Life after the Lombok Earthquake

I wrote in my journal a couple days ago about the earthquake on Lombok that happened a couple weeks ago. It’s mainly a bunch of incoherent words strung together in sentences. But it’s from the heart and I thought it would be cathartic for me to share.


Mantra: Nothing is ever in your way, it’s only ever on your way


How the Lombok Earthquake happened

Before I type out word for word what is in my journal, I thought I would share what actually happened and how you can help. Over 500 earthquakes and aftershocks occurred in 5 days, 350 people died and thousands are displaced, without food, water and shelter.

I had just written a blog post on flowing with the rhythms of Mother Nature, accepting the fact that we couldn’t get to Nusa Lembongan because of the large swells. Little did I know the real lesson was yet to come. We had arrived on Gili Air just the day before after spending 5 days on Gili Trawangan. I was extremely sick and didn’t leave our beautiful villa for 2 days straight. Sam had just gotten home from a long day of diving with the guys at Oceans5, helping me take a cold shower to lower my fever, and got me back into bed on the second floor.

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Buildings collapsed after the earthquake

A mere 30 minutes later, a 7.0 earthquake hit the North of Lombok. I ran downstairs with a glass in my hand, which shattered all over the floor. The power went out immediately, there were loud screams from people around us. We left the villa and realised we had to go back in to get our passports & cash – the only essentials that were necessary. The water/sewage line at our accommodation broke and there was water spewing everywhere, along with electrical wires down. We knew we had to get out of there as soon as possible. We ran towards the middle of the island where a group of locals were congregated. Women were crying, men were praying and children were curled up in balls. We felt many large tremors while sitting there in the open field, after which all of the locals screamed at the top of their lungs, adding to our panic as we couldn’t understand them. It was only until we heard one local scream “water coming, water coming” that we decided to leave and run towards even closer to the center of the island. There was no electricity, no cell reception, no way for us to check online to see if there was a tsunami heading our way. As an island that’s only a few kilometers long with no high ground, this was the main concern. We also saw that there were tons of walls falling down the alley ways that we needed to run down to get to the middle of the island. One more big tremor, and more walls could fall and tumble on top of you. We were following locals at first, only to realise they were panicking and it may not be best to follow them anymore.

It was then that we ran into Owen & Sharifa, an Australian couple who were building a home in the middle of the island. They calmed us down immensely, let us use their phone to call home and led us to the safest part of the island – free of buildings & trees that may fall on us. It was there, in the dirt, that we all huddled together for warmth and stayed until the sun came up for us to assess the damage. Many local people as well as some tourists fled to Lombok in the night by boat, both in the fear of a tsunami as well as to reach their families in Lombok. Once we got word that there was no more tsunami warning, people calmed down a bit more, but we could still feel the ground shake and rumble below us. We saw an open air surgery being performed on a young boy’s foot. We heard of a man who got so scared during the quake that he climbed up a palm tree in fear of a tsunami, then fell down and broke his leg. We heard of a Russian man who died from a wall collapsing on him. A woman came up to our group asking for any pain medication we could spare for their makeshift medical centre. Luckily Sam and I brought quite the variety of medications and had some pretty strong pain meds from previous surgeries. We were glad to pass these along.

Around 6 am as the sun came up, the island came back to life, albeit everyone looked like zombies. People were making their way back to their accommodation to see the damage and try to get off the island as soon as possible. This was our first thought as well – get off the island as quickly as possible. We were able to get back into our villa to grab the rest of our belongings, which was so appreciated because I was still in my PJs, now completely covered in dirt and mud. We made our way to the harbour to get on a boat to Lombok only to see thousands of people waiting in a messy line with no hope of boats actually coming to get them… I mean the boat drivers were all scared and with their families as well, so who was going to take the tourists?

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Gili Air after the earthquake

We went over to Oceans5 Dive Resort, where Sam had started his Divemaster, and hung out there for the rest of the day. Sam helped the Oceans5 staff get the locals off the island to see their families and helped the tourists with young children & the elderly get to Lombok. Oceans5 staff were driving their boats to and from Lombok to help. I was so sick, hanging under a cabana, trying to keep fluids in, while the rest of the Oceans5 Staff tried to assess damage and keep everyone remaining safe. It was absolute chaos. And to think that our neighboring island, Gili T, was hit even worse and had 10x the tourists trying to manically get off the island. The only thing is… getting off the island and over to Lombok wasn’t necessarily safer.

