I feel the earth move….and God is good

Ugly school shoes

Ugly school shoes

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.

Our Smurfs album...ahhh the simple days when three kids could be made happy by one cassette tape!!

Our Smurfs album…ahhh the simple days when three kids could be made happy by one cassette tape!!

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”….

People carrying mattresses: Photo by reuters

People carrying mattresses: Photo by reuters

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.

Our little pajarito. This bird is being cared for by Hna. Lupita while it learns to fly...

Our little pajarito. This bird is being cared for by Hna. Lupita while it learns to fly…

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.

Community prayer

Community prayer

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.

Hna Luz Cienega, staying positive

Hna Luz Cienega, staying positive

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.

Palm Sunday at the local parish San Francisco Xavier

Palm Sunday at the local parish San Francisco Xavier

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.

Palm Sunday procession

Palm Sunday procession

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.

Senator Harradine, photo by Hobart Mercury

Senator Harradine, photo by Hobart Mercury

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.

My companera in the office of Redes, Stefania Mureddu, with a little buddy

My companera in the office of Redes, Stefania Mureddu, with a little buddy

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”.




  1. As I read your blog on this Holy Thursday, my thoughts and prayers are with you during this Easter and always. I have never been in an Earthquake and so I don’t know how scary it is. I pray that you will be safe my darling friend and all that you are with. I heard the news the other day of Brian’s passing and my thoughts are with Cushla and her family.
    I have given up looking at Facebook for Lent so it have missed all the news from what my friends were doing and what has been happening.
    Happy Easter to you all

  2. Darling Beth,
    I have been trying to keep track of the news from SA, hoping that there has been some respite from the tremors. I can’t begin to imagine how scary it is to have so much uncertainty at the moment, but know that we’re all praying. The pictures you have been posting up are just gorgeous – I love the one of the little girl with super curly hair hugging your colleague… Oh to have an afro!! I hope you’re ok, don’t forget you’re not alone – we’re thinking of you constantly. I hope you have a wonderful Easter beb. Much love x

    • hahahaha. It was a surprise to me too…but the little one with curly hair is in fact a little boy 🙂
      Happy easter bebe!!! I’ll miss you all, especially around Vigil and Stations of the Cross time. xxxx

  3. Great to hear your ok Beth, it sounds pretty traumatic not knowing when or how long the aftershocks will last. I love your writing it really feels like I am getting a sense of the place. All the best, Hope you remain well and I look forward to your next post.

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