It had always been my pleasure to ask questions, some are stupid ones though, I must admit, while others are really pertinent.
When I arrived in the United States several years ago, I worked with an older gentleman probably in his mid to late sixties and who had long retired as a civil engineer, but wanted to do something to keep himself busy in order to maintain his range of motion and mental acuity. We became friends.
One evening, during our lunch break, I asked him why most buildings, particularly dwelling houses in the United States, are built of plywood sheets, drywalls, chicken wires, foam, 2x2 wood, and then covered with a thin coat of cement on the surface to mimic concrete walls.
“How cosmetic that is?” I snarled.
I told him how houses in my country of origin are built using reinforced concrete on the foundation with metal bars embedded within. I even went further to tell him boastfully how strong our buildings are with specific reference to the sturdy blocks and the concrete. I elaborated extensively on the fancy Renaissance Era pillars in the huge living rooms and corridors in the homes of the wealthy. I was guilty of exaggeration though, while subconsciously poking fun at the flimsy houses of theirs in the USA.
Without saying a word, he lowered his clear glasses and looked at me like an ex-convict looking at a guilty petty criminal making a case of innocence in front of a tribunal of felons.
He sipped the last ounce of juice from his glass, cleared his throat and said, “Amadu, I have to go back to work. I will talk to you later.”
He got up, dusted his pants, and left the dining hall and in few seconds, he disappeared into the alleys.
Two weeks later, I was at the library working on a school project when someone gently tapped my left shoulder from behind. I turned around and to my amazement, it was my workmate, the engineer friend. He pulled an empty chair that laid idle next to me and made himself comfortable. But, by this time, a massive earthquake had ripped Port-au-Prince in Haiti, killing tens of thousands leaving behind a trail of destruction of property.
Like a prosecutor laying out evidences against a suspect before a grand jury, he placed a Time Magazine on the table and flipped to the middle page. It was a gruesome photo of women, babies, and children crushed under heavy concrete slabs. On some more painful to watch photos were helpless people caged under rubbles as poor and ill equipped Haitian rescuers chip the concrete in bits and pieces using hand held hammers and chisel.
The most terrible photo depicted a caterpillar shifting bodies underneath concrete rubbles and twisted metal bars and dumping them into a freshly dug pit.
“Amadu, you see, if this earthquake had happened in the US, the material damage could have been worse, but the human loss could have been minimal”. He said confidently.
“How do you know that? Are you God?” I whispered to myself in anger. Sensing my disbelief on his somehow weird assertion, he went further to elaborate.
Earthquakes by themselves are not dangerous, but it is the aftershocks and the tremors that follows which makes them perilous, he asserted. Imagine the force in Newton per inch squared with the gravitational pull and downward thrust when the support pillars of a twenty storey building gave up during a tremor, he asked. The components of the structure themselves becomes a weapon, he said.
The United States particularly California and Alaska are home to the largest seismic activities in recent history, he informed me. According to him, the need for additional safety brought about the city code for demarcation between residential and commercial areas. Single flats spaced apart over a vast area of flat land provides better protection as against high rise and densely packed structures or complexes, he maintained.
Science and nature works in harmony, he told me with a smile. Where did he learn all this? I wondered. Could the mudslide that claimed the lives of thousands in 2017 in Freetown had been prevented had the Sugar Loaf Mountain not been shaved off its trees, shrubs, and rocks? Doesn’t Turkey that lies between seismically active plates between Africa, Eurasia and Arabian know this? Where was the building code passed into law following the 1999 Izmir Earthquake that killed 17,000 people? I wondered. Was it implemented or is it just as usual? Blaming God!!! Man’s favorite culprit whenever he falls short.
I rarely talk about God and religion, but, is it not the same God who told us to subdue the earth and use it to the best of our knowledge and for our own good?
It’s close to midnight here in Arizona. As I sit on my porch and stare at the starry sky, the images of innundations, tsunamis, tornadoes, mudslides, and earthquakes continue to linger in my mind. It begs one to wonder whether these occurrences are manmade or God’s design. It’s difficult to tell, but one thing is certain, for nature to be commanded, it must first have to be obeyed.
By Captain (Rtd.) Alpha Amadu Bah,