All of the aftershocks were coming from Lombok, there was little to no government help or intervention and there was no guarantee of having food, water or shelter once you reached the harbour in Lombok. All of the flights out were booked and the slow boat to Bali hadn’t been promised. On top of that, there were really bad landslides happening from Mount Rinjani, which happened to end right near the harbour the tourists were trying to get to for “safety”. To say it was a mess would be an understatement. We were making decisions that were life or death.

Do we stay on Gili Air with the promise of food, water, shelter & highly capable company, but with the fear of a bigger earthquake & tsunami? Or do we try to get to Lombok and do anything we can to get to Bali or somewhere else, but with the fear that we wouldn’t have food, water or shelter, on top of the fear of another earthquake?

We had to make a decision, and we decided to stay on Gili Air. We ran into our friends Owen & Sharifa, who were going to stay in the open field at Flowers & Fire Yoga Studio. I was meant to be assisting & teaching at this studio as we lived on the island, so it only made sense to go and help Emily, the owner, as much as we could. After all but a few of the tourists & locals had left the island, the panic settled and the business owners could put a plan of action together. I felt the safest in this space with these people who remained leaders in the communities and showed strength and grace through adversity.

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Where we slept near Flowers & Fire

When we got to Flowers & Fire, it was an instant breath of fresh air. I felt a wave of sadness come over me, for not being able to experience this studio & its teachers before this tragedy. Emily has created something so beautiful and pure at Flowers & Fire. Everyone who stayed there that night could feel it, I’m sure. We had the generators running, fresh water flowing and lentil curry cooking. Everyone was helping put cushions and pillows out in the open field next door to set up a makeshift pillow fort. If you didn’t know any better, it looked like the ultimate slumber party under the stars. Once the sun went down and everyone’s belly’s were full of delicious curry, we went to sleep outside in the open area. We heard wild horses in the background, we saw shooting stars in the sky, we finally were able to sleep for a couple hours. Another big earthquake hit around midnight (5.4 magnitude) with a tremor to follow after. While it was still scary, we felt safe in an open area and went back to sleep.

The next morning, I was still feeling very sick, and we knew I had to get to a hospital as soon as possible. As the military evacuation was underway, we jumped on the army boat to head to Bangsal (Lombok pier) and got a ride to the airport with 2 other Oceans5 divers. One of which, Clay, stayed with us for the next 4 days. That drive from the pier to the airport was one of the most heartbreaking moments in my life. Seeing entire villages flattened to the earth, with its residents on the roads begging for money & food. To really witness firsthand the destruction & devastation left behind was something that will stay with me forever.

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Tourists trying to leave Gili Trawangan
Post from @trufflejournal

Then there are the secondhand and potentially even more devastating effects are the weeks and months to come with little to no tourism heading their way. How will they make money to rebuild? How will they move forward? The foreign business owners have invested their entire lives on these islands – how long will it take for them to be up and running again? To know and love a handful of these businesses is a treasure, to know that they are doing everything they can not only for themselves, but for the community at large makes me proud to have them in my life, and to be continuously inspired by them.

The night we got to Lombok, we had a flight to Borneo with Clay, which was the only flight out of Lombok at the time. We stayed in Borneo for 2 days, and I was able to get to a hospital. Then we flew to Singapore to make a plan on where to go next.

How you can help

If you’ve made it this far in the story, you would have seen a common theme through it all – Community. If it weren’t for the love and support of a few key people on the island, we could have easily spiraled into a full blown panic. My sickness could have been so much worse. These people are still there on the island helping the community get back on its feet. Over 500 earthquakes and tremors occurred in 5 days, with over 350 killed and thousands displaced. They need our help. I would love to share a few ways you can help the people of Lombok, including the Gili Islands:

The people behind these relief support operations are literal angels on earth. Instead of running away from disaster, they’ve faced it head on with one goal in mind – to help those affected by the earthquake get access to the basics (food, water, medicine, shelter) in order to lift the community back up and get the islands up and running as soon as possible. The quicker they can return to normalcy, rebuild their houses and have tourists join them on the island, the quicker everyone involved (local families and local/foreign business owners) can continue to live the lives they’ve built in peace, health & safety.

