Juan was screaming and yelling. The fire chief tried to console her. “Send helicopters in there, send helicopters in there. My whole family is trapped in there” she yelled. The fire chief ushered her to safety. She needed to be evacuated. Mothers were crying, children were crying, men were out there trying to see if there was an iota of hope left. The air was stricken with grief, torment and it was like hell. The earth was angry. The earth had unleashed her fury to the residents of this little village of Escuintla.
There was no serious prior indication. The geologists picked up the waves and signals a little late and by the time warning was issued, disaster had already struck. There was no time to pack out of the community. That was the thing about nature, it could be so unpredictable and could deal such a foul blow sometimes.
The Volcano of Fire VoF hadn’t erupted in tens of years. It seemed like all this while, she was brewing the molten lava. Suddenly it burst forth. The earth could not contain her anymore, the hot liquid found its way to the surface of the earth, travelling up to forty miles away and about 5000 metres above sea level. The villages worst hit were Los Lotes and El Rodeo. People were melted alive, being covered in hot fluid alive. What a drastic way to die. People scampered for safety. Emergency services arrived. Not very much could be done because of poor visibility and the volcanic ash in the air. Planes could not land, copters could not fly. It was bad. Really bad.
There was a need to get the few people out of the village. Juan wouldn’t want to go. Her three children were in the inferno. Her husband was inside that hot liquid. Her mother and father were missing and her relatives had all disappeared. In a moment of the earth unleashing her fury, there has been a huge divide between her life filled with people, to sadness, emotion laden, sorrow, grief, uncertainty, fear and loneliness. This was what nature’s unleashing its terror did to the quiet village of Escuintla in Guatemala.
Juan had spent her whole life dreaming of when she will be eventually free and such a proud mother. Years of toiling and nursing her family seemed to dissolve right before her eyes. The nights she spent at the hospital with her daughter when she had to go through the medical procedure to correct the deformity in her bones. The times she spent in the United states for further surgeries and how she nurtured her daughter back to life again. She started school hobbling, being the centre of tease, and finally after all the surgeries, she began to stabilize, began to walk, began to run, ended up sprinting for her school and then graduated from primary school to high school in flying colours. Maria proceeded to high school and became a flyer, in both academics and sporting events. She was the cynosure of all eyes. Juan’s husband Esplendido worked in the sugar fields from morning till night six days a week to provide succour for the family.
Maria graduated amongst the best top ten in her high school and left for the States to study medicine. She was on a scholarship. She was like the light of the family. Considering how she was born deformed and all the medical journey the family had to go through to get her to walk, it was a miracle that, she did not only excel in academics but sports.
It was normal for her to visit her parents and siblings during her holidays. She loved spending time with her mum and siblings. Her physical presence always generated a lot of warmth and hope, not just to her immediate family but to those from the community. Her story was alive. Her presence generated hope to hopeless people because of her turn around in life. And then the cruel hands of disaster snatched her away. Juan could not take it. Where was Esplendido, he was missing. Juan’s aged parents could not make it out. They were frail and that’s why they had moved in to stay with the Esplendido’s so that they could be supported. When the few people saw the inferno rolling over, that hot liquid cascading down, they took off. Again nature played a trick on the physically challenged and it was so difficult to leave your loved ones behind. It was either you scampered for safety or you stayed back and got roasted with them.
In the pandemonium that broke out, people ran helter skelter. No one really took notice of who was with who. The key word was survival. The key word was flee. The key word was safety. It was until one reached a relative place of safety that family members were sought after and head count taken. That was when the reality dawned on folks that, the much dreaded thought of “were they trapped started playing on people’s minds?”
You would not want to in the slightest imagination think that your family has been melted by that dreary liquid or suffocated in the heat that accompanied the liquid. That death was too severe and harsh to contemplate, yet in the starkest reality, that was probably the scenario. Charred bodies and unidentifiable bodies. Of what use will a DNA testing do? Give the charred body a funeral? Be settled that, there is no hope or possibility that he or she could have been alive? Dread dread dread!!!
Babies crying, the stench of grief in the air, the emergency services overwhelmed with balancing professional work and stabilizing emotionally those who made it out. It was tough! This has been the most violent eruption in more than a century. It waited till Maria had entered her final year in medical school. It waited till it was the season for Maria to come visiting, before it unleashed its fury. What a cruelty! Juan did not lose hope. The very hopeless situation in Maria’s life that was transformed into a life of expectations made Juan hopeful. It reminded Juan of Maria’s favourite book – Great Expectations by Charles Dickens. Maria survived a hopeless childhood and turned out to be amongst the best. Juan held hope, Juan encouraged herself that, Maria somehow will be safe and those around her will be safe too. She represented that hope. She was that symbol of transcending the barriers of hopelessness. “Maria is fine, she has been a survivor. She will survive this. I will see her again and all those with her will make it”- Juan consoled herself as she got nudged into the truck.
Uwem Mbot Umana©2018