A Personal Earthquake Story:

Baclayon Church
Before and after Bohol Earthquake, 15 October 2013
Images of Baclayon Church before and after
        earthquake, 15 October 2013

Tuesday, 15 October 2013:

Early Morning Shock:

It started off like any other morning. I'd been thinking about working on my "Think Tank" project on the web -after a friend had told me about a broken link. The relevant page, under the title "Why things go Wrong" had not yet been written. The outline suggested such things as" Idealism and Corruption; Perversion and Addiction; Internal Paradox. Now I shall perhaps need to add "Natural Disasters and Human Foolishness".

Before starting work, and even breakfast, I was getting a bit of exercise by wandering around the garden inspecting the plants and the general state of nature as manifest there.

Suddenly, I felt queasy: My knees a little wobbly and my eyes a little difficult to focus. Before I could react, I heard Terri, a neighbour who was helping us in the garden, suddenly shout "Earthquake!" and run off. Not having much experience in these matters, I thought it a good idea to follow her. The only worrying thing was the sight of a falling coconut, somewhere in the direction we were running towards.

However, just outside our gate was an open area where other neighbours were gathering. In the meantime, my wife, who apparently has better instincts than I, had joined us in the open field. It seems that Terri, had previously thought, for a moment, that Fatima was going crazy inside the house. I guess, going crazy is perhaps more normal here than earthquakes.

A Trip to the Hills:

After a short while, we all returned to our houses.

At our house, a few things had been scattered on the floor -indeed as if some heavily frustrated person had run amok inside. However, nothing serious that couldn't be sorted out quickly and easily. There was no water and no electricity -but this is fairly normal here -so nothing to worry about. Terri had gone home to check on her family -but Penny, our household help, had arrived. Her house was undamaged -and her husband was out investigating the situation.

Then Penny's husband arrived to tell us that perhaps we should go higher up the hill behind the house -as there were fears of a Tsunami. At that point, nobody had any idea what was happening. Our cell phone (in contrast to almost everybody else's) had no signal. A situation which is still true by Friday lunchtime,

So, we quickly locked up, and headed for the hills. Just up the road, behind our house, is a large open field where most people had gathered. After a while the local police arrived to say that there was no Tsunami danger.

At that point, we decided to follow Penny further up the hill, where she has some family and friends living. In this area, most houses are made of wood, so there was no damage -except in one concrete house, where bits of a wall had fallen down.

By this time some terrifying local reports were coming in: The Church tower (a famous local tourist attraction) had fallen down, a man had been killed by a dead coconut tree falling on him while he was feeding the pigs -and a whole house (including jeepney) had fallen into a cave under the house.

After a while, there seemed little point in remaining, so we came home for lunch.

A Fragile Afternoon:

On arrival home, we noticed a few things that we'd missed before. The fridge and some cabinets had been for a short walk, a window shutter was out of joint -and the fish pond had lost some water. However nothing serious. Our house is built on stilts about 5 foot high, and is made of wood, bamboo and palm fronds -so sometimes it shakes when the cat jumps from a windowsill. The occasional tremor is not unusual -although earthquakes were rare here. Only twice in our three year stay has there been any noticeable seismic activity -and then it was over almost before one became aware of it. The difference this time was that the shaking had gone on for, what seemed like, several minutes: Time enough to realize what was happening and run away.

Nearly all our neighbours had stayed away from their houses. I was getting bored (with no electricity or signal, I couldn't go on-line) and so had started working in the garden.

It was quite a surprise when an enterprising neighbour who sells local delicacies for afternoon snacks turned up -as usual, with some snacks.

Life was returning to normal....

.... Until the aftershocks started.

Although these were often short and fairly mild, they were still a reminder that maybe the earth hadn't finished with us yet......

Various Communication Systems:

After lunch, we sent Penny home to look after her own house. Terry had disappeared for the rest of the day.

In the later afternoon, Fatima and I decided to go down to the municipal center, to check things out -and perhaps go for a swim. We were still hoping to contact family and friends -but with no electricity, there was little hope of going on-line. Fatima did manage to find somebody with a friend who had a mobile phone using a different company -and was able to send a message to her sister -but we could only hope that there would be contact between her and my family.

The situation at the church was truly amazing, Small groups of people staring at the police protected remains of the locally famous tower.

The view from the harbour wall even more impressive -because one could also see that the facade had fallen down too. Some local people are saying it is the fault of the priests who have turned the church into a business.

Despite the false Tsunami threat, it was good to have a swim again. For various reasons, including a bit of a cold I'd had recently, it had been quite a while.

Afterwards, we went to the market, which seemed to be functioning normally -and were pleased to see an old friend working in his shop. Because of problems with the after effects of an eye operation he hadn't been working for some time. While we were talking to him, there was a pretty heavy aftershock. At that time (3 or 4 in the afternoon) nobody really seemed to know what was going on -so aftershocks were still quite scary. 

Camping Out:

With no electricity or water -and with no real idea of the cause (or even location) of the Bohol earthquake it seemed sensible to take precautions against more shocks. Many local people were either still in the hills, or camping outside their houses.

We decided to sleep on the balcony -because the house walls and the balcony railings should provide a safe area. The house itself (with the exception of a few large beams) is fairly light -but we are surrounded by coconut trees. So do not feel completely safe. In fact, we have today (Friday 18 October) arranged to have three trees cut down on Sunday.

Anyhow, Tuesday evening, there seemed little choice other than to have a simple cold meal and go to bed early -sleeping on a mattress on the balcony.

