La Jolla resident Lily Mojdehi shares experience of quake, three-month sojourn in Nepal
Lily Mojdehi was feeling pretty calm at the time the 7.8 earthquake rocked Nepal April 25, having spent the past five days meditating at a retreat in the Kathmandu Valley.
“I was in a vipassana, a 10-day silent meditation retreat,” said the 2014 Bishop’s School graduate, explaining, “You meditate all day. You can’t read, you can’t write, you can’t make eye contact and you can’t speak. I was on day five.”
All ascetic bets are off, however, when the ground starts shaking with a force that makes buildings crumble as if made of sand.
“I was a little too calm for my own safety I would say, but when it happened … we broke (our meditation), for sure,” said Lily, 18, who was approaching the end of nearly three months of study and cultural emersion in Nepal.
“We weren’t sure at first (what was happening),” Lily recalled. “I should have ran down the stairs totally outside, but I just stayed on the balcony and held onto something while it was shaking.”
She said of the seismic jolt, “It was big and it was long and it didn’t stop.”
The aftershocks were so powerful and persistent that even after arriving safely back in San Diego May 1, she adds, “I still think that I feel them here.”
Lily’s mother, La Jollan Haida Mojdehi, said she received her first tentative text April 25 from a friend in Washington, D.C., while she was still half asleep in bed. Not wanting to alarm Mojdehi with news of the quake, her friend simply asked if Lily had returned from Nepal.
Then another friend texted and Mojdehi started receiving texts and calls from friends all over the country.
Mojdehi and her husband phoned the number their daughter had given them for the vipassana retreat. “We couldn’t get through at all,” Mojdehi said. “My friends from D.C. said, ‘Call the U.S. embassy; this is a big earthquake. They can help you.’ ”
The embassy told them all phone lines were jammed. Although they assured Mojdehi they would try and help locate Lily and were providing people with food, water and shelter, the embassy wasn’t much help.
Mojdehi, who serves on the board of the nonprofit, Project Concern International, which works to stem poverty and improve health in developing countries, reached out to her contacts there, and with the study program that brought her daughter to Nepal last fall, Where There Be Dragons.
At around 10:30 a.m. Mojdehi received yet another text asking if Lily was alright. It was from David Moseley, the Bishop’s School teacher who had instilled in her daughter her initial fascination with Nepal, during a trip there and to India during Lily’s junior year at Bishop’s.
“I was a nervous wreck,” Mojdehi said.
After reaching out to his extensive list of contacts, including a journalist working in Nepal and an orphanage where the Bishop’s students worked during their 2013 trip, Mosley was able to locate Lily.
“He said, ‘We found her. She’s alive, she’s safe, she will call you in two minutes.’ … It was four hours of anguish … and fear, because you always assume the worst,” Mojdehi said, noting that she doesn’t remember her daughter’s exact words when she phoned, only, “I think I just started to cry.”
Lily said damage to the retreat was minimal. It wasn’t until she ventured outside and started walking around that she saw a collapsed temple and other partially destroyed homes. People were sleeping in tents and dragging their personal belongings outside because it was no longer safe to remain inside, she said.
Her own room had a large crack in the wall. “We couldn’t sleep there so we all slept in the office,” she said. “Some people slept outside.”
Despite her harrowing experience, Lily said she is grateful to the people of Nepal for their hospitality and the overall experience, which began September through October of 2014 with the Where There Be Dragons organization, with which she traveled throughout Nepal, trekking and camping in the Himalayas, living with a host family in a Nepali village, working in an Ashram and learning more about Buddhism from a teacher in a Tibetan monastery.
After coming home to La Jolla for two months, Lily returned to Nepal for “a more independent experience” and “my own self-growth,” staying with two friends from the study program at the apartment of another friend in Kathmandu.
Lily will attend Bard College in upstate New York in the fall. Moseley and students will hold a bake sale fundraiser for the victims of the earthquake on Monday, May 11 at The Bishop’s School. (858) 459-4021, ext. 739.
Check out Lily’s favorite organization helping people of the Himalayan communities, Phase Nepal, here.