The Day the Earth Spoke
Written by: Bernaldo Luc
In 2008 I survived my first earthquake. In fact, I slept through it. The next day neighbors and friends and classmates all asked, "Did you feel the earthquake last night?" Apparently the earth had whispered during the night. On January 12th, 2010, the earth spoke again. This time it was loud and clear.
It had been a normal, hot, almost cloudless day. A perfect weatherman would have predicted 0% chance of rain and 100% chance of earthquake. I walked to school in the morning, endured another day of the 7th grade, and headed home at around 3:00. Home was a small, two-story concrete house in a very crowded neighborhood, which lay right next to one of the many ravines in Port-au-Prince. My family lived on the second floor.
At 4:53, I had just taken a couple of steps out of my house when the earth spoke for the second time during my lifetime. It was almost deafening, but despite the noise I could hear voices saying, "Jesus, Jesus." It was dusty. The ground pitched and bucked for all of thirty-two seconds. It seemed like thirty-two years. During that time, I was flung into a neighbor's home. I never saw her; it was so dark and dusty. She was calling, "Jesus, Jesus," probably thinking it was the apocalypse.
Eventually the ground stopped shaking. I climbed out of the neighbor's house, onto what was left of the roof (the doorway was blocked by rubble.) Once atop the roof, I looked around. My world was broken. It had been reduced to rubble and ashes and tears. Cries of grief rose around me as people started to find dead loved ones. In retrospect, I don't remember being frightened. Maybe I processed everything and saw no point in being scared. Maybe I forgot to be scared.
I ran towards my school. The streets were chaotic. People were running in every direction still trying to process their nightmarish scene. One minute they had been parents, sons, and daughters; the next they were childless and orphaned. Every other person was tearfully trying to make a call. Calls couldn't get through because most telephone lines were down. I went by a friend's house, and she was outside screaming for her mom into a phone.
I got to the school and saw that it had fallen. The formerly imposing cream-colored building was underneath its red-tiled roof. I didn't know it at the time, but I had a friend underneath that roof. His name was Peterson, and he had been about 8 years old.
I headed back, in the direction home had been. I met my aunt halfway there. She was heading to the school. She told me my dad was looking for me. My dad found us minutes later. I endured their inspection. I never asked them where they had been when the ground had started shaking. They were both uninjured. I had a small wound on the top of my foot, where a piece of a brick had fallen, and another on my thigh which I assumed to be a burn.
"Everyone is safe except for Guerdson," my aunt told us. Guerdson, her younger brother, had been like a son to her. He had been my favorite uncle. His body was never found.
We walked to the Sisters of Charity, where my aunt worked. It's a Catholic institution for children with diseases like HIV and tuberculosis. Somehow their building was intact. The yard already had many people in it. Injured people were lying on blankets while the sisters administered first aid to them. That night we slept in the yard. All notions of privacy were abandoned. We were one in our fear of houses. No one would sleep in a house for several weeks.
There is something divine about natural phenomena, something eye-opening. On our way to the sisters we had seen several "preachers". They had preached about the end of times. In Haiti there aren't many atheists. There are Christians (Catholics, Protestants, etc...) and there are those who aren’t Christians despite acknowledging God’s existence. The earthquake was a major turnaround for the latter. Maybe it was their proximity to death that made them realize they didn't deserve life any more than the dead. A whole nation had realized in thirty-two seconds that there was more to life than luck and had turned their eyes upward. I never met anyone who blamed God for the death of their loved ones.
Over the next few weeks we endured the aftershocks with pounding hearts. According to Wikipedia, "By 24 January, at least 52 aftershocks measuring 4.5 or greater had been recorded." The earthquake had been magnitude a 7.0 earthquake. Anticipating a tsunami, crowds of people fled towards higher ground, but thankfully it never came.
The earthquake, called Goudou Goudou in Haiti, had something for everyone to learn. It was a catalyst for me, forcing maturity upon me. However, Haiti became entangled in a mess of countries that tried to help and consequently aggravated the country’s problems.