FIRST QUAKE

It was after the 15-minute morning calisthenics that Ibu S strode to the make-shift podium to address the students and her colleagues. In the spirit of Ramadan and compassion, Global Prestasi National Plus School was going to do its share helping the victims and help ease their suffering, and Ibu S, who’s in charge of community service, was appealing to the students and co-teachers for help.

She could only guess at what her colleague was saying and the thoughts running through the minds of grade seven to nine who stood silent. She had picked up a smattering of Bahasa Indonesia since her landing in Besaki more than a month ago, but they were only good for asking help in photo copying readings and exercises for classes, ordering a drink, greeting everyone and bidding people goodbye.

Standing near the Principal she turned her. “She’s talking to them about what happened last Wednesday and that we’re starting a charity drive for the victims. They need blankets. Most of them are living in tents now,” she translated for her into English. 

Principal L continued: “Kabupaten Tasik Malaya was badly affected; that’s where the mother-in-law of Pak N lives. Her house collapsed and she’s staying in a tent at the moment. He’s going there this afternoon so we’re going to send whatever we can put together through him. The teachers are also passing the hat for monetary donations, too. The government has sent teams, but they’re not enough so we’re pitching in to help. It gets cold at night and some of the children are already sick. There are not enough blankets and medicine.”

Ibu S was done with her appeal and let the students head back to their classrooms.

Permisi Ibu, what time will you collect the money? I left my wallet at home so I need to rush home. Is there a minimum amount?” she asked, as they waited for the staircase to clear of the multitude of students.

“I’ll be in school the whole day and there’s no minimum amount. It’s up to you,” she said.

This was the second time she had experienced the angry rumblings of Mother Earth. The first time was in the Philippines when the Department of English at the university in Diliman, swayed like bamboos in the wind. She was in her father’s office when the ground moved from underneath their feet.

“We have to get out of here!” exclaimed Professor B, a visiting American professor who burst into her father’s office, his wide eyes ablaze with controlled panic and terror. They followed him out, jogging the length of the corridor to join the growing exodus towards the exit. Outside, near the parking lot of the college, she stayed close to her father, as her thoughts wandered to her mother at the office and her sister attending classes in the nearby university.

Almost 15 or so years later, she felt the ramblings of Mother Earth again that early afternoon on Wednesday. Finished with her classes that day, she was at her apartment fixing herself a late lunch of couscous, vegetables and tofu when she dipped to her right side. Her hunger must have been really great was the thought that crossed her mind. Dipping to her left, she was seized with her panic, thinking an onslaught of vertigo was coming until her gaze landed on her laundry. Her laundered clothes were certainly never diagnosed with vertigo. It was an earthquake – her first quake in Bekasi, her second quake in her lifetime.

Recalling Professor B’s action, she rushed outside, thinking a crowd would have gathered outside. But all was quiet with only one person walking calmly to her car. Was she imagining things?

After passing Ibu S her little donation and piqued by curiosity at the extent of the damage of the quake, she approached Ibu Y for the name of the places affected later in the day. She wanted to search the Net for news as news in English on TV was hard to come by in her apartment. The cable connection was pending installation and her meager knowledge of Bahasa Indonesia could never decipher the broadcasts of the goings-on in Bekasi, Jakarta and the neighboring towns.

“Jakarta is divided into numerous towns,” explained Ibu Y, scribbling the names on a piece of paper. “In a city is one huge kota nuda, or town, and in a town is a kabupaten, or smaller town. “ Kabupaten Tasik Malaya was affected. A kabupaten is further subdivided into a kecamatan, or district, which is divided further into kelurahan or villages. Pak N’s mother-in-law lives in one of the villages called Tobong Jawa that’s within kecamatan Karang Nunggal. It’s about eight hours by bus from Bekasi.”

She thanked Ibu Y and made her way home. Pak N still had a long journey ahead of him. She couldn’t even attempt to fathom what he’s feeling more so with his mother-in-law who was bereft of a domicile.

Lost in her thoughts, she hardly heard his greetings. “Thank you Ibu,” said Pak N to her, shaking her hand.

Sama-sama Pak. My prayers are with you,” was all she could say in return.

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