Despite being woken up a few times by aftershocks, we slept without further incident.

Not a bad day, considering the images apparently being transmitted by the global news media around the world, scaring those that were not here to see how insignificant the experiences of most people really were. If one takes away the fear of the unknown in the face of enormous natural forces -then there really is almost nothing left to tell.

Certainly, we can feel happy that we live in a rural area -where the threat of falling buildings is low, Also, perhaps an area where the forces of nature are more directly experienced -and so they seem less alien when confronted by them.

Back to Normal:

Life is gradually returning to normal (on Friday) -although the concept of "normality" is clearly relative.

Electricity seems to be functioning fine -but the water supply is still weak and irregular (as it often is). We are fairly used to lighting up candles -and keeping reserves of water. The really big difference is the lack of signal for mobile phone and internet -so we are cast back to the dark days before the internet.

In the meantime, I've been working in the garden -and on the computer (documenting the experience of the last few days).

Perhaps the media frenzy has worried my family and many of my friends. The reality of our experience bears no resemblance to the tales we have heard told of the images on TV.

The lack of reassuring contact is perhaps upsetting -but part of our life here is about learning to accept the limitations of the local environment and how to live agreeably within those limits. Patience is a virtue -and many things must always remain unknown. Indeed, perhaps it is pleasant to be cut off from the frenzy whipped up by professional storytellers who zip around the globe doing nothing but search for exciting -and often spine chilling tales to amuse, titillate and capture the audience for commercial exploitation. Maybe a life off-line is more relaxing -and maybe without a constant stream of other peoples' thoughts -the general public would once a gain learn to think for itself.  No wonder the idea of freedom from media and mental conditioning is propagated as being an absurdly realistic pipe-dream.

In the meantime, the cacophony of radio and karaoke is increasingly shattering the peace and signalling a return to "normal" life.... Although, it does seem that the environment is a little more peaceful than before.

Fiesta Time!

Luckily, the earthquake happened on Tuesday -and we had done our shopping in Tagbilaren on Monday, as usual. The idea of being caught in a shopping mall, or even in a city, during an earthquake is horrifying. However, Fatima was hoping this week to experiment with sausage making -just as I was intending to work on my website. With no electricity, working with the computer was obviously impossible -but Fatima's plans were also disrupted because the lack of electricity meant that the she was unable to get the meat grinder sharpened at the weekly market on Wednesday -because the grinder couldn't run his machine without power.

In preparation for the sausage making, Fatima had bought minced meat (both Beef and Pork) as well as chunks of meat which needed to be ground up. Without a meat grinder and without a fridge, the meat was liable to be wasted -so Fatima asked Penny to cook "Humba" -which is a popular way of cooking used at Fiesta time -because it allows the cooked meat to be kept for several days afterwards, if not eaten during the feast itself. The minced meat also needed to be processed quickly into sausages -and perhaps eaten fairly soon.

The vegetable garden isn't fully functional yet -but it is starting to produce various beans and a few other green vegetables. We don't have many bananas at present -but we do have plenty of coconuts. If, for safety reasons,  we cut down a few trees this weekend, then we'll have plenty of young coconuts both juice and meat (which is delicious in a pie). If things got really bad, then there is a pig and a goat, plus a few chickens here.  I guess that if external food supplies were cut off, then we could last out a while -although drinking water could prove difficult.

Lucky, the climate was also on our side. The weather was good -although I was a bit worried at first (before we were able to shelter in people's homes) by the thought of excessive exposure to the sun -especially without water.  In fact, it seems the water supply in the hills is better than ours at home.

Normally we eat on the balcony -so sleeping out is no great hardship -and is even enjoyable. It would be different if there was a foot of snow on the ground.

Personal Experience:

This is my personal story. However, everybody experiences things differently (even if experiencing the same event). Our memories and our emotions are selective. My wife is less scared of snakes than earthquakes, while I'd rather face a few shakes than a few snakes...... On the other hand, I'm sure that for both of us, the relative severity of a frightening experience could encourage us to reconsider our preferences.

The news media are highly selective -they are out there looking for a juicy story -in order to titillate and captivate the public. It is therefore sad that the collective experience (our common culture) is so firmly shaped by the global media corporations. Even our own personal thoughts and memories are no longer truly our own in a fully mediated world.

Perhaps, by western standards, life here is primitive and lacking in many essential comforts -but perhaps, by tropical standards, life in the west is unbearably burdened down with unnecessary complications......

The event was certainly a good chance to meet old and new friends.

Saturday October 19 2013:

Around 9.30 AM a weak mobile phone signal returned. The internet connection was initially too slow for anything except a quick message to worried friends and family to assure them of our safety after several days of silence.

So I've been working in the garden again -as well as updating my Garden Diary off-line.

In the early evening I was able to download incoming email messages from the server -and perhaps reply to a few. By 10 PM the system was fast enough to think about looking at the news -to see what we have apparently survived.

The modern world is returning......

I guess the moral of it all is: If the system doesn't normally work well -then one doesn't miss it too much when it doesn't work normally.....

Sacred and Profane
Baclayon Church and the Cultural Center Wall
Images of damage to church and Cultural Center wall
        , Baclayon
Photo: Fatima Lasay -Baclayon, October 21

Going for a swim, while it can
-is the reclaimed land reclaiming itself?
Swimming in the
          sea -with damaged stage behind
Photo: Fatima Lasay -Baclayon, October 21

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Trevor Batten
 <trevor at tebatt dot net>
 Baclayon 2013