Nilsa Eberhart: emergency Shiatsu in Puerto-Rico
In memory of Ramón García
By Nilsa Eberhart
I am Nilsa Eberhart, Shiatsu Practitioner. My voluntary work on the southwest of Puerto-Rico was not part of an organisation which offered therapies or classes for long periods of time in a remote location. It was the result of a spontaneous need to help our desperate brother and sisters in deep necessity of relief. This is what I will tell you now.
Monday, January 6, 2020 A 5.8 magnitude earthquake is registered off shore the southwest of Puerto Rico.
Tuesday, January 7, 2020 at 4:23:58 am: My cat woke me as she jumped off my bed and ran scared somewhere.
Tuesday, January 7, 2020 at 4:24 am: The earth shaked. A 6.4 magnitude tremor on the Richter scale was measured again of shore the southwest of Puerto Rico.
My bed was trembling and so was my heart. Half asleep I went to stand under a door frame, the pow-er went off, then the shaking it stopped. Twenty seconds that lasted an eternity. I ran out to the street where all my neighboors were out in their pijamas or just what they had on, afraid and confused. Going back to sleep seemed unthinkable being freightened of the aftershoks. All these questions were swirling in our minds, where was the epicenter?, are there damages,victims? Little we knew what was really going on.
Tuesday’s big quake, the strongest in a series of temblors that began in late December, struck at 4:24 a.m. five miles southwest of Tallaboa on Puerto Rico’s southwestern coast, according to the United States Geological Survey. A tsunami watch issued by the local authorities was quickly canceled but led to widespread concern anyway.
Photos of the aftermath started to flood the social media. The impact on the southwest from the Island had been cataclysmal. I live on the north side, in San Juan, the Capital of Puerto Rico. What we felt was just a fraction of what people experienced on the southwest. In my area we were lucky to be only around five days without electricity. The governor declared a state of emergency and activated the National Guard. More than 750 people fled their homes, and 300,000 were without power and water.
Saturday, January 11, 2020 Another quake of 5.9 magnitude is registered off shore the southwest of Puerto Rico. Hundreds of insessant aftershocks continued to keep the people in crippling anxiousness.
All of a sudden I find myself being part of a Whatsapp group called, “Terapeutas Unidos”, United Therapists. The group was founded by my very good friend, collegue and shiatsu student, Ramón García, whom I wish to honor by writing these lines. He is the real hero here, his love and selfless sense of dedication to help others will always be my inspiration. He passed in his sleep on April 13, 2020 at age My heart is tight and tears come to my eyes as I relive this experience.
Photo 1: (c) Daily express. Photo 2: (C) The Guardian. Photo 3: (C) BBC
For security reasons all the streets and highways to the southwest were blocked by the National Guard until the situation could be under control. Thousands without shelter, power or water. Around 8.460 refugees in twelve instalations were recorded. People camping on parking lots, green areas on high-ways, in front of their houses with their car full of belongings, everywhere they could be away from high structures.
The distrust of the people after the bad response of the authorities during hurricane Maria three years before, unleashed the most massive mobilization of aid from the people for the people ever seen. Caravans of hundreds of cars of all sizes carrying all kind of supplies, water, clothes, food, matresses, suplies for babies and the elderly, you name it, people overflowed trying to help their desperate compatriots.
My group was in one of those caravans. In the chat, everybody was reporting where help was needed and divided themselves in groups everyday to organize where they could go with the specific supplies and support to be offered. There were therapists from many different diciplines, body- and energy workers with the main thought in mind to bring relief and peace to the refugees. There were many other groups of doctors, naturopaths, nurses, lawyers, college students all wanting to help. A website was created to refer to and find out where was what exactly needed, this way excess an lack of the supplies in one area could be controlled. Here, some of my experiences.
Photo 1: long caravan of vehicles. Photo 2: Ramón García. Photo 3: Let’s work! Photo 4: Nilsa Eberhart. Photo 5: Nilsa and Yakeem. Photo 6: Part of the courageous therapists
Shiatsu on the front line
We would get together at 5:30 am at different parkings in Shopping centers on the way to the south. It was around a three hours drive with all the caravans and landslides blocklages. Ramón had his little car full to the top with fresh cooked meals, supplies and his massage table. He did not need any caravan and would go alone three or four times per week to the country side and mountains where nobody went, to bring water, donations, therapy, hugs and his big wide smile.
