Before we left the hotel Thomas gave me a brief situation report on the school that we were about to visit. He told me that 150 children perished the evening that the earthquake hit and that dozens more had been injured. When he and his crew arrived at the mountain top school on January 14, they found the faculty and surviving students in complete silent shock. There was no food or water. Thomas told me that the quiet he heard that afternoon at the school was a powerful representation of the impact that such a tragedy made on this peaceful education community. Human silence in the face of death, only the natural noises of the wind in the trees or an occasional call of a bird could be heard over the dense still pull of the mountain. I thought about the Thomas' description on the drive out and hoped that when we got there that the silence had been left behind.
When the car I was in made the final right hand turn into the school property I heard it through my open window. The sound was crystal clear, it was the exuberant energy of a school yard at play just before lunch on a Monday. As soon as I got out of the car the singular meaningful mixture of innocent noises became individually identifiable. I heard laughing, singing, teachers shouting instructions, chatter, the clanking of pans, the continuous contact of a hammer against nails, an occasional scream, feet running against the sand on the old asphalt surface, chairs being pushed against a table, a door slamming shut, the static of a transistor radio and more clanking of boards from above.
While walking around the school property I met the following group of children who seemed eager to have their picture made. Of course, I asked for permission and was answered with a half dozen nods, smiles and positive verbal transfer. So, they posed for a group set, more kids came and then got in line to have me take their individual portraits.