Posts Tagged ‘Earthquake’

In Other News…

…there was a small earthquake last night around 4:15am that had Jillian out of bed and by the door before I could even open my eyes.  The scary thing about this one is that, while relatively minor, it lasted for almost 10 seconds, which is MUCH longer than most of the tiny earthquakes that made our nights sleepless during the middle part of last year.  Jillian and I had our usual talk about what she needs to do (or yell) to actually get me out of bed, and stop me from just laying down in a daze wondering what to do next.  We discussed for about half an hour, and then attempted to fall asleep again.  The quake didn’t register on the USGS website, but it was enough to remind us that getting too comfortable here is, at times, not such a good idea.


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Where were you on 9/11?  Or when you got your first kiss?  These are defining moments in a person’s life, moments where you cross over from one state of being to another.  On 9/11, we went from a state of peace to a country at war.  When you got your first kiss you went from being an awkward youth to someone who had broken the seal to maturity (or so you thought at the time).

On January 12, 2010, Haiti went from a struggling country with a shaky foundation to one that lost almost everything.  A day that no one will ever forget, Haitians lost an estimated 300,000 sisters, brothers, fathers, mothers and children.  To put this in perspective, imagine going to Arlington National Cemetery, and instead of having soldiers buried there, you had the victims of the earthquake.  More people died in one day on January 12th in Haiti, than all the people buried in the 624 acres of Arlington Cemetery over the past 150 years.  Imagine 624 acres, filled with 300,000 headstones, all with the same date on them.  It’s staggering.


But what many Haitians are left with is no such ability to honor their loved ones.  Throughout the city you saw piles of rubble that a year before were houses or business, but are now donned with flower arrangements and pictures in an effort to honor those who are still entombed inside.  These are their final resting places, these are the tombs of the unknown victims.


For most of the international community, the one year anniversary was used as a barometer for what has, or has not, been accomplished by the government and aid agencies to help the victims of the quake.  Only 30,000 transitional shelters have been completed, only 10 percent of the rubble has been removed, over 800,000 people are still living in tents.  These are all outrageous, and worth discussing, but when the day came, Haitians could care less about where they were getting their water, or where they were going to sleep, they just wanted their loved ones back.




So on the day of the anniversary, most people weren’t screaming about their situation.  You didn’t see them taking to the streets to complain about how the recovery here can only be described as stagnant, you saw them flooding the churches and praying, you saw them taking the day to reflect.

But for many, and me included, while the actual day of the earthquake marked a life-changing moment, the days following the earthquake are at times worse.  For the past 72 hours, I have been looking at my watch and thinking about where Jillian and I were at that exact moment one year ago.  And while 4:53pm was when the earthquake hit, the hours following it were so much more poignant than the actual event itself.  At 8:53pm I looked at my watch, Jillian was still buried in the rubble of our house, I was on my way to PAP.  The next day, 6:15pm, we were boarding an evacuation flight on our way to spend the night in a hospital in Santo Domingo.  At the moment that I’m writing this we were on a plane flying to Miami, eventually on our way to DC.

For us the earthquake was a defining moment in many ways.  In the past year it seems that the quake has somehow added 10 years onto our marriage, and will eventually subtract 10 years from our lives.  We have had to tackle so many issues that made it seem like we were taking AP Calculus while in the 3rd grade.  I don’t know how to work out these problems, and by the time you eek out the answer to question number 1, questions 2-15 are already waiting to be answered.  Maybe no one knows the answers right away, and no matter how wise you are they are always going to be hard, but in the midst of a recovery it just seems so overwhelming to think that you are on the verge of failure.

But most of all, this year has left me with an anger that I want to shake off sooo badly.  I get angry at the NGOs for not doing enough, I get angry at the government for being so inept, I get angry at the people for not picking themselves up by their bootstraps and fighting for themselves.  But most of all, I get angry with myself for not being able to control the anger.   I used to have compassion, I used to have patience, and it all has seemed to melt away since the quake.  I want to be back to normal, I want to not be on edge, I want to be confident, I want to feel good about myself.

