KATHMANDU, Nepal – When Shir Sharlo, 23, felt the ground sway beneath her feet in a village near the popular trekking center of Pokhara, the first thing she thought was “Gosh, I’d better not tell my parents that I was in an earthquake.”
Sharlo was a few months into a seven-month trip through Asia, on her way to some of the popular treks in Nepal, when the 7.8 quake hit. “The houses in the village where we were staying were fairly strong and very low, so there wasn’t a lot of damage,” she told The Times of Israel on Monday. “I sat around with my friends and we thought about whether or not to tell our parents. We didn’t want them to worry. Twelve hours later, the electricity came back on and we understood how hysterical everyone was.”
Sharlo quickly got in touch with her family in Rishon Lezion and started reaching out to other friends she knew were on treks. “I was really worried about our friends, because for a lot of people it took a long time to get in contact,” she said.
After the original panic of the earthquake subsided, Sharlo thought about what she wanted to do next. “We really have nothing to do in Nepal — I’m not going to go on a trek now — so really the only thing to do is to come and help,” she said. “I wanted to come and lend a hand, instead of sitting around eating desserts and delicious shakes.”
Sharlo served in the IDF Spokesperson’s Unit, in the Israeli media internet and radio section. She said many of the journalists she worked with at Walla and Ynet called to check in on her. When she heard that the IDF was sending a full field hospital with more than 260 personnel, she knew where she could be most useful.
Sharlo arrived on the first day the IDF field hospital opened. She assisted with the crush of media interest in the first few days, from both Israeli and international outlets, and helped register Nepali patients before triage. In quieter moments, she entertained the children at the hospital, both patients and those who accompanied family members, playing with soap bubbles and balloons.
“I’ve been traveling for four months, and I was so excited to see the [Israeli] flag when I got here,” she said.
Sharlo said she almost didn’t come to Kathmandu. Hysterical Israeli media reports had painted a picture of a city that had devolved into anarchy. “We heard that all of the buildings had fallen, that there were people looting and you would immediately get robbed in the street,” she said. “Many of my friends were too afraid to come to Kathmandu.” Once she arrived, however, she was surprised to find that the city was functioning almost as normal.
Many Israeli tourists are now grappling with the question of “what next.” In the days immediately following the earthquake, when the scope of the damage was still unclear, over 200 Israeli tourists returned on a free airlift. But for many of the young Israelis on their big trip after the army, the trauma of the earthquake has faded. They’ve still got a few thousand shekels and a few months left for their trip, and they don’t want it to end quite yet.
Sharlo said a few of her friends went overland to India, and continued with the high-adrenaline adventure they’d been pursing in Nepal: trekking, rafting, climbing mountains. The earthquake affected northern India, where approximately 100 people died, but nothing like the scope of rural Nepal.
About half a dozen Israelis came to volunteer at the IDF field hospital. Others are organizing tourists in the popular Thamel neighborhood, to bring food and supplies to rural areas. Posters cover the streets between backpacker hostels and fake North Face stores, announcing clothing and medical supply drives for tourists who want to get involved.
The Chabad House has adopted a tent encampment of nearly 3,000 people near the Monkey Temple. For the past week, they’ve been cooking 20 enormous pots of rice and dal (lentils) and feeding as many people as they can, Rabbi Hezky Lifshitz said.
After the IDF field hospital leaves, likely at the end of this week, Sharlo plans to continue her trip for another three months, first to the Philippines, and then to Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam.
“This is my big trip, I’m supposed to be taking it easy after the army,” said Sharlo. “But I’m proud to be here, and I’m proud to be Israeli.”