About me and this blog

I was born on a native reserve in Ontario, grew up on the west coast of Vancouver Island (as far west as you can go without running out of Canada), came of age in Mexico City. Between times, I lived in the Fraser Valley, Texas, Seattle, Oklahoma, Bella Coola, on the BC north coast, and the Fraser River Delta, just south of Vancouver. For now, I'm "settled" in Campbell River, on Vancouver Island.

I have a boatload of stories to tell. These are some of them.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Pocketful of Posies: Day 9

Day 9: Managua

(Day 1, here)

We discussed strategy in the morning, over stale rolls and instant coffee. Once we distributed our remaining food, we would have finished the task we had set out to do. We could go home.

But it seemed silly to make such an effort to get to Managua, and then just turn around and leave. There must be something useful we could do! While Raquel and I tidied away the breakfast things, the guys went to the hospital administration area for pointers, and came back with an address and a map of the city.

Gustavo Parejon, the leader of the Baptist relief effort, lived in a modern, airy house on the outskirts of Managua, well away from the devastated area. Sitting in his living room, sipping real coffee, I surreptitiously inspected the walls and ceiling for cracks. They looked solid. The tiled floor was smooth; no missing grout, no buckled areas.

Parejon must have noticed my scrutiny. "There's nothing to worry about," he said. "This house is properly built. Brickwork and rebar. It's earthquake-proof."

The problem in the centre of Managua, he explained, was that people insisted on building in the old way, with adobe and lath. Foolish, they were; this was the second time that the city had been leveled by a major quake. They should have known better. But no: he had already heard plans for rebuilding -- on the same site.

He and other Christian leaders were setting up an agency for recovery and change, Parejon said. CEPAD, they were calling it: The Evangelical Committee for Help and Development. They would work to channel funds to stimulate sensible re-construction, and to make bricks and mortar available even to the poor.*
CEPAD would be an interdenominational effort; he hoped all the Christian churches would get involved. "This will be a great testimony to the nation. After the miraculous events of the past week, people are more open to the gospel than ever before."

What miraculous events, we asked?

"You haven't heard?"

"Just what's on the radio."

"Ah, but the radio is owned by Catholics, they won't tell you this."

The earthquake struck late on the night of the 23rd, Parejon told us. It was the height of the pre-Christmas party season, and as usual, it was an occasion for sinning, instead of for remembering the birth of the Saviour. In the centre of the city, party-goers thronged the ballrooms and nightclubs, dancing and drinking. The hotels were full.

"And then," Parejon said, "without warning, they were swept into eternity. 70,000 people found themselves facing God, and they weren't ready."

The Christians, he said, were spared. Most of them were in their homes when the quake came, away from the dangerous centre of town. They scattered, fleeing to safer areas, and were initially counted as lost. But in the week since, the church leaders had been inquiring after their flocks, and almost all of them had been accounted for. Not one single death of an Evangelical church member had been confirmed. Even when the buildings around them collapsed, they escaped.

Parejon had heard of one man, a Christian on a business trip, who was sleeping in his hotel room when the roof caved in over his head. He woke up in the dark, and reached for the lamp on his night stand. There was no lamp, or night stand, either. A block of cement had flattened them. The man himself was untouched.

"The Bible says, 'A thousand shall fall at thy side, and ten thousand at thy right hand; but it shall not come near thee,'" George quoted. "God takes care of His own!**

Carlos brought us back to the reason for our visit. What could Parejon tell us about relief work, he asked. We had a certain amount of food to distribute; did CEPAD have an outlet for it?

"No, we are not set up for that; our concern is with the rebuilding."

The interview was over. Parejon put his empty coffee cup on the end table and rose to his feet. "I'm sure you'll find something. God will lead you."

"Oh, one thing I should tell you," he added. "Don't take your food to the government authorities; they will just keep it for themselves. The Americans sent down a large shipment of food and tents and other supplies. Somoza3 gave it all to his friends, rich people who live in strong houses in the hills. You ought to drive around the area; you'll see.***

"If you want anything to get to the victims of the quake, you'll have to give it to them personally."

We drove back down into the ruined city. Partway, Carlos stopped the car and went back to delve into his duffel bag once more. He brought out a pair of signs, which he propped in the back windows; red crosses on a white background. "Just to keep the soldiers from stopping us," he said.

"But that's a Red Cross sign!" said George.

"Not quite; the proportions aren't the same."

"We'll get in trouble if they ask us for identification!"

"They won't. They never bother Red Cross workers. Besides, we're not saying we're Red Cross, are we?"

We went on. We parked in an area where most of the houses were still standing, and filled shopping bags with foodstuffs. Carlos gave us a handful of tracts each, to be given with the food. "Don't forget to tell people what we've just heard," he said. "God has given them a warning, and another chance."

I walked down a side street littered with shards of roofing tiles until I found a doorway standing open. A woman was sweeping the courtyard with a twig broom; a couple of ragged children stared at me another ran to hide behind her mother. I smiled at them. "Hello."

"Come in," the woman said.

There had been two rooms bordering on the courtyard, now there was one and a pile of rubble. A torn cloth, maybe an old sheet, was propped up on sticks to make a roof over a cot and a table. As I came across the courtyard, a man rose from the cot and came to meet me.

"What do you want?" he asked. His tone was polite, but cautious.

"I brought some food. To give you. If you want it. Oranges for the girls."

"Yes. Please." The caution was gone; the man and his wife were smiling broadly now. She came forward, and I filled her hands with oranges. I piled boiled eggs, three days old now, onto the table. A plastic bag full of powdered dry milk. Another one of oatmeal.

"Do you have a can opener?" I asked.

"A knife."

"That'll do." I put a couple of cans of Spam on the table.

The husband walked with me to the street door, thanking me over and over. Behind me, the children clustered around their mother and the oranges. She was peeling the first one; I could smell the sharp tang of it over the dust.

The tracts! I was supposed to hand out a tract. I turned back to the man at the door. "I have something else for you; some literature about God." I dug one out of the bag and gave it to him. "Read this. God protected you and your family last week. Now He wants you to know about Him."

He was looking at the tract dubiously. Large red letters on the front said, "Four Things God Wants You to Know." I wondered if anyone would read it. Then the man smiled again. "Thank you for the food," he said.

Much later, when I got back to the car with my empty bag, Raquel, George and Paco were waiting. Carlos had loaded up his backpack and gone out again. George was worried, remembering the curfew. It was almost 5 o'clock. Raquel thought maybe we would be safe with the Red Cross sign, even after dark; George was sharp with her, accusing her of being as foolish as Carlos. We were all relieved when Carlos finally came out of an alley way; George honked for him to hurry, and had the car in gear even before the door closed.

Once we were away from the stench and rubble of the city, George relaxed. It turned out that we had plenty of time, after all. He turned off the road to the Baptist hospital, and drove around the better residential district, as Parejon had suggested.

It was cooler up on the hills. Quieter. There were no cries of vultures. No bumping and creaking of car springs; the streets were well paved and undamaged. Behind high stone walls draped with greenery, we could hear music and laughter. In one house, where the wall was lower than usual, a large canvas tent stood in the garden. These were Somoza's friends, then.

At 6 o'clock, George headed back to the main road. Before we entered the hospital grounds, Carlos crawled back and took down our Red Cross signs.

*CEPAD was still in operation at the time of this writing, in 2001. Parejon was the President.
**Of the 70,000 reported missing, 90% were eventually found alive. Present estimates give between 7 and 10,000 dead.
***General Anastasio Somoza, President of Nicaragua

To be continued ...

Stories of Mexico: Non-fiction
©Susannah Anderson, 2001

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