After the earthquakes in Tonala, 2017

As many people already know, Mexico was hit by 2 earthquakes this year:
September 8th (8.1 magnitude) and Sept 19th (7.1 magnitude). The world’s news stations covered the events, focusing on the country’s capital and several other badly hit areas, highlighting the damage and the incredible selfless efforts of people helping people all over the country. The area of Tonala remained unknown to most – -it is small and remote – and yet, like many other places had the bad luck of being situated in the path of both quakes and so got hit twice with full force.

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Leaning reed wall under a heavy tile roof

This year’s trip included visits to people’s homes, inspecting walls leaning perilously under the weight of heavy clay-tiled roofs, talking to those who had been trapped inside by crumbling cement stairs and falling doors, everyone sharing their story of horror and despair.

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Clay tiles – -good against wind and rain, not so good otherwise.

The darkness, the noise, the certainty that death is near and there is no way to escape except by a miracle from an already super-busy God. As one of our elderly was saying, she challenged God during the first quake (which happened at 12:49 am) to at least give her some light to find her way around, if He is going to send such terror upon her. “Well”, she laughs” so he sent me another shaker during the day!” (the second occurred at 2:14 pm).
Karen’s incredible efforts resulted in an internet fundraising campaign that is pulling in modest amounts of money, to be used for urgent repairs. Many supporting beams were already rotten due to the rainy season; now they are cracked and waiting to collapse at the lightest pressure. The vulnerability of these people is so much more obvious in a crisis, with effects noticeable even 2 months after the earthquake.

P1020554Alongside Freddy – our carpenter/builder/factotum – we go from home to home, looking at what needs to be done and listening to the timid wishes of our elderly: perhaps the new stairs could be less steep so we could climb them easier?

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Stairs…or sort of!

Could the new door be anchored and sealed into the wall so the cockroaches do not come in anymore? Such small requests, and yet so important! I am constantly reminded of how much I take for granted in my privileged and sheltered life…IMG-20171028-WA0000 (1)
The second purpose of this trip was to deliver a basic health-care workshop to the people helping out with the elderly of Tonala. Simple topics (hygiene, healthy diet, self-help for arthritis, etc.) and quite briefly presented. My intention was to learn more about the level of knowledge and interest of my audience, then return next year and provide more information on topics of interest to the group.

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Sharing ideas, making plans….

Much to my surprise, 10 people attended (including several volunteers new to the group) and it was lovely to see them all interact, exchange advice and make plans for the future. Everyone seemed to be on board with the idea of another workshop and the possible topics kept flowing ….definitely something to be continued next year!
On our final day together, the preparations for the Day of the Dead were in full swing.

P1020687 A wonderful opportunity to bring the elderly together and create a sense of community where they belong and will be remembered. Everyone brought a small offering to be placed around the pictures of the departed elders; stories were told, hugs were exchanged. For those with no family around this is a powerful assurance: “You will be remembered. We are here to create the circle of memories and the path of marigolds to bring you back each year”.

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A work in progress…

I sit quietly, with a mixture of joy and sadness in my heart: who knows which one of us will return next year on the asphalted road or on the path of orange petals? Finally, everyone waves “good-bye” and “see you soon”;  I can feel the love and hope that builds up around us.  All I can do is try to keep my promises and  come back for as long as I am needed….and yet I somehow feel this is not enough.P1020485 (2)

2 thoughts on “After the earthquakes in Tonala, 2017”

  1. Again, the people most in need are hit the hardest. Thank you for bringing their stories to the world to see, know and act.

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