Saturday, May 17, 2008

Processing, scared

It's 1am, and my bed is shaking as another aftershock rattles chengdu. It's day 5 after the earthquake and it's getting hard to calm down. We go about our daily lives now, knowing that strong aftershocks come and go, rattling us, but leaving Chengdu's buildings in tact so far.

My friend went into Bei Chuan to do relief work near the epicenter two days ago. He told me about seeing this picturesque adobe-colored town flattened in its valley between mountain peaks. He heard voices coming from inside the collapsed buildings, they became fewer as the day went on. He helped rescue two people, including a girl who was kept alive by her parents bodies pressed above her. He stepped on bodies. Not 24 hours after his return, another 5.6 magnitude earthquake hit the area, resulting in further landslides and death. Thank God he is back safely.

Similarly, I am dumbfounded by the luck that Kate and I had in not being in the epicenter area when the earthquake hit. Though it's a little-known part of a small mountainous region of China (not even a blip on most people's maps), Kate and I became intimately familiar with this area during the last three weeks as we hiked Qing Cheng Mountain (now majorly cut off from outside transport lines and buried), and went horseback riding in Song Pan (the road and rest stops we used to and from no longer exist.)

Honestly, I'm getting a little scared again. Aftershocks keep hitting, and one can't help but wonder how many 5.0 magnitude earthquakes these buildings can withstand...

The government is doing a great job keeping people informed through text messages on cell phones. The most recent text informed us that the road to our project sites in Dayi was closed except for government use. Another told us that the water contamination stories were scams. Good to know. I have a lot of gatorade to drink now.

The mood here is eery. The funeral outside my home continues. The bright crepe paper wheels are still leaning against the bushes outside, and the family has sat in vigil in their tent for over 24 hours now. Candles are lit. The smell of cooking oil in the air. No wailing, just quiet sitting.

It's hard not to stay glued to the news. I try to go about my day normally then cry and cry over a story telling how a parent dug through rubble with bare hands for days on end until their bloodied hands reached the cold body of their child.

How is Chengdu looking so normal in the face of this? Are we all pretending?

Relief efforts are gaining momentum, and give me glimmers of hope. The fact that my ngo's president is placing so much emphasis on sustainable relief efforts and long-term thriving communities helps me know that we won't be in-and-out handing out water bottles and leaving. We are in it to stay.

It's late, my heart hurts. My eyes are swollen. Sleep now.