After last week’s devastating earthquake, ordinary Mexicans, not the government, rose up to mend the country’s wounds
When a tragedy such as this takes place, collective adrenaline kicks in. In a country that knows better than wait for authorities to take charge, the initial panic quickly turns into an overwhelming sense of collective unity and strength.
What I saw was not only utter destruction and desperation, but hundreds of thousands of people springing into action in an almost unexplainable unity.
Builders, office workers, students and shops clerks ran to the collapsed buildings to sift through the rubble in a desperate search for survivors. They did it with the tools that poured in as donations, or with their bare hands. Human chains of people passing buckets of rubble would become a common sight across the city.
In other parts, people began cooking; others set up collection centers for donations. Improvised volunteer-run shelters sprang up like flowers; cyclists became food distributors, taxis were free.
Three days after an earthquake changed our lives, anybody walking through the destroyed and cordoned-off streets of Mexico City’s most affected neighborhoods would have been hard-pressed not to encounter several collection centers per block, strangers offering each other food and fresh water, scores of men and women armed with helmets and shovels everywhere.
The formerly chaotic donation center had turned into an impressively organized operation. Each area clearly marked according to the type of donation. - water, meals, food supplies, blankets, tents, medicines, and toys. Lines of volunteers loading cars, bikes and trucks with whatever they were told was needed in other parts of the city and across the country.
Most of them, including myself, had never done this before. Most had never been in a humanitarian disaster - let alone seen their city collapse around them - they were too young to remember the1985 earthquake which left at least 10,000 dead, ironically exactly 32 years to the day from this new disaster.
I looked around the various centers I had helped in and thought to myself that, perhaps, this is what democracy and community are all about.
This week, Mexico surprised me. Its people inspired me to my very core. Their stories and their compassion are an example to the world.
There was the old woman who had travelled from a town 60 kilometers away to make sandwiches for the rescuers because she could not “sit by the TV and watch all the destruction happening again without her doing anything about it”. The 12-year-old boy loading boxes that were clearly too heavy for him onto a truck destined for remote communities,; the architect who became an expert in organizing bottles of water; the therapist who had come up with a way to help heroic rescue dogs relax as they battled through seemingly endless days and cold nights.
The rescue workers, the doctors and nurses, the drivers, the victims forgetting about their own suffering and joining efforts to help others.
But there was one scene that particularly stayed with me - a disturbing one.
In every donation center, groups of people gathered around tables or on the floor, frantically scribbling down with big indelible ink markers on every single bottle of water or bag of food that had been donated the words “help” or solidarity messages.
“We do this so the government doesn’t steal things. So that they don’t take credit or political advantage,” people told me time and again.
The fact that Mexican people do not trust their politicians is hardly surprising.
That a government would use this tragedy for political advantage is repugnant.
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