13th July, 2010
Five months after the earthquake and tsunamis, tremors ranging from 3 to 6, almost, 7, on the Richter scale keep frayed nerves on edge. While the NGOs, the militaries and the locals themselves are still clearing up the rubble, some have already started to rebuild from scratch, while others look on, like the living dead, unaware even that they are depressed. And others have simply left the area, fearing to come back to the devastation.
Since the colossal, mastodontic earthquake that raged like a thousand maddened wild animals unleashed beneath our feet, that 27th February, 2010, the Chileans are divided into two types. The empathic and the thieves, the altruistic and those who only take, the apathetic and the go-getters, the defeatists and those who will never let themselves get beaten.
For the depressed who made it to the doctor’s, there are psychotropics and anti-depressants from the chemist to keep down the anxiety level. The few who are aware of alternative medicines may be lucky enough to find a specialist in Bach’s flowers, Reiki or yoga. There is a six year old boy from Talcahuano who related how “the sea was full of pretty lights from cars”. His parents had drowned because of the tsunami. A couple from Constitución went to live 100 km away and have the Reiki specialist visit them in their home, as they are too afraid and shell-shocked to go back to where they lost everything. Although the “brain drain” resulting from the earthquake has left few specialist heads in the hardest hit areas such as Dichato and Constitución. The thinking heads have fled to the larger towns and cities. Even so, in the aftermath, the majority stay put, getting down to building a new future. We all want to eat, sleep warm, buy, sell, build, hope and have some time for fun. A new arrival in the neighbourhood is food for hope. He or she could be from the electric company, as the municipal lighting is still prone to blackouts at the slightest hint of a tremor. A newcomer could be from an NGO, from the government’s reconstruction programme, but the most unlikely reason would be to come to set up a business. Things that the local bank manager’s dreams are made on. Dreams that fell through a crack in the ground five months ago. Meanwhile, the builders are building, the fishermen are catching as their hands are swollen by the cold and the effort to carry on.
Day to day life in Constitución, the most severely damaged coastal town, used to tourists flocking in to enjoy its beaches, good seafood and the charm of buildings dating back to colonial times, involves remember to slam on the brakes just before that bridge, half way down the main street and at any of dozens of unexpected, inconvenient places that are guaranteed to shatter the car axle. The council’s list of priorities is too long to know where to start. An injection of cultural life too would alleviate the greyness, but pulling down what is left of the cracked theatre house, in itself would entail a major cost running into the millions, nothing when compared with what a new building would cost. So, like many other buildings throughout the Maule and Bío-bío regions in central and central-south Chile, it looks like a matter of waiting for the final death blow to come from an earth tremor, from a violent storm like the ones that suddenly hurl themselves in from the Pacific, or from their own decrepitude to finally take its toll. Other buildings in this lamentable state include bars, restaurants, houses and churches, excepting those of the Mormons which, for some reason, have been left intact, their phallic spires still erect as they point heavenward. “Solid American construction”, muse the locals, with an undertone of annoyance or envy.
So it’s goodbye to adobe-built constructions, as a new Chile may lie on the distant horizon, economy-willing. No more restaurants right on the beach, like the one that was lapped up by the tsunami at La Trinchera Sur. There it stands, a carcass, held up by thick, solid cypress trunks, only that now, nobody would dare to eat there even if it were rebuilt. But even so, there is so much beauty and splendour all around.