I was an awkward kid at age five. Each week at St Anthony’s primary school, we had the horrible activity of “health hustle”, a half hour aerobics session led by one of the teachers for everyone in kindergarten.
Unable to tie my shoelaces, I awkwardly changed from my pooh-brown Clarks (I so desperately wanted pointy shoes like the other girls) into my sneakers for the inevitable moment where we would dance to songs I wasn’t cool enough to know the words to.
The younger, cooler teachers used to favour Kylie Minogue’s “locomotion” and Carole King’s “I feel the earth move”. Mum wasn’t the biggest fan of Kylie Minogue so after months of begging, she bought us a different version: the Smurfs’ cassette tape, and we learnt the locomotion that way.
Carole King came later, in my teen years when I realised she was responsible for some of the music I liked the best – you know, Celine Dion, Mariah Carey (Don’t judge me).
But I digress.
This week, literally, we have felt the “earth move, under our feet”….
After six days of seismic activity, we’ve moved into a kind of reluctant, depressing and frustrating routine. Our “mochillas” are packed with torches, clothes, radios, candles, food and water.
For our community, we can find some spiritual significance in it. It’s not exactly a Via Crucis, but it is certainly an anxious Gethsemane moment. Waiting, watching, wondering if this cup will pass. It certainly helps prayer.
Being Holy Week, everything is closed, at least schools and NGOs. Latin America takes “Semana Santa” seriously, so we are in the house together, the whole community. All of our activities are cancelled, and even the younger sisters were advised to stay here, rather than go on mission in the north of the country. (Ironically, the “temblores” aren’t being felt there).
The first quake of 6.1 hit at 5:30pm on Thursday afternoon. The epicentre was close, maybe six kilometres away. Since then, literally hundreds of aftershocks have continued. Some are barely perceptible, others shake us inside and out.
Perhaps the thing that drives me most crazy is the radio and tv (that’s if the electricity is still on) announcements to “mantener la calma”, “stay clam”, with a soundtrack of alarm bells and sirens playing constantly in the background. Then, panicked residents of different zones of Managua call in with their stories, reporting what has taken place in their neighbourhood. These reports do anything but bring calm to the residents.
In a quiet moment yesterday afternoon once the heat of the day had reduced to a cool 33 degrees, I took a walk to the supermarket. On the way, I observed beds on sidewalks and rocky ground, people resting, attempting to find some shade, but aware that being under a tree during an earthquake is not the best idea.
The supermarket was full to the brim with people, filling up trolleys with necessities, preparing for another night of “temblores” and uncertainty.
The earthquake that destroyed Haiti in 2010 was a 7-pointer. Lots of factors contributed to the devastation it caused. The poverty there was worse. 85 percent of the population of Port-au-prince lived below the poverty line. In Nicaragua, the population is poor, but the lessons of 1972 have prepared the city a little better.
Now, with each rumble of earth, we find ourselves standing for a moment, judging the ferocity, and trudging out with our bags packed with necessities. Last night, we slept on mattresses on the floor in the kitchen….I didn’t get a mattress…..I ended up on the floor with a pillow clutching a wooden cross and breathing quiet prayers.
The nights are worse. Last night, we were hours without electricity and running water. The water we are used to, most days between 8am and 6pm we have no running water, but the electricity means we are in darkness, illuminated only by candles and torches and the occasional car driving too fast onto mud roads filled with people.
During the days, we’ve reached a kind of ambivalent acceptance, a tense calm and deep frustration which only just masks the stomach anxiety we feel.
In 1972, the city of Managua was destroyed by an earthquake, leaving 10,000 dead and most of they city’s buildings destroyed. Now. Most of the buildings in this Central American capital are single storey. The relief effort in 72 was tarnished as well by the dictator Somoza lining his own pockets and exhorting aid money for his own purposes. This was just one of thousands of factors leading to the Sandinista revolution and civil war which followed. Now, one of Central America’s poorest countries, this permanent sauna of a city is trying to, as they say “salir adelante”, move forward.
For myself and the Mexican nuns who form the community of “The Company of Mary Our Lady” are remaining here in one of Managua’s poorest zones Ciudad Sandino, and we’ve adopted a reflective, but alert posture.
Our foyer is lined with mattresses and our bags. Our evening prayer had taken on a special, fervent character with some tears every now and again.
It was in the middle of the night as we sat outside on the unpaved dirt on 14 April that I learned of the death of Senator Brian Harradine.
It is both an advantage and disadvantage to facebook that I can be permanently connected, even when so far away….but some announcements come without warning.
I had the honour of working for him for six months in my final year of a journo degree at uni. I can quite honestly say that since Senator Harradine, no single Catholic politician has been so completely true to their faith in the public eye as he.
Strongly criticised by both the right and the left, he struggled, and succeeded in finding the perfect medium of justice and Gospel values.
He embodied the “seamless garment”, the consistent ethic of life. He promoted life from womb to tomb and lived it in his own family. He defended asylum seekers, the indigenous, the unborn, the poor, often to the disdain of his parliamentary colleagues and a cynical media. I certainly had varying reactions from my journalism professors and those I studied with when they knew I worked at his office.
His views often cost him dearly. He was sharply criticised for compromises which were only proven just in the light of history.
I was simply an assistant in the office, initially a work experiencer and then an employee. I interviewed him as he retired for Australian Catholics magazine, and published the story with the ever-so-cheesy title “Climb Every Mountain”. He climbed Cradle mountain with his wife Marion, and was well known for trudging up to Parliament House after morning mass at the Cathedral in his civvies, while other Catholic politicians, suited up, would climb into a comcar to climb Capital Hill. I pray especially for his family, of whom some are good, good friends.
So, it’s been a week.
Moments of joy pop up at unexpected times. The hopping along the ground and tentative flying of our little bird; a little boy who glues himself to the volunteers in the office….
I find myself very homesick this week. Longing for some “carino” and the comfort of home. It is right now that I am missing my family and friends. I posted the above picture of the little bird with one of my favourite quotes from scripture, Isaiah 49:16, and my mum beautifully wrote to me on Facebook “This mother doesn’t forget her baby.” And it made me tear up a little…
But, as Bishop Michael Putney said to Archbishop Coleridge in his final text message, “God is Good”.