At 4:53pm on January 12th, I was in a church to cover the minute of silence that was scheduled to be observed throughout the country.  The minute came, and the church erupted with cries and wails, tears streaming down almost everyone’s faces.  I held my breath, just waiting for the ground to start shaking again, let out a sign of relief, and then looked around me.  A woman was crying, holding the passport of her sister who had passed away a year before.  Another woman held a picture of three people who had died in the earthquake, another collapsed on the ground, wailing uncontrollably.  The priest asked that everyone stay silent, but it was no use, Haitians don’t mourn in silence.


And while we were walking out I suddenly became overcome with a sense of complete and utter compassion.  All of these people were mourning their loved ones, at this moment last year every single one of these people’s lives had been torn to shreds.  No one was to blame, there was no one to be angry with, it was just a situation where everyone here was an innocent victim, and they needed that moment to mourn.   In my new angry, cynical mind I searched for a reason not to care, for a way to step back and not have compassion, but found myself overcome with grief, and I began to cry.  The last time I cried was when I was home after the earthquake, it’s been that long, and it was an amazing feeling.

We left the church and met up with Jillian, who was at a memorial service at the Hotel Montana.  It was just so wonderful to be able to hug her and have her there, and not have that day be the anniversary of her death as well.  We are the lucky ones.  January 12th at 4:53pm will forever be one of those moments where we look back and think about how our lives changed, how we entered a new phase, and how we became who we are today.

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The vanishing of a scar is what most would consider a positive end result from a healed wound. The complete disappearance of an unappealing mark that most often represents a negative experience is what people use Neosporin and other ointments to accomplish. As the 1 year commemoration of the January 12th earthquake in Haiti dawns, I have been reflecting on the status of my scars.

The external scars on my back, right foot, and lower right leg are still there, but are much lighter. They no longer properly represent the experience that put them there, and while I thought this would bring me comfort, having no outer blemish, I find myself anxious over their decreasing presence. How do I tell the story to new people without being able to point to something? This ultimately leaves me exactly where I do not want to be. No longer able to deflect questions of my experience with a quick flash of my shin, all that is left is the way more harrowing emotional scars that I rarely discuss.

In a country so full of undesired blotches, tent camps, piles of rubble, and collapsed buildings that seem to serve more as catalyst for the blame game than a continued call to action, I have taken solace in the constant reminders of the disaster. I am in no way suggesting that I want these things to remain, but rather acknowledging that dealing with the tangible is more straightforward. While these feelings might/are odd, when discussing the earthquake with Haitians I find them responding similarly. In talking with World Concern beneficiaries over the last week in preparation for the 1-year-later update, the answers to questions like “how did you feel?”, “describe your greatest frustration”, “what are your greatest needs?”, were physical. Beneficiaries, regardless of their earthquake experience, pointed to cracks in the walls, rubble piles, or items stored in tents, but no lingering sadness, grief, or anger were mentioned.

During an interview with a Quartier (neighborhood) Committee member, Pascal Jeune, who helps World Concern implement our projects in Nazon, the avoidance of anything below the surface was obvious. The 27 year-old father of one who brought his son home the afternoon of the earthquake to friends and family, of whom 13 of would die when his house would collapse hours later, is still clearly as uncomfortable as I am when asked about his feelings. Naturally, when I interviewed him, the death of 13 of his relatives was discussed and the only response I could get from him is that “their absence makes me the head of my household and that makes things very difficult for me.” I tried to continue the conversation after the formal interview was over, but his serious face and welling eyes proved to me that his emotions about the 12th are just as raw as mine.

Now, I realize that having 6 foreigners standing around with video equipment does not create a relaxing environment where one might feel secure enough to open up, but I believe it is more than that. I have been asked about my experience by strangers, friends, and family members and my reaction is always the same. Look at the ground, take a deep breath, think of something light-hearted to say…and then point to the scar.

