Proof of resilience

Published: 1 June 2016 6:54 CET

Friday, 6:30 am in Pedernales.  It’s a public holiday.  Most would predict that this day would be a quiet one in this town, still in recovery after being devastated by the earthquake of April 16.  On Friday, Pedernales is anything but quiet, however.   Walking through the city streets produces a strange feeling.  Despite the early hour, the streets are abuzz with activity.

Amidst the remains of what were once buildings, you can see different vendors selling fruit, meat, poultry, household goods, clothing and anything else you can imagine.  They are setting up shop under awnings to protect themselves from the scorching sun of the Ecuadorian shores.  Further down the boardwalk, waterfront fish kiosks and beach chair rentals are already preparing to welcome vacationers.  The people of Pedernales are confident that "despite what has happened, vacationers will come to enjoy the sea because it’s a holiday”.

On the streets, the trucks that are carrying the remaining debris keep marching through the city. Power shovels and other machinery finish demolishing whatever remained the structures in this town; 80 per cent of the buildings were affected by the earthquake.

However, in Pedernales ‘resilience’ is not an abstract word.  Here, you actually see it on the streets. Cars display stickers with messages like "I’m staying in Pedernales" and "Pedernales rises."  There isn’t a single house, not even the most damaged, where there isn’t some activity happening.  I pass by a house with 3 tents in a small courtyard; what’s left of the house is leaning sideways in the back of the courtyard.  However, there are some plastic tables with handwritten messages in front of the tents, announcing “bolón with coffee from Monday to Sunday.” (‘bolón’ is a typical food of Ecuador. It is literally a ball made of green plantain dough, stuffed with cheese or pork).

It seems that the inhabitants of Pedernales all have an underlying motivation: the city must be kept clean. Youth groups and adults alike walk the streets with shovels and brooms.  Despite the amount of dirt and debris, there is no rubbish on the streets, people sweep their doorways, and makeshift trash baskets abound.

The Ecuadorian Red Cross volunteers located in Pedernales say that this has also been a surprise for them.  They could not imagine that they would see the city begin to revive itself in such short time. "Ecuador—and especially Pedernales—have taught us a lesson”, the group commented, "people are more resilient than we thought, some do not even want our help, what they want is for us to tell them how to be better prepared for next time".

Watching the town’s activity, one would think that nothing has happened there, that the destroyed buildings have been there forever.  But they have not - this city suffered much during the first hours after the earthquake.  The destruction and the darkness, the fear of a tsunami and not having anywhere to go, made them think — as some people commented — that "life was over".  However, today Pedernales is full of life and its energy makes us think that its people will carry on despite all difficulties.