Greeting our support team at Pokhara airport, excitement was high as we sorted the baggage, retied our bootlaces and gathered up the over-excited younger cousins. My boys were the oldest cousins and local hosts, though Rinchen looked like something out of Twelfth Night dressed in striped yellow tights. We said a distracted goodbye to our old friends, the Bergers, who by chance had been delayed with us at Kathmandu airport – Billy and Claire with their two daughters were looking forward to a precious and peaceful few days together by the lake.
As the US government disaster specialist, William Berger spent his time jetting to catastrophes all over Asia, advising on US strategic response, and briefing officials and even the US President. Deceptively phlegmatic in demeanour, earthquakes, floods, eruptions, drama were Billy’s staple, addicted to the adrenaline of his calamity-focussed career. Claire had a gentle smile, glossy straight hair and her own career in the State Department – their postings did not always coincide.
The Berger daughters had grown up in Kathmandu at the American School. It was Billy who gave me an early glimpse into the trials of teenage parenting – with a wry grin he admitted that his daughters had made him promise not to recognise them if they chanced to meet in Thamel.
“When we are with friends don’t speak to us, Dad. You are too embarrassing!” was the instruction. “What me, supercool, 1960s raver, me?” Billy was aghast.
The Berger family’s respite in Pokhara lasted only minutes before Billy was recalled to disaster duty, returning on the next flight to Kathmandu. Claire and the girls yet again condemned to time without him. But we had already rushed off in our Mountain Travel bus and, without communications, it was days before I realised any of this.