Georgie Bolam, Foreign Correspondent in Mexico, discusses the first-hand aftermath of three earthquakes within three weeks on the most seismic- prone country in the World.
Phantom earthquakes strike in the middle of the night forcing the dreamers out of bed and into a state of panic. Others, their bodies running on five days of adrenaline, find sleeping and even eating impossible. That was only the first one. September 7th 2017.
What does an earthquake feel like? Walking from the taco stand just around the corner from the school I teach at, the second one hits. This one was bigger for sure. I thought maybe I was getting dizzy – maybe the tacos didn’t agree with me for the second time? Before I know it, I am on the floor. The Mexicans around me nonchalantly stop (or fall) for half a minute, and then meander on with their day. Standard. Of course. I witness a telephone poll falling on a house in the distance. Standard?
September 19th 2017. The earthquake was 7.1 on the Richter scale. Compared with the previous 8.2 this one was closer, stronger. I felt it through all my limbs. It transmuted and made my whole being shiver.
Mexico has been one hell of a rollercoaster… literally. I wake up the next morning to hear the sound of the tamale street vendor outside singing. In the distance I hear the rubbish truck approaching with a recording over the speaker of a little girl telling her mum ‘the rubbish van is here’. The sunlight spills into my room. I smile. Mexico is marvellous again. I get on the combi (minibus), say ‘Buenos Dias’ to the crowded kind souls and continue with my day.
The earthquake was 7.1 on the Richter scale. Compared with the previous 8.2…I felt it through all my limbs. It transmuted and made my whole being shiver.
Mexicans have a different sense of satisfaction which, in turn, cultivates a different sense of dealing with problems. If you’re looking from the cultural lens of a wealthy European country, you might describe this as “Mexicans have low standards”.
But if you were looking from a Mexican lens, you might instead describe it by saying “We accept and enjoy our lives”.
Interesting how different those are. Playing with lenses can be fun and informative.
The earthquake that hit the state I live, Puebla, killed at least 230 people. The majority of fatalities sited in Mexico City; a city that sits on a lake and crumbles under the ricochet of a single tremor. It was to say the least, a devastation. Television network Televisa broadcast the nailbiting rescue attempt of a little girl live after crews at the school in the south of Mexico City reported finidng the missing girl. It was part of a search for dozens of victims feared buried beneath the Enrique Rebsamen school, where local officials reported 21 children and 4 adults dead after Tuesday’s quake. The school was one of hundreds of buildings destroyed by the country’s deadliest earthquake in a generation. The magnitude 7.1 quake, which killed at least 93 people in the capital alone, struck 32 years to the day after a1985 earthquake that killed thousands.
Walking around my city, located to the south east of Puebla state, what I witness is not misery or a loss of hope, but a new strength. A strength and a willingness to help. On every street there are donation posts, people speaking on megaphones; even some of my students did not attend my classes on account of them rushing to Mexico City to give aid (on the weekend I tried, but unfortunately was turned away because there were already too many people). Despite Mexico being the most seismatic country in the world, it will not be shaken. It is strong, resilient, and my god, it is tough. Countless Mexicans up and down the economic spectrum have found an outlet helping others, seizing a sense f unity amid the destruction, a remarkable feat in a society typically marked by social divide. There are reminders everywhere: buildings buckling, floes of concrete and brick spilling across sidewalks, familiar streets bifurcated by strands of red and yellow emergency tape and patrolled by soldiers in uniform. Service tents brim with volunteers, looking for ways to help. Then the third one strikes. 23rd September 2017.
Witnessing how Mexicans dealt with three earthquakes in the space of three weeks, you can really see how the ‘lenses’ I mentioned before come into play: Mexicans do not worry about things they cannot control. Yes, maybe there will be some heavy rain and flooding and maybe there will be a crack in the house and the whole infrastructure will become weaker. But maybe it won’t. The house is just as likely to get knocked down by a tsunami, a hurricane, a shoddy construction or a drunk driver in a truck. But, it also might defy the odds and stand for 200 years. The truth is nobody knows, so people don’t waste time worrying about it.
I’ve watched locals react during a power outage, and their bodies don’t even have a tinge of stress about it. No flinch. No bitterness or anger or frustration. Nothing.
After me and my friend were attacked in the streets by two men with a knife to my throat, even then, nothing. On returning home, my ‘Mexican grandmother’ simply hugged me, advised me to carry a knife on me at all times and wear shoes I can run in. My friends phone was stolen but not a word about that. They were just happy we were alright. One month later when my friend finally had enough money, he got a new phone and things went on as normal. To them it’s just being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
A culture where people are satisfied with good enough means there’s going to be more uncertainty about the future.
A culture where people are satisfied with good enough means there’s going to be more uncertainty about the future. Your house is slightly more likely to fall down here. You are more likely to die of disease. If you worried about things that are out of your control, it would drive you batty. Mexico is a permanent disconcerting impulsive ticking bomb, but my god their food is good, and they sure can dance too.
Jose Osorio Cruz stood outside a coffee shop playing with his 9-month-old son. “I believe we will push forward as a nation”, rocking his son back and forth in the stroller along the jagged sidewalk. “This is an opportunity for the citizens to come together in spirit of unity, to reconstruct Mexico”.
I walk into my middle school, six days after, when the school is deemed safe again. I witness students and teachers alike filling in a gigantic crack in the wall with joint compound. On the other side of the playground I see children dancing Salsa in their Physical Education class. I approach my classroom, hear my students bellow my name. Life goes on just a little bit less normal than before.