What and how much has happened in six months?
Six months is the time that have passed since the first big earthquake hit the Southwest region of my homeland.
Since a month ago, earthquake-related deaths such as those from complications of existing conditions and suicide due to prolonged stress have out-numbered deaths caused directly by the earthquakes, and the total toll has exceeded one hundred. With the additional stress now from the eruption of a mountain in the area most affected (it has since subdued, but we are still not sure if it has come to a complete rest), and further damage to agricultural lands and tourism, two of their biggest sources of income, many of my people in the affected regions are faced with a tough decision to make – to stay and rebuild, or leave and start anew.
I watched a documentary tonight on one such groups of people and their six months since the earthquakes. They live in a very tight-knit district of a village with just twenty-six families, with the majority of its land located over faults. After the quakes, just about all houses collapsed and were made unlivable, and long and wide cracks were found everywhere in their fields, hills, roads, and waterways. They were isolated from their neighbouring districts, and rescue workers were unable to reach them for days.
But they remained tight-knit and every single resident of this district survived. Ten were trapped under collapsed houses, but because everyone knew the layouts of houses of one another, it was not difficult to pull them out of the rubbles once they got over the fear of further collapse from aftershocks. They also worked together to build emergency roads and utility lines all by themselves, and shared foods and water – and smiles – through all hardships. It was quite obvious that they sought comfort and stability through unity.
However, as focus began to shift from rescue to recovery, so did the discussion topics of district meetings from staying alive to sustaining a living. Without livable houses and fields capable of growing crops, and the risk and fear of similar damages when the underlying faults become active once again, 80% of the residents are showing interest in leaving their land to move to a safer place.
The head of the district was shocked to see this result, and worried that the tight-knit group would become undone and deeply divided. All the residents have now moved into temporary homes away from their land, and he is the only one remaining. Every season, the district holds a public service day on which all households come together to work toward a common goal, but he was unsure if everyone would come back…
Well, they all returned in the summer to clean up the cemetery to welcome back their ancestors during Ghost Festival, and they all returned just the other day this autumn to mow the grasses left to grow wild.
Maybe the earthquakes have unearthed a great divide in the grounds.
And maybe that has led to divided opinions in the residents about the future of their land.
But maybe so long as there is someone remaining to welcome back the others whenever they come home, they will stay undivided.
Maybe so long as they have common goals to work toward, their hearts cannot be divided.
I am hopeful that, whatever conclusion each household comes to, the residents of this district will stay tight-knit and continue to share smiles as they overcome hardships hand in hand with one another. They are a good model of how the establishment of unity and stability in ordinary day-to-day life can save and support lives at extraordinary times, and it would be a shame to see them divide because the grounds they live upon has.
There are still so much that are unclear and undecided when we look ahead to the future in the affected regions. Yet I am always surprised by the resilience and optimism they retain – it must be due to all the love and support we continue to receive from all over the world. Thank you so very much, and I hope you will continue to keep us, and the people of Ecuador who must be going through similar hardships, in your thoughts and prayers.
A last note: My deepest condolences to my neighbouring Asian country for the loss of their King – he will be greatly missed as a unifying figure and a source of stability. I put my hands together to mourn with you.