Ve’ahavta Delivers Earthquake Relief in Turkey
Feature / First-hand account of delivering earthquake relief / Excerpt published by the Canadian Jewish News (2000)
Editor’s note: This is an excerpt of a journal kept by Alison Epstein, who was sent on a mission by Ve’ahavta: The Canadian Jewish Humanitarian and Relief Committee.
Also on the trip were her husband Stephen Epstein, founding president of Ve’ahavta and current board member; Peter Silverman, Ve’ahavta board member and CityTV reporter; and Steve Boorne, CityTV supervising cameraman. They delivered relief Nov. 21-28, 1999, to Düzce, Turkey, which was hit Nov. 13, 1999, by an earthquake that measured 7.2 on the Richter scale. It was the second major temblor to hit the northwestern region of Turkey since mid-August.
With $25,000 from the Canadian Jewish Congress, Ve’ahavta procured and transported an estimated $70,000 in relief goods, including pharmaceuticals donated by Apotex Inc.; medications donated and purchased from MAP International; a wheelchair and children’s clothing given by the Federation of Canadian Turkish Associations; sleeping bags from Project Warmth; donations from Turkish Radio of multivitamins, throat lozenges and hygiene products; sweatshirts given by Wingson Garments; and clothing purchased at humanitarian prices from Bargains Group.
Tuesday, Nov. 23, 1999
Düzce, population approximately 80,000, is surrounded by farmland. From the highway, we see men and women working together in the field. As we head into town, we pass a tent city set up in a small amusement park. I can’t say which looks more out of place, the small Ferris wheel or the white tents.
We locate the Israeli army hospital, which is situated in a lumber mill. Huge boards of what must be cedar are piled everywhere. The camp smells of spilled fuel.
People have made benches from these planks and sit outside the big green tents awaiting a turn with a doctor. I smile at a young woman holding a baby. A few moments later, a little boy brings the baby to me.
They must think I am a doctor. I take the baby and walk over to the woman. Neither of us speaks the other’s language. But there are always other ways to speak. She points to her belly. She is obviously pregnant. I hold up six or seven fingers and point to her belly. She doesn’t understand, so I make gestures to show a stomach growing full. And then I hold up six or seven fingers. She shakes her head; she is eight months pregnant.
Naftali Hadas, a lieutenant colonel with curly white hair, welcomes us to the camp, pointing out such things as the X-ray tent and O.R. Naftali tells us that the OB-GYN unit had to be fashioned from the synagogue tent and that the Torah is now in his tent.
The Israelis came well-equipped in general — satellite phone, fax, Internet. Their Internet access was arranged by Cavit (pronounced “Javid”) Onen, a volunteer whose ponytail hangs midway down his back. Cavit has a server in Istanbul and is a reseller of services from Softcom Technology Consulting Inc. which is based, ironically, in Toronto. The soldiers obviously like Cavit immensely. His relationship with the Israelis mirrors the friendship between Israel and Turkey.
The approximately 120 Israelis arrived two days after the quake. At one point, they were told they might stay a month, but they got the word the other day that they will leave tomorrow. The doctors have treated more than 2,500 people in 10 days.
The last surgery is scheduled for around 5 p.m. A woman, whose left little toe is nearly severed off, has bone fragments that need to be removed. In the ER tent next door, doctors treat a Turkish soldier who was hurt when his cook stove blew up in his face. He is not badly burned, but he appears sooty and dazed. It begins to rain as the woman is brought into the O.R.
A ledger records the operations performed. Parts are in Hebrew, others in English: septic foot, appendectomy, Caesarian section, remove bone fragments … It had not occurred to me until now that many of the patients had not been injured in the quake. But because the three hospitals in Düzce are badly damaged and/or overwhelmed, there is nowhere else to go.
* * *
Earlier, I had asked Naftali what had been the toughest part of this tour. His words come back to me, about a 7-year-old girl brought to the hospital by her father.
The father needed help telling his daughter that her mother, aunt, grandfather and uncle had not survived. Naftali asked, “How do you tell a child such things?”
He asked one of the local psychologists for help. She spoke to the girl, told her what had happened, took the child to see the new babies in the OB-GYN tent. The counselor told the girl that she, too, would be a mother one day and bring life into the world, but that life is a cycle: It begins and ends and begins again. She asked the child whom she missed most, whom she would like to see first. It was Mommy.
The psychologist told the girl to close her eyes so she could see her mother. As the girl’s eyes fell closed, a smile came over her face.
Many times that day, Naftali watched the girl squeeze her eyes shut and smile.
* * *
As the surgeons being stitching up the woman’s foot, the head of the laboratory comes in to ask if it’s OK to start packing up. Before the Israelis turn in, the first two or three tents are down and piled onto pallets. The rain continues to fall.
Tonight, we sleep in the translators’ tent. A row of cots lines each side of the barracks. A string of lights and a heater hang from the ceiling. Considering how cold and wet and muddy it is outside, we rest in comfort. It could be much worse and hardly any better.
From the next tent, we hear someone called Jacov snoring loudly. People in our tent alternately complain and giggle, and then someone cracks a joke about it being a lumber mill, after all.
Sleep tight, Düzce.