March 1, 2010

Diary of an 8.8

Chile just had one of the biggest recorded earthquakes in history. Puerto Varas, where I live, is far from the epicenter yet I woke up with my house rocking. Then there was the suspense--without power or internet I had no idea what had happened. The phone lines were jammed.

The 8.8 registered locally as a 5.0 and we didn't sustain big damage. But the disaster is present. Chile is, after all, a small country. Everyone has friends or relatives in the capital. I have friends whose house has disappeared. Another did not appear for days.

I thought Puerto Varas was left unscathed. I was slow to realize that the effects will come slowly here--with shortages, roads out, power blinking on and off. There is one highway through the country and when its bridges are out, our connection breaks. Things--like toilet paper, gas, food--are slow to arrive. The only local service station that isn't already out is limiting $10USD worth of gas to each car. Cops direct the line, which twists around the block. I skip it and wonder if I will ever have to attempt the 20km walk from home to town.

Not knowing about what is going on elsewhere becomes an obsession. How can I work when the ground still trembles? Disaster pushes the everyday off our radar and steeps us in the big questions.

A Chilean friend told me the quake brought him to apologize to an ex for bad behavior ten years past. Friends reconnect in crisis, but strangely, so do the ghosts of our past. It's a time of wondering. In the grocery store I feel like I'm buying way too much. Six heads of garlic? But they are bound to save bad meals to come. I reexamine each aisle, trying to perceive what I'm missing, what I'm undervaluing. And that's only in the grocery store.

What remains fascinates me. My town is a rarity in Chile--upper middle class. All diet food is gone. Really, disaster hits and you think about losing those last five pounds? No one has touched the imported goods I covet. Will the day soon arrive when Chileans will have to learn to cook bean thread noodles and quinoa? Somehow, it makes me feel more competent, more safe, knowing I can cook ethnic. But it's total bull. I remind myself: you are just as fragile as everyone else out there.

Predictably, there has already been a run on good value reds in the wine aisle. It is about survival, I think.


Comunidad de San Andrés said...

I am so sorry about what happens to Chile. I have been there in December and was amazed about how good were the roads, the infrastracture, etc. I cannot imagine all this things suddenly one day just fell down. Fragility... love is the only answer for me, love for being alive, for being loved, for being a human being. Love for my friends in Chile, hope you can recover soon.

Meg Simone said...

You always leave us with a good one. Loved the last line. What a great read on the reality and fragility of life on this planet. What are we doing? What is this all about. Hope to connect soon xo meg and dave