By Linda Abrol, Netherlands
I am not strong, not so fit and not so courageous
Suddenly I found myself in Adana, Turkey, a two-hour drive from the epicentre of the recent earthquakes, where with a small team and the Serbian ACT Compassion van, we bought necessities in the morning and brought them the same day to families that we picked very selectively in the afflicted areas. They were in dire need of food, toiletries, blankets, stoves, thermal underwear, warm sweaters, socks, etc.
How did I end up here? What happened? Something moved me to sign up for disaster relief during the earthquake in Turkey. Why? I am not brave. I shiver just from the word earthquake, and the slight shaking in Limburg many years ago upset me for a year. During that year, I was disproportionately shocked when I heard a sudden sound, as if the base of my physical safety was gone.
I’m not strong either due to osteoarthritis and a broken shoulder tendon. So, apart from the light stuff, I can’t help lift and hand out the supplies. I told Selma that the only thing I could offer was to be available and willing. Selma suggested that I do the filming. That would be nice for her because she had her hands full herself. And the footage was desperately needed to raise funds.
During the layover in Izmir, I met a friendly blonde woman, Sibel. She lived in Adana and had just taken her infant son by plane to a safer city. When I asked her how safe it was in Adana, she told me that the shocks were intense there, too. The buildings collapsed, and 500 people died. Among them was her friend. I started to console her, and she shrugged timidly. I asked how she felt now in Adana. She told me that she and her family no longer feel safe and want to move. I completely understood. I hid the shock I got at that moment. So far, I was under the assumption that our hotel was situated in a safe area. It wasn’t! I jumpstarted my two-step remedy against all fear: step 1, breath in and breath out. Step 2, Repeat step 1!
The first working day
After yesterday’s exhausting trip and my arrival at the Yellow Mansion Hotel in Adana, our ACT 4 Turkey crisis team of four people was complete: Mircea from Serbia, Selma from the UK, Melanie from Canada and me from the Netherlands.
Micea drove the ACT Foundation van with Melanie as a co-driver, and I drove my rental car of the “no idea” brand. I didn’t even bother to look at what brand it was. It wasn’t long before I started calling Selma ‘boss’. She had already gained a lot of experience in Ukraine and knew the ins and outs of the actions to be taken. Be it buying food boxes, finding heaters, toiletries and thermal clothing or finding families in need, etc. Her telephone was her office.
The first thing she did in a new country was find contacts and make friends. She always succeeded. Mustafa and Juzuf, two cousins from Arsuz, were so helpful to drive with us that day and not only acted as interpreters but directed us to the homes and tents of families who needed our help the most, as well. Mircea was great at efficiently loading and unloading the van, and Melanie supported him. Apart from compassionately listening to the victims, hugging them and connecting, I supported Selma as her driver and cameraman, made sure she ate and took care of filming, photography and writing.
Selma edited the material till the early morning hours, hardly sleeping. She posted her powerful and beautiful videos daily, and I shared them immediately with my friends and followers on Social Media. By sending her compositions and my stories to Dutch Social Media, I could contribute a bit to the fundraising. Wherever I could be useful made me extremely happy.
Shiva’s blessings on Mahashivaratri
During Mahashivaratri, I thought: for me, Mohanji is Shiva. For me, this is another Kailash Yatra. When we went for dinner at Mustafa and Juzuf’s family home after a long day of work – their house still standing but every wall showing cracks – Michea parked the van in front of the house. Unconsciously watching his manoeuvre, I noticed an egg-shaped plaster dome just behind the van. It resembled an enormous Shivalingam. In front of it was Mohanji’s face, pictured on the back of the van. Behind it, a snowy mountain landscape basking in the final evening light.
At this point, I was one hundred per cent sure that this was another Kailash Yatra. On Mahashivaratri eve! A greater blessing didn’t seem possible. Mohanji was with us. That much was clear. We enjoyed the hospitality of this dear family, and I marvelled at how cheerful, open and welcoming people can still be when the world around them has literally collapsed.
The second working day: an enervating day
In the middle of the night, I started doubting. Mohanji, is it smart if I join you today? It will be such a long day. I am not so fit. I am still recovering from my illness in India which was only a little more than two weeks ago. It might not be effective for the team. I want to add value. I certainly don’t want to be a nuisance. Mohanji, what do you want me to do? Fortunately, my inner Mohanji replied quickly. He said, ‘Linda, I am simply protecting you all the time.’
