we came up with great plans and collaborations. I returned to the Sheridan Bar with Abe Streep and Dave Morton — friends who were with me during various stages of the quake — and we quietly relived the better moments and a few of the worse ones. We healed. We grew stronger. I didn’t flinch at the thunder. I went to a party inside of a mine.
I came away from Mountainfilm believing more firmly in the strange synchronicity of things. The festival, and the outpouring of support for Nepal, could not have come at a better time for myself or for dZi. As I write this, I’m preparing to return to Nepal after a few weeks with loved ones. The monsoon rains are coming. Crops haven’t been planted. The fractured Earth will give way to landslides and floods. The need has just begun, and I’m eager to return. To find a new home. To rebuild and to try out this new — and somehow deeper — voice.