Avoiding Crisis


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It was the day after Christmas. My mother-in-law had flown down to spend the holiday’s with us. We decided to spend the remaining few days of 2004 relaxing at a resort in the coastal city of Ica 300 kilometers south of Lima. From there we’d be able to take a flight above the famed Nazca lines.

We piled in the car and headed south. We would travel close to 5 hours on the Pan-American Highway. We passed the small beach towns that pop up along the highway, along the pacific ocean. Every now and again, on one side, which always looked like a rather large sand dune, would be the early developments of shanty towns. Crudely constructed small homes were situated towards the top of the hills. From time to time, neat rows of trees would appear – I always assumed they had been planted by the government to slow erosion. And then nothing but desert. Desert on one side, the ocean on the other. It was a peaceful drive.

We stayed in Ica for only 3 days. On our last, we would drive through the city itself. We passed the central market, plazas, parks, the police station, churches, schools.

I wonder how many of those buildings crumbled as the ground beneath trembled. How many survived the megathrust quake that was experienced yesterday evening. What of the people that I saw shopping in the market that day several years ago? What of the boy juggling in the street? Of the little baby girl tucked tightly in the colorful Andean fabric that was draped over her mothers shoulders and tightly secured with a knot?

When we were living in Lima, we often talked about how Peru was due for a “big one.” We just hoped that it wouldn’t happen while we were living there. We knew the chaos that would result, how the communication systems would respond and how the infrastructure could (or, better yet, could not) handle the stress that a large earthquake would bring. We didn’t want to be in the middle of that. Today I feel guilty for having thought this so many times.

When we arrived in Lima I didn’t know it was an earthquake zone. It didn’t even dawn on me to think such a thing. I was from the suburbs of NYC, we didn’t have earthquakes.

I’m sure the whole earthquake issue was written somewhere in all the materials I was given to read before we left. The materials that I should have read and would have read had I had time. But instead of worrying about the natural disaster that may happen in my new country I was busy trying to figure out how to change a dirty diaper and burp a newborn. I think it was better that way. Not knowing.

I felt my first earthquake only two days after we had arrived in Lima. At the time we were living close to the city center and close to a busy thoroughfare. Aside from the few pieces of furniture that the Embassy provided, the house was empty. My husband left for work that morning, it would be his first full day at the office and my first full day alone in a foreign country with a newborn baby. Sometime that afternoon, while sitting in the living room with my daughter, things began to rattle. I remember the crystals from the dining room chandelier clinking together. But as soon as it began, it stopped. I didn’t think too much of it.

The phone rang. “Are you okay?” my husband asked. “Yeah, why?” I responded, totally confused as to why I wouldn’t be. (I mean, aside from being in a foreign country all by myself with a newborn, in an empty house where every sound echos, etc. “Did you feel the earthquake?” he asked. “The what?” I said. “Just 5 minutes ago there was an earthquake. Didn’t you feel it?” “Uh. Oh! So that’s what that was!” I said surprised. “Honestly, I thought it was just a big truck driving by.”

That first earthquake was only a 6. Within the two years we lived in Lima we would experience a number of other quakes – some smaller than others, none as big as yesterdays.

It’s a lot different to see all the damage that has been done to a place when you’ve lived there. Today I am sad for Peru, for a country I once called home. And I feel bad about not being there, about not being able to help those in need.

Tonight my thoughts are with Peru and my prayers are for the Peruvian people.


Written by nicolemarie

August 16, 2007 at 9:15 pm

One Response

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  1. Beautiful post.

    It’s all too easy to look away from the personal, human component of massive disasters when they occur in a far away place you can’t relate to. When you’ve lived there and walked among the people there, I guess it’s impossible.


    August 19, 2007 at 10:21 am

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