In rare moments of complete security, usually shared with Frank, I might reveal more. The helplessness, fear, and pain of facing losing everything I loved remains. The constant inundation of images from the earthquake, while I reminder I am not alone, makes my increasing sensitivity to those suffering painfully acute. And in the deepest of places, where I rarely want to go myself, I face the fleeting moments of horrific doubt that I am still under that house and that I never made it out, that this is all a dream. So much for scars fading…

The certainty of life is things move forward whether you are ready or not. While I can so easily transport myself back to that potential coffin of rubble and the emotions that go along with that reality, a year has passed and my exterior marks are fading. I know that my scars on the outside do not have to mirror those on the inside, but their slow departure feels like pressure to move on and I am not ready. So what to do?

I guess the first thing is to be thankful for the support and love I have received and continue to receive. For all of you, who stopped your lives for my and Frank’s recovery, thank you from the bottom of my heart. I would not be where I am today without you. Another thing is to realize how lucky I am that my scars are healed and fading while the physical destruction as a result of the earthquake is still the most prominent thing you see as you travel throughout Port-au-Prince. Lastly, is to accept that one year has past and that my recovery and reconstruction has the same status as the Haitian people’s, incomplete.

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I recently went to the Healing Hands for Haiti prosthetic and orthopedic clinic in downtown PAP to assist a photographer who was shooting pictures for the Red Cross, and had the time to shoot some pictures myself.  The clinic has been up and running since just after the earthquake, and according to their Program Director (and our neighbor) Al Ingersoll, they’ve been busy ever since.  “We have about 20 people coming in here every day,” he explained, “and we’ve seen over 400 cases so far.”



20 year-old Evena Prince had just returned home from school when the earthquake hit.  “I was taking a nap when everything started to shake,” she explained while sitting on a plastic chair holding her prosthetic leg, “I ran out of the house and a building fell on me.”  She was rushed to the hospital, but the injuries to her leg were too severe, and doctors amputated the limb.  “I never thought I would walk again,” she said, “but now that I have this leg I can do things that I couldn’t do when I had to walk with crutches.”



For physiotherapist Gillian Fergusson, every day brings a new set of challenges.  “We see about 20 patients a day, sometimes more,” she explained, “but we are training a local staff to be able to help the patients learn how to use their prosthetics.”

Duilio Barreto is a prosthetic technician who lost his leg during a war in Nicaragua, and is helping to train the Haitian staff. For him, he knows what these people are going through, and wants to make sure the experience of getting a new leg is a positive one. “I was given a prosthetic that didn’t fit, it hurt me,” he explained while installing padding on a prosthetic leg, “that’s why I take extra care to make sure it’s perfect, I don’t want these people going through what I did.”

As he walks through the workshop he wears shorts so that the Haitians getting their new limbs can relate to him. “I know what it’s like to not have a leg,” he said, “I hope I can be a source of inspiration for these people. To give them hope knowing that if I can do it, so can they.”




And while the well-staffed prosthetics workshop is working every day to give people new limbs, Gillian says that the conditions here make it hard to fit some people.  “There are a lot of difficult stumps in Haiti,” she explained while helping a patient walk on crutches, “you have boney stumps or scar tissue that takes longer to heal and that’s harder to fit around.”  She also says that children pose a particularly tough situation.  “You sometimes have to refit children with a new prosthetic every 6 months, which is hard on the child,” she explained, “and with the poor job that was done with amputations just after the earthquake, sometimes the bone is growing faster than the skin, making it hard to fit a prosthetic around it properly.”

But even with all the issues that fitting Haitians with prostheses poses, Gillian says that all the hard work is worth it.  “When someone comes in here and can’t walk or has to use crutches and then they leave with the ability to walk, that’s a really positive thing, it’s a great feeling.”