Around 20 therapists had agreed to go on this one Sunday at 5:30 am. The night before, I found myself trying to find any excuse not to head south. I felt saturated with all the fatalists, who in their wish to be extra precacious and careful generated too much fear.
I shaked those thoughts off and decided to go. Thinking of the training I had over ten years ago with Diego Sanchez on Shiatsu in emergecy situations, I said to myself, “Nilsa, you can do this, this is the moment to use that knowledge”. Had no idea what was I getting myself into.
Upon reaching the meeting spot, there were already dozens of cars from different groups loaded with supplies and sparkling contagious energy. All filled with a great desire to help in any way they could. What a blessing to be able to be a part of this, I thought. All my doubts from the night before had vanished. On the highway heading south, the number of trucks, pick-ups and cars of all sizes packed with supplies was impressive. Puertorricans have a huge heart and when one suffers, everybody responds showing that only united you generate the most powerful force.
We finally arrived in Peñuelas, at the old athletic track refugee camp, where there are more than 300 evacuees.
There are no words to describe the organization within the chaos. Hundreds of volunteers, National Guard, food and beverage companies, even volunteers from religious groups and a group from Venezuela for Puerto Rico were there giving their best trying to maintain logistics. Hundreds of cots crammed under giant tents, like at a summer camp. Families, the elderly, bedridden people, on wheelchairs, children running and playing. Musicians playing, other giving Bibles to rid them of evil thoughts, hairdressers and nail technicians, clowns, doctors, etc. Vehicles would come in non-stop to download supplies, and dozens of people were receiving, sorting and arranging them. Everybody could go and take what they needed.
In a place between the huge army tents we set up our two canopys and a tarp to make an extension. Our group had some yoga teachers and about 12 therapists working on tables and chairs. Little by little people of all ages began to approach us. They shared their stories and ventilated their sorrows. Some had lost everything, but they were all alive. Others had to evacuate their homes due to high structural danger or because the lived very close to the water. Others were there to spend the night. They hugged us for endless minutes and gave us so many blessings for being there. Inexpressible.
How do you hold your tears? Not possible…no need.
At the camp, even the smallest tremor was felt, and they were constant. An old granny told me, “when that weird wind comes and rains, then it trembles,” and so it happened. That Sunday it rained for the first time in weeks and many ran out looking for tarps to protect their space and the few things they had.
I was giving shiatsu sessions on my massage table, and really took the time to interview every single person that came to me, let them tell me their story. One father of five had time enough to run out of their house before the second floor came crashing down. He had not closed one eye in a week. After the session he slept for more than an hour. He woke up and thanked me so many times that he could sleep for a while and felt as if I had erased his fears… priceless. I worked on a young pregnant woman who was evacuated with her husband from their building, and was afraid for her baby because of all the anxiety she was experiencing. Then a 85 year old grandmother who lived near the water and could not close her hands. Teenagers, small children, volunteers all with stories that broke your heart. I noticed a teacher from a nearby school watching me work and asked me what was I doing. I explained about Zen Shiatsu, he had a big question mark on his face, never saw anybody work like me before.
The soldiers brought us chairs for the ones waiting in line to be treated and I overheard one young man asking one of the therapists about me…” but she works different, like she is doing other things”, she answered “yeeeeeah she works somehow different” that was something very cute to hear between all the despair. At some point there was a reporter wanting to interview some of us, so Yakeem Carrión, owner of the Artes Místicas Massage school, took the microphone, all of a sudden he turned to me and asked very loud, “Nilsa which you said was the name of our group?”, I opened my eyes and spitted out the first thing that came to my mind “Manos sin Fronteras”, Hands without Borders. He repeated it to the reporter, then came back to me gigling thanking me for saving the interview. I immediately wrote to the other administrator of the chat in Whatsapp telling him to please change the name, what he instantly did. So that is how the group’s name born.
We worked, hugged, cried, listened, talked and shared our love for a few hours. At around 4 pm, physically and emotionally tired, but undendlessly grateful, we began to pack, close and dismount, that’s when many decided they wanted last minute therapy, some of us decided stay a little longer. Waiting for us was long way back with a lot of traffic.
