Two earthquakes, first 7.2 followed by a slightly smaller one measuring 6.9 sent me scurrying out of the guesthouse. With me are other residents too, from the apartments above us. Within a couple of minutes public address systems blare out tsunami alerts. Evacuate! I didn’t know what to do. People were running in one direction, I didn’t know why because I didn’t know the announcements were about a possible tsunami. A young mother with her baby clutched tightly to her bosom spoke to me in rapid Spanish. I nodded my head and said, “non Espanol.” She pointed to the sea, then to the people and waved her hand indicating that I should run in the same direction. I only had time to ask “Tsunami?” before she got into her car. She nodded and I began to walk as fast as I could without hurting my knees and back. There was pandemonium on the streets. People were running away on foot and in cars. The roads and pavements were overflowing with panic-stricken folk.
My cell rang. Tintin’s voice brought some relief. I told him what was happening and that I was clueless where to go. He told me to look for his friend at the pub. I made my way huffing and puffing to the pub. Disappointment, it was locked and deserted. By now my throat was parched and I was almost gasping for breath.
“Stay there mama, I’m on my way.”
“No, I’m not standing here. The roads are swarming with people and cars on the move. No one’s standing. I’m not going to either,” I replied as I continued moving. I could understand the panic Tintin felt by my decision.
“Please, Mama stay put at one spot. How will I find you, if you move around?”
“I’m walking down 8 Norte,” is all I could say before we lost contact. I tried to call back but there was no network coverage. Now I was really alone. I could feel the tears welling up. Not of fear, neither of self-pity, but of sheer frustration and helplessness. I began to catch hold of people and enquire if any spoke English. Their negative replies only made it worse. I began to talk myself out of the mental state I found myself in. I began to repeat portions of Psalms 91, especially the parts that speak about God protecting us from “sudden disasters at noon” and reminded myself that He “is my fortress, my place of safety” and He would “send His angels to protect me.” It was reassuring, but the tears were already perched on the edge and I couldn’t blink them back. I kept up my slow, painful trudge. I felt a tap on my shoulder and I turned to find a young girl, perhaps twenty-one or so. She handed me a small bright yellow card. I took it without bothering to read it. I was keen to know if she knew English.
“Very leetle,” she smiled and I was so relieved that the tears which were precariously hanging on to the edge tumbled down.
“Tranquilla, tranquilla,” she repeated over and over again gently stroking my arm. I didn’t have to be a genius to understand what she was saying. It sounded like tranquil and the look on her face and her actions made it quite obvious.
“Yes,” I said drying my eyes.
“Yehwah is there,” she assured me in her faltering English.
“Yes, Jesus is here,” I managed to smile back at her, while sub-consciously correcting her. Once a teacher, always a teacher was the vague thought at the back of my mind.
“Where? Please stay,” I was almost begging.
“I have.. go to..my room friend.” I nodded to convey that I understood and thanked her.
I carried on walking down 8 Norte and she turned off right. I was feeling a bit calmer now. But the tears didn’t stop and my throat was still parched and I was choking because my mouth was dry and try as I might there was no saliva to wet it. This set off coughing spells. My heart was pounding. All of a sudden I realised I had come to the end of the road, and it is a long road indeed. It ended in a ‘T’ junction. I could either turn right or left. I decided to stick with 8 Norte. So I crossed the road and stood at the traffic light. I was tired and wanted to sit, but there was nowhere I could rest my back and legs. So I continued to stand and watch the tsunami of cars and people flow past me. There was so much of noise on the roads. I was wondering what it was about the honking horns that was bothering me. It happens so much and all the time in India. Then it struck me; one doesn’t hear car horns on Vina's roads. Today was an exception. Just then I turned and lo and behold, there was the young Christian walking to my traffic light.
“Hola,” she smiled.
“Hola,” I replied. I was wondering what she was doing here. But thankfulness, more than courtesy, kept me from asking.
“You know..wherre you..stay?”
“I stay ..with you,”
“Okay,” I said not very sure what she meant. But gave her the benefit of the doubt and took it she meant that she’d stand there with me. Since she continued to stand beside me and also gather the latest information about the situation, I was pleased that I was right. She laboriously translated the important parts for me. The alert had not been called off but the emergency situation had passed. That was something to be happy about.
“Come..I go with you,” she said as she caught my hand and took me across the road and we walked back the way we had come.
I was walking slower now. She realised I was very tired and would stop at every traffic light for a while to give me time to rest. I later realised how wise it had been for me to keep stopping at traffic lights. It was the best way to get seen by people looking for you.
I realised I didn’t know her name and asked her.
“Joy,” I said and we shook hands and in true Chilean fashion she hugged me and kissed me on my right cheek while I kissed the air around hers.
“I’m sorry, I’m being such a pain,” I said enunciating every word as slowly as I thought would make it easy for her to understand. “I have a back and knee problem,” I said pointing to my lumbar support, which was around my waist.
“I know. I see it...I am..a..a..physiotherapist.”
We were at another traffic light, and she struck up a conversation with a young boy who had walked up and was waiting to cross the road. She wanted to know if he knew English, which fortunately he knew and a wee bit more than her. Then she asked him to tell me that I shouldn’t worry as she would take me to my residence. I wasn’t sure why she kept telling me that, but I thanked her once again and added that I knew my way home. And then Reggie, Tintin’s pub owner friend, who was driving someone to a safe place, spotted me and called out. He told me to wait and he’d be back for me in a few minutes. Magdalena and I exchanged email Ids, home addresses and phone numbers and we parted when Reggie returned. This was a strange encounter. A total stranger picks me out of the milling crowd and gives me the moral support I need. Stranger still was the fact that she stopped handing out the little yellow ‘Jesus cards’ after she found me! But then strange are the ways of god.
Tintin also reached a short while later with Gabriel, who suggested I stay at his home till the evening. For a split second I thought I should turn the invitation down as I didn’t know how I would communicate with the family. The boys were going back to the office. But I’m glad I stayed. The home is warm and hospitable. Besides it was full of people so I wasn’t so jumpy. The evening saw me leaving rather reluctantly, because I was loath to stay the night alone at the guesthouse. But as things turned out Ranjit and Manu stayed with me and though I did jump up in the middle of the night or perhaps in the wee hours of the morning when my bed was rattled, I did get some necessary sleep. My body was aching in the morning. The previous day I was in shock and didn’t realise the wear and tear my body had taken. But today is another story...it hurts.
I am spending the day at Gabriel’s house in Miraflores. It’s such a reprieve from the scary ‘home alone’ situation. I must tell you all about my stay in the Segura’s casa at Miraflores, the lovely family and pets. But tea beckons and I must go. Ciao.