as you’ve no doubt seen on the news by now, we’ve been having earthquakes here.  there were two on february third, another one on valentine’s day.  the first batch flattened houses and churches in the southern province, near the border with congo, killing about 40, injuring hundreds, and rendering others homeless.  the region has been kept on its toes since by radio warnings of more quakes to come.  people haven’t been sleeping, or have been sleeping outside in fields for fear they’ll be trapped.  everyone is nervous, jumpy, on-edge.

whether these warnings are founded or not i’m unsure, but the radio here is a force of its own.  ironically, those hardest hit by the damage are not the poorest of the poor (whose mudbrick houses are easily reassembled) but the lower middle class who had scraped together enough to build cheap cement houses, a social notch above mud, much like ours, houses which crumbled to pieces in the earthquake.

as far as i know, the one from thursday has done much less damage.

i’m fine.  i was in kigali when the first quake hit.  i was sleeping.  i didn’t feel a thing.  in kigali the earthquakes were just tremors and no damage was done.  the second one came in the morning.  i was on a bus.  i didn’t notice it.  in fact, i was completely and utterly clueless to the whole event until an hour later when my friend’s mom called from england to ask if she was ok.  within eight hours i had emails from the u.s. checking up.  within the week i had concerned friends and family calling, emailing, and messaging from around the globe, sydney to new york, budapest to banjul.  (news travels fast, especially sensational act of god stories like this one.)

in fact, the only party conspicuously absent in the onslaught of hope-you’re-oks was… my organization.  one would think that ‘natural disaster’ would qualify as ’emergency’ and therefore, under the vso ’emergency plan,’ merit at the very least a text message verifying the health and safety of its volunteers.  guess not.

when i returned home the night of the first earthquake, i was informed that the radio was predicting another one at midnight.  we were invited to join the students in the soccer field at 11:30pm to wait for it.  like a slumber party.  it was only then that i got this one and only text from vso:

‘hi strange message going around – another earthquake midnight tonight – don’t panic embassy says no evidence but if you feel anything not to worry go outside, under table or door jam many thanx.’

it does make one question the effectiveness of afore-mentioned ’emergency plan’ if my mom in new york, six hours behind and sleeping at the time of the event, contacts me before my own organization right here in rwanda.  let’s hope there’s never a real emergency.

a few days ago i got an email from the british embassy.  apparently they don’t have advisory info on what to do during an earthquake, so they borrowed some.  from the idaho bureau of homeland security.  take a moment to appreciate the humour here.  the british embassy… in all its glory… has borrowed earthquake advice… from idaho.

i read it.  it’s kinda funny.  it says things like ‘in case of earthquake, beware of possible gas leaks’ (don’t think that’ll be a problem here), ‘do not seek cover under highway overpasses’ (ah yes those- i remember those), ‘there may be loss of electricity so keep a flashlight or candles handy’ (got ’em), and ‘tap water may be contaminated so if in doubt melt ice cubes for drinking water’ (yes of course).

in a country where there are no overpasses, where tap water is always contaminated, where no one has ever seen an ice cube, where the power goes out whenever and for as long as it pleases, where we are never cooking with gas, i might actually be in better shape than the poor folks over in idaho.

~ by aliciawolcott on February 16, 2008.

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