Not a simulacro

We’ve had more earthquake drills over the few months since I wrote about one. They are scheduled regularly on a nationwide scale three times a year, and all public buildings and many private buildings participate in them. On schooldays, this involves the regular stampede from class and the forming of orderly, supportive circles (by which I mean circles in a standing brace position for physical support, rather than circles of people going “there, there, it’s only pretend”) in the field.

As with fire drills back home, everyone secretly welcomes them as an opportunity to get out of doing some work for ten minutes. Although at the school we don’t have the gawk-factor bonus of a truck of handsome fire fighters turning up. We are commended or reprimanded by whining megaphone depending on whether we meet the 2 minute deadline, and we all troop back in to the building.

Last week there was some excitement when the alarm sounded just after the bell for lunch. It was clearly not a drill as to schedule a drill for a period where the kids are all over the place in an uncountable, unaccounted for mess makes no sense to anyone. Everyone gamely filed onto the field and made circles. It turned out to be a false alarm.

However this week, just as the first period after lunch was due to start, there was a rumble-n’-shake and the alarms sounded. I have rarely moved so fast in my life.

The handful of students who had made it to class early floated nonchalantly out of the door and along the balcony walkway to the stairs while I barked orders. The rest of the first floor was confusion and chaos. Primary children in the middle of brushing their teeth after lunch peered out of the bathrooms, toothbrushes still in their mouths, and puzzled over what to do with no supervising adult to make it clear. I barked, making it clear. Secondary students – dazed and confused after an hour of football or volleyball and a rice and bean carb-coma – sauntered idly from the lockers wondering what to do. More barking. Sudden clarity and a change of pace.

Eventually, seated on the grass a few minutes later, the whining megaphone made its appearance. There had been some running spotted in the ranks and we were reminded of our disaster decorum etiquette. A couple of my students looked at me. Yes, I hadn’t exactly handled my exit from my room with my customary decorum. The barking had all been compensatory. I hadn’t been caught trampling nursery students or anything though – this time, at least.

Usually I find tremors exciting, very occasionally – terrifying. But this one was plain unpleasant: I blame it on the uneasy sense of responsibility for the tender youths I have somehow found myself guardian to. But the sensation has travelled home with me too.

For the next few nights I will be sleeping with a bottle of water and a torch at my bedside. And I’ll probably be fully clothed.


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