And while visiting a clinic like this would, at first, seem like a very depressing thing to do, it’s actually turned out to be a really positive experience.  “A lot of these people went through the grieving process in the hospital,” Gillian explained, “when they get here they are learning how to walk again, they are getting their life back.  It’s not a sad place at all, it’s a positive place for everyone.”  And she’s right.  These people all have a common bond that allows them to learn and grow together.  While I have always been terrified of losing a limb myself, seeing the strength among these people makes you feel weak for pitying them.  They might have lost a limb, but they still have their lives, and in Haiti that’s something worth celebrating.

As a side-note, the photographer I was working with was awesome (you can see his work HERE), and he recommended I process the photos in black and white.  I did, and as a result I feel these pictures have more emotion in them than any of the pictures I have taken since being in Haiti. If you’re interested in seeing a larger slideshow of the pictures above (which I recommend), and others that I didn’t include here, you can click these words.

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*Car may have been crushed in the earthquake…

If you’re looking to buy a car in Haiti and need a beautiful new (looking) SUV, then look no further!!!  Above is Jillian’s old co-worker, Dom, and his Mitsubishi Montero, which he was given recently by Jillian’s old organization because it had been damaged in the earthquake.  The car looks great, as he’s made some major improvements that make it look nothing like what it looked like before.  He’s debating on selling the car to make some money, considering all NGOs in Haiti want to do is buy more and more huge SUVs to stamp their logos on.  But, let me tell you, buying a used car in Haiti is shady business.

Jillian and I earnestly attempted to buy a car here for about 2 months before throwing up our hands and surrendering to the motorcycle that we already had.  Every car that we test drove either felt like you were constantly driving over dead bodies, or was given terrible terrible reviews by the mechanic we would check them with.  “You’re going to need new gaskets…and probably a new radiator,” he explained of one car, “So if you do that and fix the wheel alignment and the brakes this car is perfect!”  HUH?!  No car is perfect if that much work has to be done on it!  After about half a dozen of these we gave up.

But you often wonder where they are getting these cars, and why it appears they decided to sell a car that drives like they’ve been commuting to Miami every day…underwater.  We would try to find cars that had come directly off the boat from the States so that we wouldn’t have to deal with cars that had been ruined by driving on the terrible roads in Haiti.  And it’s possible, but they’re hard to find.  When used car salesmen in the U.S. have a car that they can’t find a buyer for, or that is just illegal to drive because of its poor condition, they ship them off to countries like Haiti where there are no emissions laws and the standards are low.

But sometimes you find a gem like Dom’s car, and you just want to snatch it up right away.  The only thing is, it used to look like this…

Car under Rubble

I took this screen grab from the video I took of the house Jillian and I were living in before the earthquake.  That’s right, it’s the same exact car, just fixed up a bit.  The keys were in a safe that had shot out of the house when it collapsed, and once the staff got around to breaking off the concrete roof above it, they drove it home.  Yes, the car still drove.

So when Dom drove it to our house recently when we had him over for dinner, it was kind of like seeing a ghost.  Of all the things that had been lost in that house, this car was probably one of the last things that I expected to be recovered.  Yet here it was, in pretty much new condition, the only sign that it had been completely flattened in the earthquake was a scratch on the door handle.

So let this be a lesson to all of you buying used cars…get a Carfax on that junker ASAP.  And while I’m pretty sure that the tiny mishap that you see above probably wont show up on a Carfax, I’m hoping that the buyer of this car knows full well what they are getting themselves into.  “Has the car ever been in an accident?” you ask?  Well, no, it hasn’t.  The earthquake was no accident at all, it was just God’s way of testing all those people whose cars were crushed to see if they’ll be honest to the people who want to buy them.  Tell the truth and you go to heaven, forget to mention that the car was practically totaled in the quake and you’ll be a used car salesman in “the other place” for the rest of eternity.  The decision is yours…

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At the recommendation of a couple of people, and most importantly Jillian, I am mulling around the idea of laying the groundwork to write a book.  Because it would, most likely, revolve almost entirely around the events of the earthquake, I have been thinking a lot about what happened that night, and the days immediately after.  So while organizing some videos I took of Laura Silsby with my Flip, I ran into a bunch of videos that I took the day after the earthquake.