So please, if you have a couple dollars to spare, anything would be greatly appreciated & utilized in the best way possible. I can promise you that. Now for my journal entry:

Lombok Earthquake from the heart

I don’t really know where to start. It feels like a lifetime ago, like it happened on a different planet to a different person. As the earthquake was happening, I remember thinking that this couldn’t actually be happening to us. That if I blinked hard enough it would just be a dream and we’d be back to living our carefree, happy lives. I’m still in disbelief. You don’t ever think that something like that can happen to you. You don’t ever think that anything bad can happen until it does – natural disaster, death of a loved one, loss of a job, anything traumatic.

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Beautiful Gili Islands

In some ways, it feels as though my innocence, or more so my ignorance, about the world has been shaken up. My foundational confidence and optimisim was shattered. I couldn’t trust the ground beneath me, let alone trust in the universe.  After all of those mornings telling the universe that I trusted it and I was there to be shown the way. I realise now I didn’t mean that 100%. I was happy to say everything I was meant to be saying, but when push came to shove with really trusting that the universe had my back, I retreated into darkness. Granted, I was sick, seriously sick, scared, very scared & grieving. I retreated back to typical patterns of blame, self-pity and anger. I also during the lead up to the earthquake was chanting to the goddess Kali. She is the destroyer of delusion, but she wouldn’t destroy anything toooo near and dear to me right? Well she sure did destroy my illusion of control, of having a plan, of having everything under control.

I had the rug swept out from under me and I didn’t know how to react other than with immense sadness and grief. Grieving my innocence, my ignorance, my master plan, the experience I was meant to have. I cried a lot, feeling it deep in my heart. I felt so intrinsically connected to the plan that we had dreamed about for 3 years, identifying so deeply with it. That when it was lost, I felt like I had lost who I was. I felt like I couldn’t pull myself out of the rut. While others were out there fundraising & bringing supplies to the affected areas, I was laying in a safe hotel room in Singapore, staring at the ceiling in disbelief and grief. There was a piece of my personality missing. The part that shines & radiates out into the world. I do know deep down that a part of me grieved because it all felt like a failure. We had been so public about our big, adventurous trip, about our beautiful little island paradise we were going to call home. To not follow through seemed like a failure to me.

So there are lot of different themes at play here. I truly did need to let go of the illusion of having control, of having a plan, and needed to learn how to fully flow with the universe. To trust completely that this is a part of our story and that’s exactly how it was meant to be. The universe has a way of repositioning our timeframe and the more we resist this, the bigger the wake up call we get. I don’t think this means we can’t ever have a plan, but that we don’t get overly attached to that plan. That we don’t make that plan our identity. Because the only thing that is a guarantee in this life is change.

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Nature is my medicine

We are still very jumpy, very on edge. Every loud sound, vibration or movement in our surroundings causes us to panic. Planes flying overhead, fireworks going off in celebration, doors slamming nearby are all cause for our hearts to stop beating. I wonder when this fear will end. If I’ll ever not look for the emergency exit in buildings when I walk in. If I’ll ever be able to stay on the 5th floor of a hotel without being afraid. If I’ll ever not check the earthquake rating of a location before visiting. This is a kind of fear I’ve been lucky enough to not have experienced until now. My hair has fallen out, my body’s natural cycles have ceased, I’m constantly thirsty. The physiological changes to this kind of stress is daunting. Movement through yoga seems to help, but grounding & staying in my body has proven to be a challenge. When you have to dissociate from your body for survival, you have to learn how to be in your body. Through yoga, pranayama, massage, good food and being in nature, I’m slowly learning how to trust my physical experience again. It will be a long journey ahead, but we are in a great place to put the pieces of the puzzle back together.

So for now, I’m going to just feel into every day and make decisions on what to do based on what we feel called to do or not do. I like to think we have more of an outline rather than a plan. We wrote out what we wanted to get out of the next 6 months of travel, how we want to feel, & what we want to learn. And that has become the outline. Not so much about the where’s and when’s, but about the why. And that why can be anywhere in the world, that why carries with you no matter if you’re on an island in the sun or exploring the thai rainforest. No matter what the universe throws your way, it’s never in the way of your plan, it’s only ever helping you on the way to your why.

There will be many lessons to unfold in the next few weeks, months, maybe even years. We are feeling stronger and healthier after a week in Northern Thailand, taking the days slowly, writing, reading, eating good food. Nourishing ourselves from the inside out before we make any decisions on where to go next. One thing I do know is that we will continue to support Lombok and the people will have come to know and love, so please take a moment to donate a couple dollars, send a few prayers and ultimately one day go and visit 🙂

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