By June 9, 2015, Khaled Habash knew his mother was dead.

“Dear World Family,” he wrote on the Facebook page set up to support the search for Dawn Habash in the wake of the powerful April 25, 2015, Nepal earthquake, which set off a massive avalanche.

“With the heaviest of hearts, our family acknowledges that our sweet, radiant Mumma Habash has passed away in the Nepal earthquake and subsequent avalanche in Langtang village. Although she is still missing and unaccounted for, six weeks has passed since the devastating event that has broken our hearts. Our search and rescue mission in the area showed great loss, not only for ourselves but for the many hundreds of people affected around the world and within Langtang valley.”

Dawn Habash, who grew up in Gardiner and lived in Augusta as an adult, had been in Nepal for about five weeks when she decided that she would hike on April 25 from the village of Kayanjin to higher peaks that day and eventually travel down the valley to the village of Langtang. Habash, who was a yoga instructor, planned to travel with someone she had met, and she hired a porter to accompany her.

But she and her companion separated on the way because of the threat of bad weather. They planned to meet later for tea.

Sometime after that, around noon local time, a 7.8-magnitude earthquake rocked the region, killing more than 8,000. Accounts of people who were there describe the mass of ice that crashed down thousands of feet, triggering an avalanche that erased Langtang, a village of 400 that was popular with trekkers, from the face of the Earth.


A year later, grief is still a fresh scar for Khaled Habash and his sister Yasmine, but a measure of peace is now possible.

The siblings and their uncle Randy — Dawn’s brother — returned Monday from Nepal, where they trekked along the path Dawn is known to have taken on the anniversary of the day she’s believed to have died.

“Walking the same steps as my mother one year to the day was really wonderful,” Khaled Habash said. “It did bring a lot of peace over me. As much as I am incredibly sad, it was so beautiful to be there on a gorgeous blue sky day.”

When he spoke at an event in Nepal commemorating the loss of all the people who had died, he said it was nice to know that all of the people who had died there didn’t have far to go to heaven from that stunning place.

After a year of hard grieving, he was able to close that chapter.

“It’s a huge relief,” he said.


Yasmine Habash said all she prayed for on the anniversary was gorgeous weather, so that the people who gathered there to mark the passing of their loved ones would be uplifted by the terrible beauty of the mountains and nature.

“I wanted Khaled to love the area and not be angry with it,” she said.


Khaled Habash, who lives in Portland, and Yasmine Habash, who lives in Alaska, grew up traveling with their parents.

“Our father is Syrian, and we summered in Maine. We spent a lot of summers in Damascus. We went to Egypt. We lived in Cyprus and London. It was all very normal to us,” Khaled Habash said. Their travel would catch up with them in unexpected ways. They’d start mixing languages in the same sentence, confusing their friends.

“Our father is foreign and when you are foreign, you travel way more than Americans,” he said. So while their father traveled, it was their mother who had the adventurous spirit.


“She was a trailblazer at that sort of thing,” Khaled Habash said. She traveled to Asia by herself in the late 1970s, when she was not even 20.

“Our mom was our teacher of everything — manners, and how to work hard for what you want and to follow your heart and be kind and loving to everybody. She taught us these life principles, to be the best you can in your local community and when you travel.”

In a way, their mother continues to teach them.

“One of my biggest lessons is to live very open-heartedly, with vulnerability, and sharing truthfully your feelings,” Yasmine Habash said.

Even with the measure of peace he has attained, her brother has lingering confusion.

“My mom was the most kind, most loving, most fit and most spiritual person I knew, and I am not saying that just because she was my mother,” he said. “How was it that she was in absolutely the wrong place at absolutely the wrong time?”



Initially, Yasmine Habash, who had been trekking with her mother until March 20, wasn’t that concerned. After spending some time with her mother in the region, she returned to the United States on March 20, and her mother caught a plane to Kathmandu, Nepal’s capital. As far as Yasmine Habash knew, her mother wasn’t supposed to be anywhere near the devastated valley.

