This has been quite the exciting week in Nicaragua, more specifically living close to a beach and a tsunami zone. On Wednesday morning, a 7.9 earthquake struck northern Costa Rica and promptly sent tsunami warnings off all up and down the coasts of Central America. For safety reasons, I won’t be posting on this blog exactly where in Nicaragua I live, but I will say that I am in a tsunami evacuation zone, work in communities that would be absolutely wrecked if a tsunami was to come to shore, and interact with students, teachers and business owners who face this reality every day. I had a planning session yesterday morning with one my professors who works with students in the local beach town that I also teach in, and after planning our lesson for point of equilibrium, we spent a while discussing the issues and reality that is living in an underdeveloped earthquake zone. Which has left me thinking…
Having grown up in Seattle, I consider myself fairly familiar with earthquakes. My family will be the first to tell you that I slept through them as a small child, crawling back to bed during the middle of one after my mom had moved me to the door jamb. When I was in middle school, I rode out a rather strong earthquake in a portable that was held up by cinder blocks. Let’s just say, the ground looks like waves during an earthquake and being in a portable during one feels a bit like dry land surfing. My dad and I even nerd out together over seismic activity – you bet your bottom dollar that I call him when I feel an earthquake so that he can get online and fill me in on all the seismic details. And yes, he’s awesome enough to have multiple websites bookmarked for this purpose.
But being here, in Nicaragua, during earthquakes and tsunami sirens, fielding emergency phone calls and texts from the PC office, and thinking about prepping for what is a very likely possibility of a large quake happening while I am down here, has shed some new light on this. Nicaragua has a long history of earthquakes. They have, for the past century, had an earthquake every 40 years: 1932, 1972… and yep, that’s right. This year marks the 40 year mark. Mom, don’t panic.
We are heading into our third day of strong seismic activity in the area and while part of me thinks it would be pretty cool to be here to experience a big quake (imagine the stories: “This one time, when I was in the Peace Corps…” Oh wait, I already have a ton of those..), another, much larger, part of me fears for the safety and well-being of my communities and Nicaragua as a whole if something was to happen. The infrastructure of this country, largely, is not suited to withstand a large earthquake, or natural disaster of any kind. After the 1972 earthquake that flattened much of Managua, the city didn’t rebuild up, but out. You can visit different sites in Managua where the cracks made during that earthquake still stand, the building long since deserted. Instead of rebuilding a traditional city with tall buildings, Nicaraguans chose to build out, which means you are hard pressed to find any building in Nicaragua that is over 6 stories tall, with only two or three exceptions where wealthy families have funded the construction of earthquake-ready buildings. And even these only stand at about 10 stories tall.
If you were to come with me to any of my communities, you would quickly see how devastating a natural disaster would be. The houses, shacks, sheds, that people call home here would not stand up to an earthquake. Emergency services are not readily available in many parts of the country, including mine, aside from basic health centers (there is one ambulance in my region and it is only for trauma transports to Managua). Financial losses, for my fishing community, for my farming families, for anybody who lost houses, businesses, and/or capital would be harsh and take a long time to regain. I could sit here and type all day about emergency preparedness, developmental economics, emergency preparedness, etc., but the most important thing in all of this? The people. With a pattern of repeating itself every 40 years, the emotional scars left from the last quake are still visible in this country and I cannot imagine the hurt it would be to see that come again. I have the benefit of an emergency evacuation plan through the PC should something happen – my friends, host family, and communities here do not.
And though the title I stuck up on the top of this post has me thinking a lot about the possible analogies I could draw between earthquakes and the state of my life as it currently sits, I will simply leave it at this: that the people I see every day here are my community, and as rough and sticky as it can be, I care deeply for them. That their health, safety, economic and emotional well-being is tied to my own in all sorts of visible and invisible ways. That although we will probably never fully understand or experience things in the same way, we are community. And while I have all the faith in the world of the Nicaraguan spirit of creativeness, community and perseverance, especially in the face of disaster, I truly hope that it is not necessary.
I think this is the point where you realize that you are not on an extended trip; that this place is becoming your new home, even as temporary as 2 years may be and as slowly as the process is happening.