The one above is of Jillian, Chuck and I standing on the tarmac of the PAP airport boarding the first Coast Guard evacuation flight out of the country.  For 8 hours before we had gotten to this point, we had been nervously lingering in the lobby of the American Embassy, awaiting our fate with NO idea when we would be leaving.  Jillian had trouble walking, and Chuck looked like he had been beaten up by 10 guys with baseball bats.  In fact, he looked so bad that almost every single person in the lobby came and asked him if he was OK.  He was not, and neither was Jillian, so we needed to get out fast.

But the wait seemed to stretch on for days, and with no food and no way to reach our families, we hopelessly waited for some kind of announcement that we could leave the country to get Jillian and Chuck some kind of medical attention.  The embassy was completely inept in their ability to treat those waiting in the lobby, but to their credit, it was for good reason.

There was only one doctor in the entire embassy, and he was using a conference room just inside the front doors as his triage.  At one point in the day an embassy staffer barreled into the lobby asking for able-bodied men to help.  While I am NOT an able-bodied man, I volunteered and was hurried down the hallway with about half-a-dozen other men into this conference room.  The room contained only the bare essentials of treating minor injuries, as if they had poured out a large first aid kit and left it at that.

But inside was an enormous Haitian woman who was in horrible shape.  She was covered in dried blood and rubble dust, and her arms and legs looked as if they had compound fractures beneath her blood-stained dress.  They needed our help to move her from the gurney to the conference table, where the doctor would do his best to stop the bleeding and make a diagnoses before evacuating her the next chance they got.

I positioned myself by her stomach, and placed my hands under her back.  She was screaming in agony, and it seemed that every single one of the people trying to help were just making the pain worse.  We all tried to assure her it was going to be OK, but in reality we were lying, this women looked BAD.  The doctor counted to three and we all lifted her onto the conference table.  We were quickly thanked for our help and then ushered out of the room, and as we filed out no one spoke, everyone just looked ahead blankly.  This woman might not make it, and she’s not even the worst of the worst.

So we returned to the lobby, and I sat next to Jillian and Chuck who had, after hours of waiting, received the paperwork for our replacement passports, as we had all lost ours in the Mission House.  Jillian filled out hers as I filled out mine and Chuck’s, who was unable to do it on his own because his left eye was practically swollen shut and his hand was badly injured.  We passed our paperwork to the unfriendly face behind the glass barriers, and then sat down for another wait.

Then around noon we were warned that they were expecting another major aftershock between 2 and 2:30pm.  Jillian and I had already been taking time to step outside occasionally as she was having anxiety about being indoors, but around 1:45pm the entire lobby emptied out almost in unison.  2:30pm came and went, and there was no aftershock, at least not one you would call major, so we returned to our seats in the lobby, which was slowly becoming a standing room only situation.

Soon after this, an embassy worker entered the lobby who looked like he was a decision-maker, like he was an authority.  He was.  He announced that there would be two evacuation flights today, that we would have to pay for them ourselves, and that we would have to fill out a form and people would be selected according to necessity to leave.  While stressful, this seemed great!  Jillian and Chuck seemed to be the two most necessary evacuees in the entire lobby, so after the formalities, we thought it was a lock.

We approached the glass, retrieved our new paperwork, and feverishly filled it out hoping that our timeliness would give us a better chance of getting on the first flight.  We stepped back to the glass to hand in our evacuation homework, and while many let Chuck and Jillian go ahead of them in line, there were a few people who felt they needed to get out of the country faster.