On the way to San Juan and talking with my colleague, we realized that it seemed as if we just came from another dimension, where we were totally disconnected from everything. Nothing else was more important than being able to provide peace and expansion to our compatriots.
The weekend after we were again at 5:30 am gathering at Montehiedra Shopping center to head back to the southwest. We had two pickup trucks so we could arrange supplies in one and our tables and materi-als in the other. This time we decided to go to the refugee camp at the Municipal Stadium in Yauco.
To our big surprise we found the people camping at the parking and hardly anyone in the stadium. So we opened our tents and arranged the tables and massage chairs right in the middle of the shelters.
People started to come much faster this time. Some of us went inside to the stadium to tell the people that we were offering therapies, the control was extreme and moving around freely was very controlled. No wonder people decided to stay outside. Still, there were many elderly laying on beds in the huge tents.
The shelters out in the parking were personal tents. People tried to arrange their few belongings how they could. Some went to the communal kitchen, some had BBQs to cook on. I worked on a few people who had been sleeping in their cars for the past three to four weeks. They refused to go home afraid of the shakes. Those who could go to work, went and came back to the camp in the evening.
This time we were eight. Yakeem Carrión had his guitar and played and sang with some of the kids. That brought smiles to their eyes. Ramón had his massage table and chair and would gravitate between them non-stop. He had brought coffee and food for all of us. Santosh, who studied a year with Ohashi was staring at me work and said,” lack the patience you have to do shiatsu, to let stuff rise up to you, I am more of a deep tissue mechanic”. This time we had Vivien Sanchez, who is a life-coach and reiki Master, she was doing a great job just talking to those who needed to be heard. There was also a freshly baked massage therapist who was so very grateful and overwhelmed by all the men and women he had the honor to treat.
About three weeks had passed and I went back to the Municipal stadium in Yauco with Yakeem Carrión and Karla Durán, a yoga teacher who wanted to work with the children. This time was different, we found ourselves working more with the volunteers, the soldiers and federal police officers since most of the refugees were gone.They had moved either back to their homes, those who could, or temporal homes, moved with family members or left the country.
The volunteers were exhausted, drained, suffered from imsomnia, anxiety, fear, grief at levels they could hardly handle. The first one I treated was a federal police officer who’s back was killing him. Then a soldier who was very sad that the children who were running after him all the time asking all kind of questions, were gone. One of the volunteers with a mixture of anxiety and depression who was not able to sleep at all. So many similar cases after those.
Yakeem was doing his part, being also a long time yoga teacher, he could create this very serene bubble around those he was treating, amazing to watch. Karla was playing and painting with the few children left.
There was this bubbly twelve year old girl who came all the time to ask me when was her turn, she would stay very close and stare at me, watching carefully my every move while working on the people. She wanted me to treat her. I was up to meet a great teacher in this young girl. Suddenly she was on my table, asking everything I was doing. I asked her about her experience and she gradually started to express herself. She said…”Nobody asks us kids how we feel or what we think, and we have a lot to say, adults just want to protect us and keep us safe. We need to be able to talk like the big people do. I see my new friends here how they are afraid with their chest full, but do not know how to say it, so I tell them to breathe deep and blow to the clouds. Then it feels better inside” This twelve year old wise Master hit me very hard. I let her talk all she wanted. Then Yakeem came to me and said “I need your help with this one”. Wow, he asking me for help was a big deal. On his table was this heavely overweight man in his fifties, with violet swollen legs, I had seen him before trying to walk with his walker. He had lost everything, his house and belongings. While laying on the table he started crying, he had not been able to cry since the earthquake. That is when I craked, had to stop working on his legs and went away to cry as hard as I could, Yakeem was there for me. I also needed to let it out. After a while, with an open chest, I went back and finished my work, that what I could offer him.
There were long silent moments while driving back home, we needed to process, take in, integrate all the lessons and experiences. This third time down there shaked me in a very different way as the first two and I am exceptionally grateful for it.
The power of Shiatsu reaches far beyond consciousness, it touches the very filaments of existence itself.
The way it can reboot the system and specially the ones in survival mode left me humblely speechless. Life has given me the opportunity to express and honor my art in the pure essence of what “being in service” means. No mind, just heart.
This is my way of life.