There are moments, when the world ends, at least the world as one person knows it; life will never be the same. But the crazy thing is, that somehow, the rest of the world just continues along- things always as they have been, with barely an acknowledgment of the overwhelming life-changing tragedy that has just occurred.
April 14th was one of those days. I was climbing the risers entering the auditorium where I was going to watch a high school play. Everyone was still trying to find their seats and lots of kids were running up and down, and I did notice that seemed like the risers were shaking quite a bit, but I just thought it was because they were poorly constructed, temporary risers as they were. And even when I saw that everyone was suddenly streaming out of the room, and I thought, “hmm, we must be changing to another auditorium, I must have missed the announcement.” Finally someone clued me into what was really happening, and I followed everyone out into the hall, and the ground was still shaking. That’s how long it lasted. But nothing fell, no one was knocked over. No one seemed really all that concerned, well, just concerned about getting back to the play.
According to the building safety protocols, they made everyone go outside and stand in the soccer field for 15 minutes, in case of possible aftershocks. But partially because of my initial cluelessness and partially because small tremors do happen here from time to time, I wasn’t particularly scared. The feeling of This-Is-No-Big-Deal was confirmed by a friend from California who completely dismissed the whole thing, saying how they had so many more and bigger shakes there all the time.
After our mandatory 15 minutes, we all went back inside and the play continued on as normal. And caught up in the story, for the next two hours I completely forgot that the earthquake had even happened.
Our first indication that things were not the same any more, was at the conclusion of the show, the administration made an announcement that the government had issued instructions that everyone should just head home. I had a good-bye party for a friend who was moving back to the US, so we decided to ignore that. However, on the way over to the café, we started to see that police were closing down restaurants and bars, and about five minutes after arriving at the party, the police came by our bar saying everything was required to close for the night. Then a few photos started to come over via facebook and whatsapp (every real Ecuadorian only uses whatsapp to communicate) a collapsed bridge in Guayaquil, a destroyed clinic in Manta. And while that was shocking and impressive, I went to bed with no idea what had happened only 6 hours from Quito.
The next morning early, I got online and found a few photos, and one very unremarkable video of a shopping mall with a few ceiling tiles that had fallen and a couple displays knocked over. I was relived, thinking that just a few isolated buildings had been affected, but that was about it. I shut my computer and was somehow sufficiently absorbed in my own little personal bubble, I still didn’t really gasp the realities that were unfolding. I think that’s so often the case, we are just oblivious to the suffering that is happening all around us, until it starts to directly affect our own little lives.
But things had changed, they had changed in a way that will not go back to the way they were. Ever. Officially 673 people died. Almost 28,000 people were injured. People lost their homes, their businesses, their livelihoods. Their entire sense of security – when the ground beneath your feet literally gives way.
But what has been incredible since then has been the overwhelming outpouring of help. Not just internationally, but from the local people here in Ecuador. So many fund-raisers and generous food drives, benefit concerts and races. People literally filling their cars with as much water as they can just driving to the coast to give it away. People quitting their jobs to help with the rebuilding effort full time. Thousands and thousands of communities coming together to do what they can to help. I’ve heard that the moments after a disaster are both the most horrible and the most beautiful. The way that people come together in ways that they never do in normal life. Its just too bad that it takes something so horrible to bring out the best of us.
And so my life continues on, pretty much exactly was it was before. But for so many others, it cant. It never will.
If you are interested in helping with a donation, i highly recommend Global Shapers, who is a local Ecuadorian young professionals who truly have stepped up. See more here: http://shapersquito.org/standwithecuador/