Because of the aftershock at 4:26 am yesterday morning, the whole team decided to create our own version of a tent city atop the heavy concrete roof last night. The rain clouds hovered with the helicopters early in the evening and we prayed that they wouldn't be an issue during the night.
They weren't the issue.
The sound of the crisscrossing helicopters had long died down. The dogs were silent and the people had settled for the evening, many in the tent city just a block down from us. I stared up through my mosquito net into a crystal-clear sky dotted with stars. All was good. I fell asleep.
Just before 1:30 am, the weight of the house shook below us, back and forth, back and forth in quick motion. I yelled out, "to the center, to the center," repeating the instructions that John, one of our disaster relief experts, had told us a few hours before to head to the middle of the roof in case of an earthquake. John had also told us that we should have our shoes up there in preparation of the worst-case scenario. After all, who'd want to walk over the rubble bare footed. As I listened to John, I have to admit that I was thinking that none of it was a possibility. We'd experienced an aftershock just 15 hours before. What were the chances of another one?
The aftershock the morning before was a swift vibration, accompanied by the deep-bass rumble of the earth around us. Atop the roof however, last night's aftershock was a rapid full sway, complimented by the squeaking and creaking of the building. I asked the team for analogies, but people simply couldn't put it into words. Being sifted in the pan of a gold miner. Swaying on top of a Jello mold. Riding in the rickety seats of an old school bus over a bumpy road. None can adequately describe the feeling of tons of building moving below you. You only have to take one glance at our concrete monstrosity of a building to understand the power of even a mild aftershock (last night's quiver also rated a 4.7 magnitude.) On Jan 12th, the people of Haiti experienced a power one-thousand-times worse.
After the shake last night, the silence was filled with the sound of hundreds of dogs around the city – a chorus of barking and yelping. From the rooftop it felt like the scene in Lady and the Tramp where the hounds relayed that one of their own was in need of saving.
We stood as a group near the center of the roof when the second aftershock of the night came. The building again wobbled below us, but this time through the souls of our feet. With our heights vertical, not horizontal, the sensation was totally different. The instability shot straight up our spines. One team member described it as a feeling of "total helplessness," and was prepared for the roof to give way below his feet.
The dogs were joined by a mass of people in the tent city yelling out to God. One man in particular was praying with such volume and fervency that his voice was heard above all others. It was the closest thing I've heard to the wailing in the Psalms – an all-out pleading to God . . . followed by worship. An impromptu church service erupted around 1:40 am, with the singing of hymns interspersed by the intercession of a frightened and damaged – but faithful – people.
They were prepared to go before God, with their questions and their worship. They went to their Center.
With raw nerve ends and thankful hearts, we reflected on the experience and went back to sleep.
Some of us with our shoes on.
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Abandoned-Orphaned is the personal blog of Paul Myhill, President of World Orphans. Subscribe to the blog in the upper right-hand corner of the home page. Paul can be found on Facebook and on Twitter @paulmyhill.
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