Tea was as usual a very pleasant break, and the pleasantness stretched out to include Tintin, Gabriel and Pillar who had returned from office. A short while later Roxanna, Gabriel’s mom, also came home from work. There was a lot of laughing and joking and translation ensured I had my share of the fun too. But at the back of my mind I knew we would soon have to leave, and the thought of being alone at the guesthouse wasn’t the best thought I had had that day. However change is the only definite thing happening here, so I learnt that I would have company in the form of another employee’s mum. Relief hopped in and a moment later hopped out.
The lady was as ignorant of English as I was of Spanish. As she was a resident of this place I was informed she would be having her girl friends dropping in and a couple would also stay over. I have no problems with the social life of people, but the place is small, I write sitting at the dining table which is a part of the living room, which also has the TV which would also be the only entertainment for my new lady acquaintance. The TV plugs in to the only plug point in the living-dining room and since we don’t want to get too many things here like connection boards etc so it’s a delicate problem....who plugs what into the solitary point?
I’ve given the advantage to her this morning by banking on the laptop battery. But I guess her thoughtfulness prevents her from switching on the TV as I’m writing here. She tried to make conversation but it was going nowhere, so we both gave up. I continued typing and she waddled off to her room. I can empathise with her. She must be feeling as bad as I’m feeling. Uprooted from her home, which is not safe to stay in as the roof gave-in during the ‘terramotto’(Big earthquake). Her son stays elsewhere and she’s thrown in with a foreigner, so communication is non-existent. And to top it all the Indian likes to write sitting at the only table available. I suppose she’ll get the drift and switch on the TV later today or tomorrow. I’ll have to curtail my writing time to fit in with the recharges of the battery. Adjusting, adapting...hope I’m doing a better job at it than the dinosaurs.
Tintin and Manu have been sleeping here for the past two nights. I did wonder about it. I got to know yesterday, there’s an over-hanging threat of another terramotto...perhaps stronger than the previous one. I’m praying for God to keep us under His mighty panoply. I’m praying for Chile too. I want us all to go to Canada. But I leave it in God’s hands. He knows best. I better change into something decent and then I’ll tell you about the casa in Miraflores.
Monday, 15 March 2010
I didn’t get to write over the weekend. My back and knees were acting up so I was not up to it. On Saturday we went out for lunch to the food court at Marina Arauca. After sampling a few Chilean preparations I decided I’d had enough. The pork roast was fine teamed up with the browned onions. Nothing else was so amazing as to get a mention...average fair, and that goes for the desserts too.
I’ve been rambling on or meandering I should say. I still have to recount the earthquake and also tell you about the different places I’ve stayed at till now. Well, this isn’t an official record and I’ll proceed according to the thoughts and fancy that capture me. Let’s start with the abodes that have provided me shelter till date. But to get the importance of the roles these places have played I will just have to recount the terramotto.
It was a Friday and exactly a week since I had arrived. Ranjit (Tintin) and Manu had dinner with me and then left for a party at their friend’s place. I was uneasy and couldn’t sleep, so I sat like a zombie in front of the TV, staring at the screen but registering nothing. One thought kept running through my head...what if there is an earthquake? Whenever there is something I’m nervous about or can’t handle I “cast my cares” on God. So I told Him I was scared to be alone during an earthquake and if one should happen then the kids should be back.
At 3.00am both returned. At 3.34 the big quake rumbled in, shaking the house like a giant rattling a matchbox. We had only just made it to the front door by then. Tintin opened the door and held on to the doorknob with his right hand, so that we wouldn’t be locked in if the door should get stuck, while he steadied himself under the beam in the doorway leading to the living cum dining room. I grasped on to him and the wall as well, and Manu grabbed us. The quake increased in intensity and I looked around at the way the walls and the floor were jumping and shaking like a man with an epileptic fit. It went on for ninety seconds. Short period in terms of measurable time, but for me it seemed interminably long. As soon as we felt the slack in the intensity, Manu and I ran for our passports. Tintin continued to hold the door open. This was a very wise thing as many doors got jammed and the residents had to stay locked-in as the tremors picked up a bit later and continued coming in at intervals of 1-2 minutes. These unfortunate ones were rescued only when the brave concierge and his help broke open the locks.
I say we were frightened. And maybe we were, but I speak for myself when I say that on hindsight I cannot say the predominant feeling was one of fright. I was so focussed on reaching God with my plea for help, I was not consciously afraid. I also recall praising God because I heard Ranjit call out to him by name (he doesn't acknowledge him openly) I also know I was quite in my senses because I mentally made a note about where I had kept my passport. This made it very easy for me to grab it from under my clothes, without wasting any time, the moment the tremor calmed down for a few minutes.
We ran down the stairs. That was when I felt the fear. And this lent wings to my feet. My back and knees held up. Although Manu and I were not properly clad for the cold outside, we were better off than Ranjit who hadn’t even put on his slippers. He had on his shorts and a T-shirt. It was dark outside and everyone was running in all directions. Ranjit shepherded us to Manchester, a pub not far from our place. Here we met Reggie and his pals who made us as comfortable as was possible under the circumstances. The pub was in shambles but they were able to give us water to drink as we huddled into chairs in the garden. All of them kept reassuring us that the worst was over. I was shivering with fear and cold, and smiled wanly without a mite of conviction. Then realising we needed a few essentials as well as clothes to be better clad for the cold, Ranjit decided to brave it up to the apartment. He managed to get himself into warmer clothes and also brought along a few things like his laptop, money, my handbag etc. He also drove the car down and parked it outside the pub. We moved into the relatively warmer car.
I lay down on the back-seat. My back was beginning to pain. With no phone connection or means to contact our family we were sure they would panic as soon as news was broadcast. And panicked they were. Reggie’s pals kept vigil at the pub while he saw to his parents. The men assured us of protection too. That’s when I realised the dark side of the aftermath. Vandalising and looting were probable threats. It was good of them to take us under their wing.
We spent the rest of the night in the car. Morning found us searching for something to eat. No place was open except for a small bakery near-by. By the time we reached there, there wasn’t much to buy. The next challenge was getting drinking water. The only kind available was water with soda, and we were looking for ‘aqua sin gas’(water without soda) Finally we managed to get a few bottles. Late in the afternoon we bought some empanadas from Mama Rosa’s take away. She had opened shop and was doing brisk business. All this while, we were still literally living in the car.
By evening I needed to go to the bathroom. That’s when Tintin rang up another Indian colleague and that’s how we found our way to Sumeet’s house. This was a small one-bedroom apartment, but it was in a stronger building and was good for me as it was on the second level and I wouldn’t have to climb down too many steps in the event of another quake. It was already packed with other Indian employees. This was my second lesson in gratefulness. The crowd and non-functioning WC was no longer a major put-off for me. I was grateful for the bathroom and a bed to rest my back. We spent the night there and left Sunday morning.
I wasn’t prepared to stay in our apartment as the tremors continued to rattle us and they weren’t small ones too, ranging from 5+ to 6+ magnitude. This was a dilemma not only for me but also for Tintin.
“Why can’t we get a house on the groundfloor?” I said aloud, wishfully, but prayed for silently.