A Personal Earthquake Story:
Before and after Bohol
Earthquake, 15 October 2013
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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.
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.
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
The event was certainly a good chance to meet old and new
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
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
and the Cultural Center Wall
-Baclayon, October 21
Going for a swim,
while it can
-is the reclaimed land
Fatima Lasay -Baclayon, October 21
tebatt dot net>