22 Houses Near the River: Reflections on Reputation, Home, and the Trials of Youth during Nepal’s Post-Earthquake Reconstruction
In the days following the great Nepal earthquake of 2015, there arose a massive grassroots movement in Kathmandu as residents gathered relief materials to send to damaged rural areas. Though this movement attracted people of all ages, there was noticeable overrepresentation of young Nepalis, many of whom had moved to Kathmandu and were now sending tarps, food and medicine back to their own destroyed villages, altruistic actions that also brought to the fore questions of their own identity, class, obligation and home. This paper follows the story of one such youth, a young Tamang man who in the months after the earthquake, when much of this initial grassroots work had already ended, raised over 80,000 USD with his father from foreign donors, and led a reconstruction project in the village he had left when he was ten years old. Thrust into a leadership position after having kept only a tenuous connection to the village through his early adult life, this man was mediating conflicts and negotiating political connections in an area that was both his home and his past, while also wrestling with his role in his own family. This paper explores the complicated questions of identity this labor created, as well as the unique intersections between mobility and home that arose in the earthquake’s aftermath. In doing so, it asks how the earthquake, which interrupted the long-term plans and dreams of so many families, might have also created an opening for the youth to assert themselves socially and politically, and what the consequences of this have been.