REFLECTIONS ON THE LOS ANGELES EARTHQUAKE

By Vundula

Ka boom! My small dinner table quivered spilling its contents. I stood silent. A cold shiver rushed through my spine. The bang scared the wits out of me. And while I fumbled for my daughter’s telephone number…boom…a repeat of lesser magnitude but all the same adding to the scare.

Yes, I was scared; but not of the earthquake. The thought of an earthquake didn’t cross my mind. I know earthquakes occur. I experienced my first earthquake in Los Angeles way back in 1973. And I have since read about or seen on TV scenes of earthquakes. But on this particular evening, of May 18, 2009 all this was at the furthest distance in my memory. It was not, therefore, part of the ammunition I needed to fight the boom, boom. What immediately came to my mind was a BOMB set off by some malevolent individuals, an ATTACK by gangs. That’s why I was looking for my daughter’s telephone number. I was convinced my building was under siege.

A senior citizen, I live alone in a Los Angeles neighborhood. The first time I have lived alone. The neighborhood is clean, uncluttered, and has all signs of being safe but… a few months before the earthquake struck, a man was shot in broad day light at a liquor store across the street from my apartment. Fortunately the bullet went through the man’s biceps, no bones broken, and he was rushed to a local hospital…alive! A few weeks later, another man was stopped in front of my ground floor apartment on the main boulevard, pulled out of his car and beaten up as the carload of his children watched helplessly. My daughter, who had come to visit me, dialed 911 but by the time the police came the assailants had melted into the neighborhood.

This is Los Angeles and the acts of violence like the ones quoted above occur almost on a daily basis. Earthquakes don’t. So, when I heard the boom-boom, my reaction was, "they have struck, again."

When my daughter arrived I was still crouched in the corner of my apartment beside my disheveled dinner table.

"What’s the matter?" my daughter demanded to know as she entered my apartment.

"Well, you must have heard the bang," I said as I stretched up. "You live just next door. Now it’s our building being attacked."

"What attack?" my daughter said and smiled at me.

"Attack by people who control the streets, especially after sun down."

"Nah, it’s an earthquake that happened more than one mile from here."

I was relieved but not convinced. To calm my raving nerves, I took out some cold coca cola and we drank while my daughter gave more details about the earthquake: it occurred about two kilometers from our neighborhood, the magnitude of the first hit was 4.7 but the second one was mild and there was little damage reported.

That was consoling. But when you live alone in a neighborhood "without neighbors", and one said to be high on crime, any strange noise spells danger planned and executed by human beings.

To understand my reaction, you have to appreciate my mindset. Back home in the country of my birth such sounds as those I heard on that evening are rare and are not associated with danger. In early November when clouds ramble, it’s a sign the African Monsoon rains are about to come. The atmosphere is pregnant with sweet smelling moisture predicting a good rainy season and ultimately good crop yield. Children compete to be first to be soaked by the first rains and dance to the tune, Vula sasa malenje, meaning, "Rain, soak us with your showers." Everybody is at the furthest pole from imagining any danger, instead such sounds are eagerly awaited.

"The earthquake came and is gone," my daughter kept reminding me. "That was the work of nature and not a product of any human mind."

We drank some more cold cokes and my heart beat resumed its normal pace.

Next time I hear a similar boom noise I will remember it’s the work of nature.