Saturday, January 30, 2010
A few seconds after the earthquake began, I knew what it was. Though I had never lived through one before, and I had no frame of reference for whether what I was experiencing was big or small, I understood that what was happening was a natural phenomenon. Then about five minutes later, as I ran around the campus to gather all the kids, I again had an awareness of what was happening when the first aftershock rattled us all once more. But in the next few hours and days, I came to understand that many people here didn’t know what an earthquake was and truly believed the world was ending in those first scary moments on Tuesday afternoon. Then with each aftershock in the following days, their fears were revived, as vividly as the first time. We’ve spent lots of time in the past few weeks explaining tectonic plates and fault lines and aftershocks to kids and adults alike to try to alleviate their fears that another “big one” will likely strike again soon. But fear so deep is not so easy to just explain away, even with well formed logic and sound science. Despite the testimony of expert engineers and many discussions about load bearing supports and the different types of cracks in a wall, many people are still not comfortable going inside. For me it took only one night of sleeping on the soccer field outside to decide that it was time to sleep inside a structurally sound building, because I inherently trust the experts who told me it was safe to do so. That trust doesn’t come so easily for many here. Considering these deeply held fears, I have been amazed by the courage of the junior staff member who walked into a classroom to teach her French class only a week after she ran for her life out of a crumbling university building. I have so much respect for the children who have swallowed their fears and gone to sleep inside again, even as the radio and many in their family are telling them it’s crazy to do so. This might be the most important work that we do here – more important even than making spaghetti for 400 people in those first days after the earthquake. We are helping the LCS community to return to its normal and productive life by supporting people as they face their fears and take those first courageous steps back inside.