He doesn’t want me to do anything! I have to make my own choices. We don’t do anything for him. He is complete in himself. He is simply giving us opportunities to develop ourselves. Wherever I choose to do work from my heart, he will protect me. The emphasis here was on the words’ all the time. It made me really feel protected. He knew we were not safe, but he made sure we escaped all serious trouble. I will tell you about that later. For now, I knew I could simply start off with the team and surrender to the protection of Mohanji.
In the car, on the way to our destination, Mustafa, the Turkish volunteer of our team, tells us that last night after we had dinner with his family, another slight earthquake woke him up in the night. It was only 3 on the Richter scale. And nothing serious compared to the earthquake two days back in his town, where so many houses collapsed. So he literally did not lie awake for long. We were happy, we were not there.
Deep loss, fear and pain
We were on our way to Antakya. The area hardest hit. Before we went into the city, we visited some families just outside the city centre. What brought me to tears was a father with an adorable six-year-old daughter. She was radiantly cuddling with the new doll she had received from us. She looked at me with her big, innocent eyes. From her father’s gestures, I gathered that they were upstairs when their house collapsed.
He told me in a few simple words, with deep sadness in his eyes, that her eight-year-old sister had not made it out alive from under the rubble. I expressed my condolences for his great loss. I couldn’t stop tears from rolling down my eyes. We saw some cows in a barn. The owner told Selma that the first thing he did after the earthquake was run to check if his cows were ok. He had found two cows dead under a collapsed wall. The rest of the cows were safe. That also made quite an impression because animals are such innocent and helpless creatures.
A woman showed me that her hand was wounded by falling rubble. I softly took her hand and felt like kissing her wounds as we do with our children. Another woman took us upstairs to her house to show how much of the house was destroyed. I felt shaky, walking up the stairs. Seeing the broken walls, the enormous mess of glass and tomato paste amidst pieces of furniture and damaged walls was surreal, and seeing the devastation in the woman’s eyes made me feel like hugging her, which I did. There was literally nothing which was undamaged. Windows were not needed to see the blue sky outside. One could simply look through the holes and cracks in the wall.
Dozens of people and children were made happy this day with the stoves, drink bottles and toys, blankets, ground insulation material for tents, gloves, socks, leggings, sweaters and the food that we gave them. My ‘job’ of showing compassion, filming, photographing and driving was very fulfilling. I comforted, hugged, filmed, listened or read sign language.
The dangers along the way didn’t lie either. In the afternoon, in the mountains, our fully loaded car slid backwards down a gravel slope instead of going up. And we almost reversed into a ditch before I managed to change course. The bus got stuck on the same slope and also had to slide back down and find a new route. Moments later, I drove behind the bus and saw it narrowly avoid another deep ditch on the street narrowed by debris.
A horror city
After dark, we drove through the city centre of Antakya, now a ghost town. Not even a ghost town. This was much worse. This was a city of horror, a city of dust and debris. No building was safe, and nearly all of them were not standing upright. Knowing that hundreds of people were still buried under the rubble was like watching a bad movie. Knowing that the official search had ceased was like a nightmare. The focus was only on clearing the debris. Imagine someone is still alive and waiting to be saved, we thought. Horror scenarios passed through our minds. We saw furniture being removed from tall buildings with huge cranes.
Ambulances, police and firefighters with or without sirens were a normal sight on the roads. Tents were everywhere. The military was in action. Semi-trailers with tiny houses (a kind of container with doors and windows) were now being purchased and used by some instead of tents. Our Mustafa, the Turkish young man who was helping us with his cousin to locate the right families to take our goods to, told us in the car after our long day’s work that he had an App-group with his friends and many of his friends, his nieces included, lived in the worst affected area.
Every so often after the earthquakes, they started getting messages from friends on the same App-group who were under the rubble but still alive. So was his niece. She survived for three days but was not rescued. Neither did most of his friends except one, a boy who was freed from his apartment by his own father. His father counted the floors, and on the right floor, he smashed the wall and freed his son.
We heard first-hand stories, and that made an impact. We cannot distance ourselves anymore, like with the news on the television, that we shift off from once the food is on the table. After lots of hugs and expressions of thanks by us for the full efforts of the boys, we drove the two-hour trek back to Adana at midnight. How did I keep that up when I can’t drive to Amsterdam in the dark yet? That must have been fuelled by a secret power. I had an inkling which one….
We arrived late but safely back at the hotel but not without the help of providence, that is for sure. Even after seeing so much of the most severe misery, the sense of belonging, love, cooperation and friendship was what lingered.
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|| JAI BRAHMARISHI MOHANJI ||
Edited & Published by – Testimonials Team, 16th March 2023
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