Friday, May 11, 2012

Earthquake "Shakes" Us Up

Dilijan State College where I teach English as a Peace Corps volunteer TEFL

Remnants of damage in Dilijan following earthquake centered in Spitake, Armenia   in 1988
     On May 7 we had a scare in Armenia.  It came as an earthquake which was centered in Ajerbaijan with a Richter scale reading of 5.6 and included the spread of tremors into our country.  It was strong enough to awaken some volunteers, and there were 2 after-shocks later that evening.   I was already at my college at 8:40 am and did not feel any tremors, but our school deputy director did, then saw that everyone who was in the building came outside for a period of time.  My friends and colleagues at the college were visibly concerned. In towns where the tremors were stronger, schools were closed for the day.  David did not feel anything as he walked to work.  Several teachers at my college and our fellow volunteer, Kellianne, said they definitely felt movement in their homes nearby while preparing for work.      All of this is a bit disconcerting, yet we all knew that Armenia was at risk of earthquakes when we agreed to come here almost one year ago.  Where in the world is there NOT some type of potential for natural disaster, whether it is earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, droughts, etc.  Of course, to experience any type of disaster far from home would be difficult, but no more so than for the people who live in Armenia, particularly the ones who lived through the horrible earthquake of 1988.  
    May 7, 2012, must serve as a reminder that one needs to be prepared. The Peace Corps goes to great lengths to assure safety and security for its staff and volunteers, no matter what country. We have practice drills to consolidate in previously designated groups in case of emergencies or threats of various types.   We are instructed to have our GO BAGS filled with essentials and ready for quick exit should a disaster arise.  We have a code system so that all Peace Corps volunteers and staff know what to do----stand fast, consolidate, evacuate, etc., if sent a text message with a  specific code.  The safety and security officers in every country are routinely in touch with that country’s Embassy and other safety and law enforcement officials so that news is current and emergencies are dealt with in a timely way.    In fact, the Peace Corps staff in Armenia has safety and security drills along with the U. S. Embassy in Armenia and we as volunteers had a mock consolidation last week.   Due to David and my experience in Niger, Africa we know what an evacuation entails and hope to NOT have to participate in that type of happening again.  We have heard recently that some of the Peace Corps volunteers from Niger who were evacuated with us have now been evacuated from their new countries thus going through more than one such emotionally exhausting , abrupt departure from Peace Corps service.
      So what was gained from today’s earthquake?  Personally, an increased awareness and recognition of where we are and the fact that a disaster could actually occur comes to mind.  I will now keep my purse, passport, cash, shoes,  and our Go Bag in better availability and state of preparation in case of the need to hastily vacate our location. David will do similarly. We will critically look at our living space to see if changes need to be made in placement of furniture, for safety’s sake.  And, the experience of actual tremors being felt in our town  makes me appreciate the tedious routine of consolidation drills and other safety and security requirements of Peace Corps because we really might need this training in the future .No one knows, but preparation is prudent.                                                        
           As I walked home from school, I passed several clumps of purple irises just now beginning to bloom. These lovely flowers remind me of Tennessee and they grow without care here, amongst dilapidated, Soviet Union era buildings, and in gardens long abandoned by owners.  The iris is a herald of spring both in Armenia and in the U. S. They brighten the day and inspire thankfulness for their beauty and for the day which began with a potential disaster yet progressed to one of calm and introspection.    May this type of day continue and may we all be grateful for it.   Judy
Example of houses in Dilijan. Can you imagine what a strong earthquake might do to these buildings?
Purple Iris in Armenia......remind me of Tennessee and provide a bright splash of springtime hope.

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