How does it feel to be away from your country when something terrible happens?
Like every morning I woke up early, went into the kitchen and put the kettle on. While I waited for my coffee to brew my phone started to go nuts vibrating while it received all the messages that came through the night. That would be normal if the phone would stop after a few seconds, however the phone vibrated for a while, I picked it up and saw tons of messages that filled my WhatsApp and Messenger apps. Something is wrong, I thought. I immediately scrolled down and found the one of my family:
We haven´t found her yet, but we are ok.
I hadn't taken the first sip of coffee and anxiety, hysteria and my pressure had risen. I checked all the messages as I realised what had happened. In September of last year, a series of tremors and earthquakes hit Mexico, my home country.
I turned on my laptop and opened Facebook; my whole timeline was going crazy with videos of buildings, walls and lamps swinging; photos of destroyed houses, streets full of dust and people full of fear. My friends and acquaintances in Mexico City were sharing the situation in real time of streets and houses, calling the community to help here and there.
Twelve days before another earthquake had shaken Chiapas, and on September 19th, the 7.12 earthquake hit not only Mexico City but also Morelos and Puebla. To give you some more context, I was born in Mexico City, but I grew up in Morelos and studied for years in Puebla, so the images and videos shared on social media were of streets and buildings that I have seen and known throughout my life. The previous earthquake in Chiapas and Oaxaca had left a lot of people in ruined houses and inaccessible roads, and so did the second one in the centre of the country.
The first thing I did was to make sure that my family and friends were indeed well; It was my cousin whom we couldn't contact until much later; terrified but safe. Then I began to realize the magnitude of the event.
How does it feel to be so far from your country when these things happen? Have you ever experienced it?
I felt a terrible anxiety, adrenaline generated in inexplicable ways because of the very absence of the event, because from afar, the feeling of not having been there was distressing. I felt fear of missing out, but not because I wasn’t a victim like my friends and family, but because I wasn’t there to help. I wasn’t being part of the cohesion and the community in that time of need.
While my parents were thankful that I was not in the city and grateful for my safety, I felt terror for not having been there, for not having been able to put on a helmet and boots and not rest for days, as I would have done if I was back in Mexico. I felt completely impotent.
The next couple of days went by, and for me, the major event had me all anxious and stuck on a loop of anguish, I felt misunderstood and that my current setting was completely oblivious to what was happening back home. I would look for earthquake updates in the Australian news but the event did not appeared more than twice. Even if my colleagues were sympathising with me I couldn´t express the dread and stress that being away from it all was causing me. My feelings alternated between anger and guilt because I wasn't there. Have you ever gone through something like this?
Never in my life had I been so active in social media; Facebook became the tool with which stories, messages, and relevant information was shared to help alleviate the damage. Facebook gained my admiration because -for the first time in my life- people were actively using it for a common good: solidarity.
Internationally, Mexico is recognized as a solidary country. Once in New Orleans a saxophonist thanked us for helping out as a country when Hurricane Katrina devastated that beautiful city; he told us that Mexico raised New Orleans from the dust. It is not gratuitous that Ethiopia has been named a square in honour of Mexico, as a reminder of our opposition to the Italian invasion before the Second World War. Mexico was also the only country that protested in the League of Nations against the Hitlerite annexation of Austria to Germany, and one of the few countries who helped save Jews, German and Spaniards fugitives from Nazism.
In 1985, an earthquake that left Mexico City in tatters marked the memory of all citizens. My parents have told me many stories about the '85 earthquake; they tell me how solidarity was amazing, how the majestic city rose from the shreds.
Last year, Mexico once again impressed the world with that same solidarity. Nobody went on with their lives until they tried to make everyone keep their own. Young people who have been criticized many times for the liabilities of the millennial behaviour demonstrated that we have inherited solidarity, we demonstrated that with our millennial tools we could help. We made solidarity a #TrendingTopic and we live streamed it through the mainstream media: it was beautiful.
Imagine your house like this.
But not only that; as well as many around the world, my friends and I in Australia tried our best to organise some help. We raised funds that were sent to Mexico; we made sure of sharing useful and relevant information for those who wanted to help; We started to investigate and maintain active profiles with current information. We allowed ourselves some drinks to lower the anxiety every night and we started again every morning trying to help while our relatives and friends removed the debris and took food and provisions to the collection centres. I guess we wanted to lift a bit of the burden of missing out by trying to put on the helmet in other ways and from afar.
The Mexican community in Melbourne funraising event. Thank you all <3
My friends, including my cousin, told me how fear had become such a latent feeling that they had to change their lives; how the prospect of losing everything had changed their priorities. How all things material had become superfluous. It really makes you aware of your priorities.
When I returned to Mexico in December that year, the effects of the earthquake were still visible. Houses that had been evacuated, caution stripes hanged on several streets, new bumps, new potholes and new cracks. The earthquake changed Mexico again, removed debris and structures, it let out solidarity. And we, who live far from our country, were also shaken. I learned that also in me, from a distance, the earthquake left new bumps, new potholes and new cracks.
My town Cementery entrance after the earthquake, and then again in December.