I had been living in Kuta, a small tourist town on the southern coast of Lombok in Indonesia for just under a year when the major earthquake of 7.0 magnitude struck on 5 August, 2018.
I had moved there after quitting my corporate career in PR and marketing to work freelance and live in paradise.
It was early evening and I was sitting in a Mexican restaurant with my friend, Jade, making plans to surf the next day. We had spent the afternoon on a boat trip exploring the rugged island coastline filled with pristine white sand beaches and clear blue water, our skin turning a shade of lobster pink in the Indonesian sun.
At 7.45 pm, it all began with a rumbling sound, with the vibrations becoming louder and more violent by the second. Our instincts kicked in, and we ran outside onto the street.
My initial thought was to get out of the way of any of the buildings and telephone poles that lined the main street we were standing on, in case anything might come down on top of us.
The world around us erupted into chaos. Businesses were slammed shut. Vehicles were driving erratically out of town. People were running around trying to figure out their exit strategy. Tourists were desperately trying to catch rides to take them to a safe place.
‘I don’t want to alarm you, but I think we need to get to high ground in case there’s a tsunami,’ I tried to tell Jade in a measured voice. Later, she told me that although I sounded calm, my face read sheer terror.
Everyone had the same idea. An earthquake of that magnitude could easily trigger a tsunami, and since Kuta was on the coast, the threat felt imminent and very real.
I jumped on my scooter with Jade sat behind me, and we drove towards a nearby hill. We parked as high up as we could get, then climbed the rest of the way – meeting our two Indonesian friends Yoko and Ary at the top.
I considered what my life would amount to if these were my final moments on Earth. The things I had achieved, the people I had loved. I wasn’t ready. This couldn’t be it.
There were so many things I had left to do and experience – like going to see the orangutans in Sumatra or finally being able to surf the bigger waves at nearby Desert Point. That’s the funny thing about the concept of dying – it reminds you of how much life you have left to live.
With the last ounce of battery on my phone, I called my childhood friend Antonia, who was on holiday in the north of the island from Cumbria. I had to make sure she was okay.
‘We’ve climbed to the top of the hill here,’ she said nervously. ‘We’re just waiting here in case a tsunami comes.’
One week before, she had called me to ask if Lombok was a safe place to visit. I had been the one to convince her that she had nothing to worry about, and now this earthquake had happened. If a tsunami didn’t wipe me out, her mum certainly would. ‘Stay safe,’ I begged, as my phone lost power.
We waited up the hill for six hours. A group of about 20 of us had huddled together in the same place, without food and water.
We had gathered around a makeshift fire, exhausted from hours of adrenaline. By this point, the sun had gone down and we were surrounded by darkness.
I remember looking up at the night sky and seeing a single plane flying overhead. I felt so envious of the passengers above drifting through the sky in blissful ignorance at the ongoing terror felt below.
By the early hours of the morning, at around 4am, we decided that it must be safe enough to return to our villa, where we all huddled together, too terrified of any aftershocks to get any sleep.
Later that morning, we learned how bad the damage to the island was. The epicentre had been in the north. Hundreds were killed as houses collapsed almost instantly. Luckily, my friend Antonia had been evacuated back to Bali, where she would take shelter until she was able to fly home to the UK.
Within days, our community gathered food supplies and donations to help victims. But the damage to the villages was devastating.
Homes had instantly been demolished, lives had been lost, and a community of people who already had barely anything to begin with had been robbed of their worldly possessions within seconds.
When my local friends and I arrived in the north to deliver supplies that first week, first-responders were already building temporary shelters. Entire communities were homeless. Many had lost mothers, wives, children, fathers. No one had escaped unscathed.
I stayed behind in Lombok for several months to help raise donations and deliver supplies.
I returned to the UK just before Christmas with PTSD symptoms that included having panic attacks whenever I would feel the earth move from a large truck driving past or occasionally feeling heavy bass in music.
On those occasions, I’m transported back to that evening in Kuta. I panic and look for a safe place.
It’s a constant reminder of how lucky I am to still be here and to have the opportunities that I have to be safe and healthy. It has really put things into perspective for me, and I no longer find that trivial things bother me the same.
I wake up every day grateful to still be here, and for my health. It’s a privilege that not everyone has.
My Life Through A Lens
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