One woman in particular began arguing with her teenage daughter about whether they should be on the first flight, or not.  Surprisingly, the daughter was the one arguing that there were people other than them who should take higher priority, as they were not injured or in any particularly dire need.  I admired her immensely.  But the mother overruled her daughter, pitifully explaining “we’re just taking up space here! We’d be better off out of their way!”  She grabbed the paperwork, quickly handed it out to a group of girls that they were with, told them to fill them out as fast as possible, and then ran to the window to hand them in.  You just can’t compete with a running mother when you can barely walk…

We sat down, yet again, eating what was left of MREs and talking to folks who were interested to know what had happened.  About an hour later, the authoritative man return with a list.  “I’m going to read the names of the people who are on the first flight.  By being on this list does not guarantee you will be in the flight, or that you will leave the country today, but if you hear your name then please go to the exit where a car will be waiting to bring you to the airport.”

He began reading the names, but because the names were in no particular order, the process was maddening. Every time he paused between names my heart would race, praying to myself that they would call Jillian or Chuck next.  I consider the possibility of them being called and not me, and while not ideal, it was feasible as they needed to get out and seek help. We continued to listen as the embassy man reached the end of the page, turned it over, and then read another dozen names before reaching the woman who had argued with her daughter earlier about who should have priority.  She squealed, “Yes! Come on girls!” and then brushed by us on her way to escape.  The man read another dozen names, and then stopped.  “That’s it.  We will only be having one flight out today, so the remainder of you will be on future flights.  We are expecting to have at least two flights tomorrow.”

I was in shock.  Anger was pulsing through my veins.  95% of the people called were totally fine and in perfect health.  And that woman! The nerve of her!!! To take a seat on that plane while Jillian and Chuck just stood here in pain.  A house had just fallen on top of them for Christ sakes!

The man looked up from the paper and saw Chuck.  Others in the room had seen that he was still there too, and were voicing their concern that he had yet to be called.  The man asked, “What is your name, sir?” Chuck said his name, and with glossed over eyes, the man quickly looked over the sheet and said, “Great, you were on the list, I’m sorry for the mistake.”

He started towards the exit, and turned back.  “What about you guys?” he said.  “It’s OK, we’ll be fine.  Good luck!  Get to a doctor as soon as possible,” Jillian said.  He quickly thanked us for our help, and then walked out the door.  The authoritative man followed after him, looking like he was trying to avoid to constant pleas of everyone else who “needed” to get out of the country.  But they had still not called Jillian’s name.  She had been trapped in the rubble of a building for 10 hours, she deserved this!

I chased after the man with the list just as he handed it to a heavy-set woman standing in the hallway.  “Ma’am,” I said, “I think there’s been a mistake.  Is Jillian Thorp on that list as well?  She was in the same collapsed building that that man was in.” I pointed to Chuck who was slowly making his way towards the exit, and said, “she’s injured, badly, and needs a doctor.  We need to get her out of the country.”  She looked at me, looked at the list, and then looked confused.  “Hold on one second,” she said as she turned towards the office space behind the glass windows.

I stepped away as she spoke with another embassy worker through the glass.  She turned to me and explained, “they have an updated list in there, they’re checking that one too.  You’re her…?” “Her husband,” I quickly responded.  She discussed it for another minute with the woman behind the glass and then turned around.  “You guys are on the list.  Hurry up though, the cars are leaving now.”  I ran back to the lobby and grabbed Jillian.  “We’re on the list, let’s go!” I said.  “Are you sure?” she responded. I nodded yes and we grabbed the little possessions we still had and hurried towards the exit.

Out front of the towering embassy building was a line of unmarked suburbans.  We stood there, the last ones in line, waiting for our chance to jump into one.  Yet another embassy worker approached us and asked for our names.  I recited them once again as she searched the list she held in her hands.  She looked up, “You guys aren’t on the list.”  “I was just told by a woman inside that my wife and I were on the list, there had been a mistake. That there were two lists!” I pleaded.  She told us to wait there, as each of the suburbans quickly filled with people and bags.  There was going to be no room if we had to wait much longer.

