Some of the destruction after the earthquake in Nepal.
Mark Schindler with his dog Farmer at home in La Jolla. / Photo by Dave Schwab
La Jolla psychologist Mark Schindler was standing on one leg in a yoga pose just before noon when the big earthquake struck in Nepal.
“I was in the middle of the tree pose along with 11 other women and another man, and the building started literally moving — and we all just tumbled to the floor and you could hear screams and cries,” Mark E. Schindler, Ph.D., said about the 7.8-magnitude Kathmandu quake, which killed more than 7,000 people and injured more than twice as many others on April 25. “I was scared, even though I’d dealt with this kind of death and dilemma before.”
Worst of all, said Schindler, was how long the quake took.
“It lasted two or three minutes with lots of aftershocks,” he said, adding it was a continuous “rumble and shaking, moving and swaying.”
“I told everyone, ‘Run out(side). Forget your shoes, just run out.’”
He had anticipated it being his last day in the Asian Himalayan country celebrating his 60th birthday.
As it turned out, it was just the start of a long ordeal.
Once outside, Schindler witnessed first-hand the appalling destruction from the quake.
“Everything that was not made with rebar and concrete, like brick walls, fell,” he said. “The world heritage site at Dubar Square (Nepal’s old royal palaces) was just in utter ruins.”
Schindler said there were no bodies visible in the streets. “But you knew there were people under the rubble,” he said, adding, “There were areas where whole buildings collapsed.”
Schindler was also caught off guard by the reaction of the indigenous polytheistic population to the earthquake.
“Most of the people there are Hindi or Buddhist and this wasn’t the shifting of tectonic plates to them,” he said. “This was displeasing the Gods. That was their view of why this happened. And anytime we had an aftershock, they thought, ‘The Gods are still angry at us.’”
A world traveler by his own admission who’s been to 50 or 60 countries, Schindler always packs a first-aid kit. But the contents of that kit couldn’t help him much in the hard-scrabble, post-quake world he found himself a part of.
As disturbing as the calamity was dealing with its after-effects, which deprived everyone of the basic modern necessities of life — power, water, food, shelter — was just as disconcerting.
“Tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of people were camped out on the streets under tarps or in tents,” Schindler said. “There was no electricity. With the toilets, the water flushed once and it was done.”
The psychologist said he was forced to subsist on a daily diet of bottled water, chocolate and crackers. Near the end, there was some fruit being sold, oranges and bananas, in the disaster area, which Schindler used to supplement his meager diet.
But then Schindler ran into the most vexing problem of all: How to exit the country in the aftermath of a catastrophe that completely disrupted communication.
“Their airport, the only one in the whole country, was in pandemonium,” Schindler said. “You couldn’t even get another ticket because the Internet was down.”
There were long lines at the airport with crowds of panicked, unwashed desperate travelers seeking any way out of the country.
Schindler said he finally managed to find a satellite office of his airline in Kathmandu that had electrical power because of a generator. But he was able to find only the neighborhood it was in, no exact street address.
Miraculously, he was able to find the airport satellite office with the aid of a cabbie. Then he was asked by an airline attendant the words he was longing to hear, “Would you like to leave tonight?”
A week or so later, at home with his dog Farmer, Schindler spoke of what he’d learned from the experience and how much he appreciates being home.
“My happiest times have been taking my dog to Ocean Beach dog beach,” he said adding, “I also appreciate having an inside bathroom next to my room with a toilet that flushes. That’s just a luxury to me.”
Of his experience, Schindler concluded, “It humbles you.”