Life after a hurricane
A school is not a school without children, teachers, nor a roof. A house is certainly no home without a loving family living within.
This week, I had the eerie and humbling experience of exploring one of the thousands of communities affected by Hurricane Mitch; a tiny village in the mountains of northern Nicaragua, close to the Honduran border, called La Grecia.
Out of 47 houses which existed before the natural disaster, Carla, a local volunteer tells us, only seven survived. That said, these now lie empty having been brandished unsafe to live in by the authorities.
The walls of the school stand bare, with only trees close by for company. An old community well, lies 20 yards away, covered in moss, barely recognisable. A tractor, rests alone in a plot of land, swallowed up by the greenery which covers so much of the horizon. A gate stands in solitude, leading to a field which once featured a house. If it weren’t for our young guide explaining things, we’d have no doubt missed these symbols of devastation without a second glance.
As we venture inside la escuela, an eerie silence lies where the sound of children playing should be. The natural sounds of wildlife take over the sound of chalk on a blackboard… All that remains of the community’s educational establishment is the five walls, and several poles lined up along the front, which would have supported the roof once upon a time. A volunteer whispers that this must be what Chernobyl feels like. I agree. As everyone walks on, I hold back; It feels wrong to stick our heads in and move on. I don’t pray, but I certainly think about the community, about all those affected. If there is a spiritual world out there, if anyone was listening to my thoughts, they’d have hopefully received some warmth.
Next on our walk is one of the abandoned homes. The garden is stunning. A majestic tree stands tall at the front gate; the highest around. The back garden sheltered by a network of tree branches; if I had only seen a photo of the back garden’s natural canopy I’d have thought it was manmade – it’s an art piece. I could happily live here, I think to myself… Just a shame about the house.
In this part of the country, it was the torrential tropical rains which caused most damage. Like with most settlements, La Grecia is situated close to a river. In hindsight, a little too close. The authorities have done what they can to reduce similar destruction in the future – the entire boundary of the village has shifted away from the river by about 100 feet – allowing for new flood plains. This includes what was once the entrance into the village. Now, the main rite of passage is through Parcilla, the purpose built neighbouring village where I currently reside. The only problem is they must cross the river to reach Parcilla (and then, to leave Parcilla during rainfall, one must pass through another river – bridges aren’t included)
The government ensured each family had a plot of land, a cow and some chickens. The rest was up to them. No welfare, no cash injections. The guys go into the forests to collect wood for fires, for furniture, for fencing. The ladies tend to remain at home to look after the family; they cook, they clean and, when given the chance, they open up their hearts. Some of the men go away to work for long periods of time. (The 22 year old I’m living with goes to Costa Rica every August to gather crops until October) Some of the women have local jobs like teaching, or open up their living rooms as shops to sell food and essential items.
I fear I’m growing a little too fond of this community, of these people. In their eyes, I sometimes see the faces of my loved ones. Their mannerisms remind me of friends. Despite their spirits generally being high, as I see their homes, and hear their stories I can’t help but wonder how the world can be so cruel…