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01869 338890

Haiti Earthquake - A Personal Story

Iman Amrani is a few months into her voluntary work placement teaching in a school in Bombita, which lies on the north coast of the Dominican Republic and about 150 miles from the Haitian capital Port au Prince.  On 12th January 2010 she stayed late at school to use the computers to write a letter to a friend when the earthquake that devastated parts of Haiti began.  This is her story.

Immy with pupils at her school in Bombita"I was just finishing my letter to Sally on the computers in the school. Exactly where I am sitting as I type right now as it happens.  I had been feeling a little funny in the day so when I felt a little shaky I thought I was just having another dizzy spell until I noticed that all the computers were trembling and my keys were rattling on the table.  Hmm, I thought to myself, I think this might be an earthquake. It´s funny to think that that was actually the logical answer to what was happening, but it was true.

I got up just to check and sure enough the ground underneath me was unstable and I started trying to piece together those bits of information you hear on Newsround and Blue Peter or in geography lessons as a kid that tell you what to do in an earthquake.  Was it stand in a doorframe or get under the table?  I´m sure I had heard something about going to an open space.  I could tell you what I was meant to do in the event of a fire because I've had it drilled into me - leave all your stuff behind, don't run, go to the assembly point etc., etc.  But this was irrelevant I was alone in school so there was only me to make and answer a roll call!

I went outside as I decided open space was my best option and I remember wondering if the earth was supposed to split open or something.  It was really bizarre.  If you have ever been on the earthquake simulator in the Natural History Museum you can probably imagine a little what it feels like to be on something wobbly, but it's very different when all you can see id fields of sugarcane and the mountains beyond and everything is wobbling.  Your natural reaction is to look for somewhere stable but when you realise there isn't anywhere, you feel a bit lost.  It was like when you go to the cinema and there's a Tyrannosaurus Rex or a massive explosion and the surround speakers make your ribs echo.

I looked up and clocked that the sketchy looking electricity wires in the school were going a bit mental and I didn't really fancy hanging around to see what would happen if they split  Neither did but I fancy walking under any of the coconut trees because I have developed a bit of a phobia of death-by-coconut at the best of times.  I couldn't see anybody but I could hear women shouting "Gloria a Dios!" which made things feel quite apocalyptic to be honest.  Anyway, not fancying my chances much with the dodgy electrics or the killer coconuts I ran across to the shelter outside the front of our house and was comforted to see La Doctora standing outside her house clinging to the fence. We caught each others' eyes and laughed as the tremors died down.

"GLORIA A DIOS!" The village was going crazy seconds after the tremors stopped and I passed Verona (a fellow volunteer) on the way out of her house as I headed to mine.  Sinead Another volunteer) turned up moments later holding some eggs (which were surprisingly intact) with Roghelia, a girl from the village.  I was pretty grateful not to be by myself anymore because I'm not crazy about the idea of experiencing the end of the world on my own.  The girls told me how everyone in the village was clinging to the walls and getting a bit freaked out.  The electricity is temperamental at the best of times and an earthquake is as good an excuse as any for it to go so I made myself a chocolate milkshake and got myself ready to go to the Campanera in the village where there was a visiting pastor preaching.

With the electricity gone and the clouds obscuring what little moon there was the village was incredibly dark but I found Barreto and we headed to the spot outside a house in the village where a light bulb had been rigged up using an inverter and the singing had begun.  Everyone was out as usual but obviously there was something in the air as word was spreading that there had been an earthquake in Haiti and practically the entire settlement of Bombita is made up of Haitian descendants.

Everyone was singing and dancing and although it was incredibly dark I could make out individuals - the kids from school crawling around everyone's feet, the men in the village rocking back and forth with their bibles in their hands, the women with their towels and pillowcases that they use to cover their hair in church, the teenagers with their hair braided with beads and the women nursing the multitude of babies that keep me smiling for hours on end in the village. Even the non-Christians were out and about seeing what's going down because there isn't really such a thing as a non-Christian in the Dominican Republic, there are just practising and non-practising.

I´ve gained a reputation in the village for liking babies so when I got there one of the two month old twins was pressed into my arms.  I rocked him gently to the rhythm of the singing to help him to settle down. It was funny how the movement made him calm almost immediately.  It made me think about how I actually kind of liked the feeling of being in an earthquake in a way.  It's not quite like being on a Powerplate in the gym or feeling your phone vibrate in your pocket, but it makes you notice the earth which you're standing on and in a weird was it makes you feel kind of safe.  A bit like my little baby was feeling being rocked to the sound of his village singing. That said, I experienced the earthquake from a point where my life wasn't in immediate danger and I certainly don't mean to sound insensitive to the victims in Haiti.

I was pretty exhausted and went home quite soon after the preaching finished.  There was still no electricity so I hadn't seen any of the news (not that Dominicans in my village really watch the news when there is electricity) and it was pitch black.  Norky, the six year old whoImmy with Norky (alias Sugarcane) lives near my house and brings me sugarcane, grabbed my hand and escorted me home with Eligio while Sinead updated me on the news of the massive earthquake in Haiti.

We had a gas lamp between us and she was still talking, so I got my pyjamas on and climbed under my mosquito net.  I was exhausted and was soon asleep but woke up as my bed was shaking and I could see the dark room vibrating through the transparency of my net.  It was pretty eerie as there was just a little gas lamp in the room and this was a tremor that I could feel more than I could see. I literally felt like I might be going mad.  Was it just an earthquake in my head!  I was reassured in the morning when Rosalba told me that there was indeed an aftershock and I didn't just imagine it.  

I still haven't seen the news but I hear things are pretty awful in Haiti. Had the quake been any stronger here I don't think the houses could have withstood the force so I dread to think what it is like over there.

Iman's placement in the Dominican Republic was arranged with Project Trust