The woman ran outside and gave us the OK to go, but explained, “You need to get in these cars, if there is no room then you will have to wait until tomorrow.”  We smashed our bags in the back of one of the suburbans, I jumped in the middle of the front seat, and Jillian crammed into the back.  We were in, we were going, it was actually happening.  We drove to the airport through the traffic filled streets, avoiding rubble in places, and bodies in others.  I helped another man fill out his paperwork on the way to the airport, something I was under the impression had to be done BEFORE you were on the list.  Whatever, it didn’t matter, we were on our way.

We drove through a chain-linked fence gate straight onto the tarmac, and were deposited next to two huge Coast Guard planes.  The sound was deafening, and the uncomfortableness of the loud engines was multiplied by the photographers taking pictures of us.  We had become part of the story, not the solution.  It was heartbreaking.  Both Jillian and I wanted to stay, we wanted to help, but at this moment we were forced to leave.  While we will never look back at the decision to evacuate as a mistake, it was still a hard decision to make.  Driving to the airport brought a sense of relief, but it also brought a sense of betrayal, as we were leaving the people we had come to help at their greatest time of need.

The video above starts where this part of the story ends.  This is the first time I have written down this particular part of our experience of the earthquake, and there’s a lot that I’m leaving out.  It’s nice to write down something that I have gone through over and over again in my head, but at the same time it’s frustrating that I’ve forget some of the details that I wish I remembered.  The idea of writing a book would help to document those things in a way that I would never forget, which in my mind, would be a great thing.  I’ll post a video of the other side of the flight next week, as reaching Santo Domingo was like entering a ring of heaven after what we had experienced over the past 48 hours.

But today marks the three-month anniversary since our return to Haiti, and it’s starting to feel right.  While growing pains are definitely present (at least for me), this place feels more and more like home.  Some things will always bother me about living here, but as time has gone by I have found that part of this experience is to learn how to adjust in ways that I was never capable of before.  While the idea of moving to Haiti always seemed hard, actually implementing it has proved to be one of the toughest things I’ve ever done.  It’s a true test, and something that I want to do.  So here’s to another three months, and another after that, because Haiti will teach me something about myself, I just haven’t figured out what it is yet.

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So you probably haven’t heard due to a total loss of interest back in the US of all things Haiti, but Sunday night there was a minor earthquake, followed by another the following afternoon.  It appears the earth stops shaking just long enough for you to get comfortable and lose some of your vigilance, after which it does it’s best to scare the crap out of you, rendering you scared and humiliated.

On Sunday night, at around 12:38am, the earth detonated beneath us resulting in a 5-second burst of terror-invoking panic.  Surprisingly, Jillian and I were both slightly awake after I had (unintentionally) elbowed her in the face while sleeping.  The 4.0 earthquake shook the house violently, prompting Jillian to explode out of bed and run to the sliding glass door that goes out to our balcony.

I, on the other hand, was so caught off-guard by what was going on that I pulled the covers up higher and stared at the ceiling in terror; a terrible, TERRIBLE, response to an earthquake.  (This is better than my response to the last earthquake in the middle of the night, though, which was to hold Jillian down and tell her it was going to be OK.  I didn’t know if it was going to be OK, and holding an earthquake survivor down during an earthquake did not prove to be a good move on my part.)

Our plan, that has been established for when we are asleep during an earthquake, is to jump out of our bed, go onto the balcony, and then jump down to the driveway.  The 8 foot jump, in our minds, will be bearable enough considering the alternative is being buried in the rubble of our house.  The jump would also position us right next to our trusty chariot, Pinotage, which is exactly where I want to be during a time of panic: next to someone I can trust.

But after the panic subsided last night, Jillian cautiously returned to bed and we began discussing our previously established plan, and whether it was the right one.  There are two key questions posed when formulating this plan: Which way do you get out? AND Do you wait for the other person?  These questions turned out to be really hard to answer, as you never really know until the situation presents itself.

Obviously, the answer changes depending on where you are, and what you are doing.  In this particular instance (of being in bed, sleeping) you have to establish ONE plan because you are typically not in the mindset to evaluate these questions while you are half-asleep (and have probably just been elbowed in the face).  So we took the questions one at a time:

Question 1: Which way do you get out?