“We thought our mother was alive and stuck for the first four days,” Khaled Habash said. Nepal is a developing country, and communication in and out was difficult after the earthquake, the second-most-powerful earthquake recorded there.

Dawn’s last contact with her family had occurred a week earlier. They weren’t expecting her to be in the Langtang Valley at that point.

“I kind of tackled (trying to find her) much more diligently initially. Yasmine Habash was thinking everything was fine, because the village was destroyed but she wasn’t supposed to be there,” her brother said.

Only after communications opened up again did they discover their mother had changed her mind and had traveled to the Langtang Valley, a popular destination for trekkers.


The first inkling of trouble came after four days. A Canadian woman who had met Dawn Habash a few days before the earthquake reached out to her son on Facebook to let him know Dawn Habash had been in the region.

“Her information seemed very concrete and confident, but there was still some uncertainty. No one had seen her walk into the village,” he said. “We were clinging to any hope that was left.”

Yasmine Habash traveled to Nepal with her boyfriend, trying to find any sign of her mother. They were forced to evacuate when another earthquake struck and eventually returned to the United States.

Even a year later, the marks of the landslide that destroyed Langtang are fresh and the destruction is hard to imagine.

Khaled Habash came across a news story in October that described the force of the avalanche triggered by the quake to be that of half of the power of an atomic bomb.

“Your brain can’t comprehend that. We were studying Google Earth, but nothing prepares you for that,” he said.



In the midst of the immeasurable sadness, some pieces of joy have emerged.

A year ago Saturday, the same day that Dawn Habash was expected to return to Maine, her son’s daughter Zinnia was born.

“She’s the light for all of us,” Khaled Habash said.

She’ll mark her first birthday at a celebration of life for her grandmother that’s scheduled to take place at 2 p.m. Saturday in the Hallowell City Hall auditorium. All are welcome to attend a small ceremony that’s expected to last about an hour. Honoring Dawn Habash’s Buddhist beliefs, there will be meditation and chanting. Following the celebration, there will be a potluck meal and Khaled and Yasmine Habash will show photos from their recent trip to Nepal.

While Yasmine Habash was in Nepal a year ago, looking for any sign of her mother, she struck up conversation with a Nepalese man who was searching for his parents in Langtang. She realized he was an old friend, one she had met when she trekked through the region a dozen years earlier.


Phinjo Tamang had lost his both his parents and a younger brother in the devastation. Even a year later, his family has only one room, a kitchen, and they continue to live in tents.

Yasmine said Tamang is now part of her and her brother’s world family, the community they gained in the wake of tragic loss, with whom they traveled in Nepal to honor the lost lives of those they loved.

When they were gearing up to search for their mother, the Habashes launched a gofundme page, to raise money for the search. They donated the money they didn’t need to cover travel expenses to the people in the area who are still in need. They continue to use the site for fundraising to help people in the damaged valley.

Yasmine Habash has taken on Tamang’s plight as her mission.

“He wants to rebuild his guest house, but he has no money to his name,” she said. When she struggles some days, as she still does, she thinks of Tamang. “That’s my driving force.”



In that sad Facebook post, Khaled Habash ended his message this way:

“The last picture of our mother offers great solace and peace, as it represents our mother’s true serenity and beauty in an equally beautiful surrounding. We are infinitely blessed by having her as our mother, angel on earth, and best friend. We will live every moment with her inside us and her guidance showing us the way. We are grateful and fortunate for everything she did. We are proud of all her experiences and spiritual growth. And we made sure she knew that, with as much love as we could humanly give her. Her teachings, principles, adventurous spirit, compassion and of course LOVE will live on for generations to come.

“Miss and love you to the moon and the stars. Miss you forever! xoxo

“Khaled & Yasmine & Family”

Jessica Lowell — 621-5632

[email protected]

Twitter: @JLowellKJ

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