Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Busiest post-earthquake day yet

In which Leigh does the following while wearing a sequined fanny pack

I haven't written many day-in-review posts on this blog, probably because readers would be bored stiff by how routine the majority of my days are. ("She got up, took the Metro to work and spent the day daydreaming about peanut butter again? I'd rather be checking my Facebook.") However, 8.8 earthquakes tend to leave routines in shambles, so this one might actually be interesting.

Wednesday was, up until that point, the busiest day I'd had since the earthquake. Shortly after I woke up, the owners of my house came over to tell me that there was structural damage to one of the walls in my bedroom (the one right next to my bed, as it turns out) and that I would have to move myself and all my things into another room as quickly as possible. When you look at the wall, it's not that surprising:

Since strong aftershocks are still common and probably will be for quite a while longer, I knew it was in my best interest to get as far away from that wall as possible. One of the owners of the house helped me set up temporary camp in another room. I was very lucky to only have to move down the hallway. A friend of mine had moved into a new pension the day before the earthquake, only to be told a few days later that structural damage had rendered his room uninhabitable. We spent yesterday hauling all his things into another house. Infinitely worse off, of course, are the thousands of people who lost their homes and have nowhere to go.

Once the move was complete, I headed back to the FECh to volunteer. This time, we were sent to collect supplies outside a supermarket in Maipu, an area none of the four people in my group was particularly familiar with. We arrived to find the supermarket closed. Refusing to resign ourselves to defeat, we hopped on a bus and backtracked to another supermarket we'd seen on the way; there was already another group there collecting donations. Another bus ride later, we'd arrived at a third supermarket, this one located in a strip mall. The supervisor at the supermarket told us we would have to get authorization from the mall administrator, whose office, due to the fact that most of the building's entrances were closed because of the earthquake, was a serpentine 10-minute walk away.

So we walked. When we arrived at the administrator's third-floor office, we were told to wait. So we waited. We waited for a long time. While we were waiting, a strong aftershock made the entire building rattle; just as we were all about to head for the stairs, it stopped. And we waited some more.

Finally, the administrator appeared. I hadn't even finished introducing the group when he interrupted me and said, "You're not going to get authorization." He proceeded to explain that the mall planned to launch a campaign a few days later to benefit the Cruz Roja and that until then, he wanted people to "forget." When I tried to explain that we didn't even want to go inside the mall -- just collect donations outside the supermarket -- he interrupted again and repeated that we were not going to get authorization.

I gave him my iciest glare as we walked out of the office. I was so angry that I was tempted to rip my volunteer credential off my shirt, scribble "Forget what?" on the back and tape it to the office door. It had my full name and identification number on it, though, so I chickened out.

"Forget what? That half of the country is in shambles?" one of my groupmates demanded once we were outside.

We were all disgusted, both by the disrespectful manner in which we'd been dismissed and by what we felt to have been the administrator's less-than-altruistic motivations. Don't get me wrong. I think it's great that his mall wants to work with the Cruz Roja. But on Wednesday, they weren't doing it yet. Meanwhile, FECh volunteers were loading donations into trucks and taking them directly to affected areas. Instead of allowing people to assist in that effort by donating a packet of pasta or a bar of soap on their way out of the supermarket, however, the administrator wanted them not to donate anything until they could do so in the name of the mall -- which, coincidentally, would bring them to the mall on a weekend.

Who knows. Maybe he reasoned that people would donate more if they had the entire day to shop and had been motivated by the nationwide telethon, which Chilean TV personality Don Francisco was scheduled to host on Friday and Saturday. Maybe the administrator really was trying to act in the best interest of those in need. Still, the word "forget" left a sour taste in my mouth, one that I still haven't been able to brush entirely away.

By then, it was obvious that the Great Supermarket Odyssey had come to an end. Two of my groupmates headed home, while another volunteer and I went back to the FECh headquarters to see what needed to be done.

A lot, as it turned out. I started out organizing boxes and then became part of an "assembly line" that passed along bottles of water and boxes of rice, pasta, flour and other necessities. Finally, I was given the task of boxing up toys and school supplies. Seeing the entire compound full of donations and teeming with volunteers was extremely heartening after such a frustrating day; people hadn't forgotten.


Anonymous said...

I'm interested in volunteering if there are still places to volunteer after Tuesday (when I arrive). Maybe I could ask you some questions?

Oh...I got a new blog.

Leigh said...

Glad you're interested in volunteering! I think the FECh is still organizing volunteer activities; I don't know what's going on with Un Techo Para Chile, but it's worth a try. I've found that Twitter and Facebook are good sources of information about the latest opportunities.

I'll check out your new blog!