Because of Jillian’s experience, we know that it takes a little bit of time for a house to come down on top of you.  She thinks it took about 40 seconds for the Mission House to collapse on her, which gives you a fair amount of time to move.  We cut that in half, and tried to figure out if we could realistically just run downstairs to the front door in 20 seconds, therefore diminishing the need to jump down 8 feet onto a rocky driveway in the dark.

It seemed viable, especially because you would only be underneath a concrete ceiling for about two seconds while running out the door.  But our landlady thinks we should just stay inside upstairs, as the ceiling is just wood and corrugated steel, and “that would only leave a bruise!” she says.  How awesome!

Answer: Undecided, but I think this one is likely to stick to the balcony-jump scenario.  Because going to the front door requires us to go underneath a concrete ceiling, the chances that we say “Ouch, maybe we should have…” afterwards are higher, which we should try to avoid.

Question 2: Do you wait for the other person?

This one, to me, is much harder.  To Jillian it seems obvious.  In my opinion, staying together seems like the most important thing in an earthquake situation.  I would probably never recover if there was a scenario where we decided it was every-Thorp-for-himself and I was the only one to make it.  That just doesn’t seem worth it to me, because if Jillian is going to die, I don’t really see the point in living.

But she actually has a really great reason for why we should go it alone.  If there was to be yet another humongous earthquake, the amount of time that it might take for us to find one another might be the reason for our untimely demise.  If we put all of our focus on getting out as soon as possible, we ideally will both make it out unscathed, just at different exits.  And in the event that one of us is trapped, the other could work to get the trapped one out.

There is a slight variation though, as Jillian has said that if the earthquake is at night she’s not going to leave the house without me.  I think she said this to get me out of bed faster next time.

Answer: This is how I see this playing out:  As the earth starts to tremble, Jillian goes running for the exit of the building we are in, as I chase after her.  The fact that I want to be with her, and the fact that she is running out of the building without worrying about me, turns out to be a perfect combination as we burst out of the door, one after the other, with the building collapsing behind us.  I will then do a roundoff back-handspring in celebration.

I joke about this stuff, but we all know it’s serious.  Last night was really scary for both of us, and these discussions are unfortunately necessary when you live here.  Anyone who has come to visit knows, we sit down and talk to our visitors before they go to bed the first night and walk them through the possible scenarios.  It’s scary, and it sucks, but it’s life.

So the day went by, and at around 2:21pm I was riding Pinotage on my way to the hardware store to pick up some man-tools.  As I walked into the store, the woman at the counter looked frightened and asked me, “Did you feel it?”  “Last night?  Yeah, it’s was scary,” I responded.  “NO! Just now!” she yelled back.  Her hands were shaking. “Everyone is going into the hills, they are afraid!” she explained.

And sure enough, the streets were filled with people attempting to make calls on their cell phones.  I tried myself and the network was jammed, and I started to get worried.  I didn’t understand, I didn’t even feel it.  I called Jillian over and over again, but no luck.  I tried to send text messages and they weren’t going through.  I considering driving to her office, which is our official meeting place if there was another earthquake, but there was no damage here, so it couldn’t be bad there…right?

I was scared and frustrated, but decided that Jillian was not picking up because I was simply annoying her by calling while she was working, and went along with my day.  A couple hours later she called, totally unaware that the 4.4 earthquake had happen.  She was in a car at the time, and driving in Haiti is like being in a constant tremor anyways, so there’s no way to tell the difference.

In the end, it’s impossible to really plan how we are going to react in these situations.  We can talk all we want about what we should do, but when the earth decides to mess with you, you usually just react the way your gut tells you to.  For Jillian it’s to run, and I don’t blame her.  She lived through the worst-case scenario when it comes to an earthquake.  For me it’s to grab her and want to be close, which may be romantic, but not smart.  But if/when it does happen again, I trust we will make the right decision and get out safely, because if we didn’t, that would totally suck.

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