Sunday, May 3, 2015

The Day Everything Changed

This is an account of my experience during the earthquake on the 25th of April, which shook the nation of Nepal, and after, the world. The second account of what happened to us after will come shortly. 

It was a fine Saturday morning in the city of Kathmandu. Considering it was the only holiday everyone had in a week, a welcome breather for the youth who'd been burned out by studying and taking exams (as it was their gruelling Exam Month), and that, even though the upcoming summer was still giving us a cold shoulder, generally everyone was in a good mood.

I was at church, listening intently to an awesome sermon in our fairly small but wonderful congregation. It already felt like an amazing day, and I was looking forward to what else would unfold when we would go out into the city.

Then the earthquake came, and the whole city would never be the same again. 

* * *

The time was 11:50 AM. Our on-fire preacher was in the middle of explaining a biblical illustration, which happened to be the one of the apostles Paul and Silas's adventures. Most Christians are familiar with the story:

Instead of grumbling about having been falsely accused and thrown into the worst prison cell in Philippi, Paul and Silas prayed and sang hymns, showing their faith in believing that God is in control - while the other prisoners listened. Suddenly, a huge earthquake shook the whole place - and they were all set free! (We learned later that other churches had the same illustration at the same time. Coincidences? I think not.)

Our speaker was impressing one of her points, when suddenly the electricity went out. I thought it was our usual power cut, but that assumption turned on its heels when the ground started moving like I was in a boat on extremely turbulent waters. Right then and there it struck me that it was a mighty earthquake.

Being a Filipino, I grew up with disasters, so I calmly held onto my seat then sloooooowly walked to my family. But all around me in the dark, I saw people running out of the hall in a mad dash, so I facepalmed and was distracted for a few seconds.

Eventually the ground settled, and in a few minutes we called everyone back in to continue the service. We were actually laughing while connecting the previous illustration with the earthquake, shaking each other by the shoulder, smiling, and saying, "How can it be so exact!", "Man, what an instant application!", and "Really, God?". I think our minds were not thinking clearly to process what actually happened because of that, and it showed how oblivious we all were. 

It wasn't until we went out into the city that we realised the seriousness of what the magnitude 7.8 earthquake had caused. 

The first things I saw going out into Kathmandu were people haphazardly gathered in the middle of the road, and debris all around. I hadn't seen the full extent of the effects so far, yet I was struck with that unfamiliar and foreign feeling you get when you go to some place for the first time - but I've been living in this place for four years!

The next thing that astonished me was the old firehouse three minutes away from our house. It was broken down as if a giant had decided it was a cake and greedily sliced half of it, and the rubble blocked our usual route home. 

I've passed that building a thousand times - now it was apparent that many things would be and already were different in a city where, before, the status quo remained unchallenged.

We joked about how we all looked like we were from a TV series' title card. The firehouse is in the background.
As we unlocked our house (which only suffered a few minor cracks and one busted water pipe, thankfully) and locked it up again, we met two families from our neighbourhood, who were sitting outside on the ground, terrified. So when we were about to leave, my dad encouraged them by saying, "Don't worry. Everything will be fine, it will soon go back to normal soon… we'll all get through this." 

I still find myself saying those same words to others, and to myself, until now.

They looked kinda like this, but with no plastic chairs and more disgruntled family members.
Later, we met some college students during one pretty strong aftershock. One of the girls in the group began to panic, so my parents instantly instructed them all to calm down - because panic spreads fast and has dire consequences, as we were all warned of

Dad and I walked over to their little band, then the students and I listened intently as he gave us stats on the earthquake, lessons he learned from his International Disasters Resource Network trainings back in 2011, and his first-hand experiences with earthquakes and other disasters in the Philippines. Eventually this led to him befriending some of the guys, and they left relieved and grinning.

After that episode, we were on the road again - from the south of Kathmandu we rode to the north, and back again. From my window, I saw almost all of Kathmandu huddled in the middle of the streets and fields, and many buildings rent down. We also saw the casualties on the national news and that's when we fully realised that the struggle was real. 

As the sun went down, one of our Filipino friends called to invite us to stay for dinner at their house. We arrived, and found they were also pretty shaken up; the kids were spending the day swimming at a sports facility, but their parents were at home, so parental instincts took over, and they unfortunately both tripped down the stairs trying to reach them as fast as they could. They also own two orphanages, and all the kids and staff were over at the place. We had prayers around a bonfire, and it made us assured that we would get through the catastrophe together, by the grace of God.

But even amidst the warm coffee talk between the grown-ups, my usual awkward conversation with a friend, Keri Smith-ing with her younger sister while 'collecting' tiny, colourful stones from a table centrepiece, and eating a nice, warm dinner, the air felt uneasy. More aftershocks came and I shook with vertigo.

I'd already known about the casualties, the devastation, and the reality that our whole world had changed, but I only started piecing everything together - so I could comprehend what kind of mosaic I'd made with those fragments - at their house. The process of trying to understand brought clarity, yet it also began to frighten me because the situation was bigger than I. 

Now I feel ashamed with that as my response, but I think that, maybe, God allowed me to feel that way, so I can get a better hold on how He's even bigger than anything that scares me.

At 10:30 PM, we finally decided to go home. As we boarded the cab, an eerie feeling overtook us, for all around was silence and darkness. Because everyone slept outside under tents in total fear, all the houses were completely empty and dark, and the whole city was in a blackout. I recall telling myself, "The city is in terror."

That phrase affected me, and I immediately distracted myself by checking the Internet upon arriving back home. A little later, Dad came to our bedroom and prayed. When he finished, I replied to two Facebook messages asking how I was, wrote a summary of events for my barkada, including these words:

"It's really hard to see Kathmandu like this, because absolutely everyone is scared out of their wits, and they don't know what to do next. It breaks my heart, and I'm really just crying out to God to deliver this people whom He loves.

The earthquake has terrified me too, but I know I must be strong for the Nepalis, and not conform to the pattern of this world. 

Tomorrow, we'll be reaching out to our church members and other people, and will also have a prayer meeting. I really covet your prayers too; let us storm the gates of Heaven together :D

Through all this, I can come out and praise God because He's still in control of everything, and His plans are not to harm us, but to give us a hope and a future."

But I left my feelings unresolved, because I was tired and confused; the remedy of which is a good night's sleep. 

After that, I closed the lights and drew my blanket over me, going for the remedy rather than trying to fix myself. 

The tsunami of scattered thoughts I'd usually entertain before sleeping washed over my mind and raged for thirty minutes, then was still. Yet on the brink of falling asleep, I would hear noises that would jolt me awake, and one of my breaths was suddenly cut short, which alarmed me. That night, I was awoken four times by the freaky 'ping's of our QuakeAlarm and the aftershocks themselves. The last one was magnitude 6.5 during 5 AM, and I could hear people screaming outside and the voices of our parents' and the friends who'd stayed over. 

After a while, I stood up. Pale blue light filtered through our windows. The night was over -a new day had begun.

(The next post is here!)

1 comment:

  1. God Bless you, Samantha!
    Thanks for your story, from a fellow blogger in Tokyo, Japan.