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Category 5 Hurricane Maria – The Aftermath – Now What?

 

October 5, 2017

How bizarre my life has been.  As I type this, I am sitting at my friend’s house on her patio right on the water.  It is so beautiful it makes your heart ache.  The ocean is clear aquamarine, gentle in its wave.  It is serene as if nothing ever happened.  But something did happen.  On our drive here, I absorbed with partial numbness and shock the many overturned houses and ancient mahogany trees.  It’s a common sight but still, the shock value doesn’t dissipate.  Here, the entire beach is without sand.  Island wide, hurt swirls in the air.  The imprint of Maria is everywhere.  You can’t forget it.

But here I am sea side, enjoying the pleasure of the breeze on my skin after another long night, tossing and turning against the warm, stagnant air and relentless mosquitoes.  Our gracious friends lent us their small generator just a couple days ago and for the first day, it was out of commission.  The second day, it was enough to power a small lamp, fan and our barren refrigerator and it was like Christmas.  Though there was nothing in the refrigerator to keep cold {we unplugged it}, it was reassuring to know that we could keep fresh food in it if we so chose.  The light brought another dimension to our nightly scrabble game which we were illuminating by a combination of candle and flash light {which I had never played before}  Oh!  The fan! What heaven on earth was this?!  For the brief 2 hours we ran that generator, it was one of the most sublime moments of my life since Irma, almost a month before.  Unfortunately, the same friends who gifted us with this reprieve had their own generator bite the dust so we had to return it.  But those 2 days?  They were like a vacation.

I just have to take a moment to brag here.  Since Irma, I have become a pro at the “cup shower.”  I’ve finessed that sweet spot of minimum water use to maximum coverage meaning that I waste next to no water and can be in and out, scrubbed from head to toe in about 5 minutes or less.  J actually took advantage of the heavy rainstorm the other day.  He said it lifted his spirits immensely.

Candlelight and flashlights are adequate but what really gets me is the lack of running water.  Communication is difficult to maintain as we are still without phone service or internet.  As of today, I am still unable to get even a text out.  It is only when we reach a hot spot every other day or so that I can finally release my hoard of both personal and business messages and even then, I can’t respond to each and every one in the couple hours we have at a service spot before we must unravel the rest of the day within the constraints of curfew.  Our daily trips to the market for fresh food have now become almost like a game to strike the balance of quality, shelf life and the time required to make it.  But the prize?  Fresh fruit, veggies and non canned food!  I had my very first smoothie the other day and I thought I would die with pleasure.  The contents of our small cooler hold Nala’s homemade food, leftovers and a few water bottles.  It’s insane {but sensical} the shortage of such things on this island.  Generators, coolers, ice, tarps, batteries/etc are just a few things.

The outpouring of love and support from our friends and family has been overwhelming.  So many messages came through to us ranging from encouraging words to care packages.  The latter has yet to reach us as the post office is still out of service.  One of our packages was sent to us before Irma and the status on it is still“delayed.”  How glorious it would be to just receive one of the battery operated fans our friends/family sent us.  Oh, but trust me when I say that awaiting the arrival of these island-wide sold out goods will be s-a-v-o-r-e-d.  Change is gradual, just as in life.

We have been discussing all of our options.  There are almost too many things to consider.  We would never leave our island home completely however, no electricity/running water, phone, internet/etc doesn’t just make life uncomfortable, it makes things like work difficult, if not impossible.  Just this morning, our way of communication was to drive over to our friend’s house since a few of our plans had changed.  Just a month ago, we could have just called them.  Such luxuries do not exist now.  Tonight, before curfew, we will swing by once again since yup, even a text is out of the question.  {Often, if you find yourself in a place with service, the other person doesn’t and Sprint, as a whole has been down even longer than AT&T and they were set back when their generator was stolen}.

Another one of those things that never occurred to me pre-hurricane is all of the water.  Yesterday, we sought a hot comforting meal in town.  Rain has been frequently pouring in the past few weeks and to reach the door, we had to wade through water that almost reached my knees.  The same goes for our little cottage.  There’s been an insane amount of water pooling inside.  Even when it hasn’t rained for a day or two, we’ll find large random spots of water.  Whether it’s surfacing from the ground or leaking from the walls, I’m not sure.  What rags I put out on our line never get a chance to dry because of more rain.  I currently have laundry I hand washed 3 days ago still hanging on with hopes that the sun will return once again.  However, I’m certain that once it does, it will be even hotter.  So, do I hope that dry days will inhibit all of the growing mold that is now taking over the house and a chance to solidify our muddy roads {which is part of how we got stuck last week} or for wetter days to make our island green, fill our cisterns and cool down the hottest months of the year?  Insert the default “I don’t know” that I’m often met with when currently asking about anything on island.  If you’re wondering about those bugs I mentioned before, they’re still on a fierce rampage.  Mosquitoes have now taken permanent shelter in our closet and this morning, I found roaches and a centipede and centipedes are NO JOKE.  This doesn’t include all of the millions of gnats that return in exponential numbers when sprayed.  Like I said, it’s like even these guys are freaking out too.

What’s stranger still is the lack of free time.  One would think that with  no/less work, you’d be twiddling your thumbs.  After the big initial clean up, work on the farm has taken up much of our time.  It also takes 3 times as long to go anywhere or do anything.  The other morning, it took us 3 hours just to check mail, throw out the trash and get some water and ice {all of which is in a 15 minute vicinity from each other}.  I think this is on account of more bodies being on island {with workers/military flown in}, curfew and people directing traffic, among other variables.  Oddly enough, since the traffic lights don’t work, the flow of cars is actually less congested when traffic isn’t being directed.  There’s an unspoken language and even now, folks are courteous about letting you in/ahead.  Also, with no lights at night in our cottage, we’re not settling into a movie and just beginning to unwind from the day at 8 like we used to.  Often times now, I’m nodding off to bed at 9/9:30.

Our neighbor looked into purchasing a large generator online and its tentative date of arrival was in about a month {and that’s if the post office starts receiving and releasing packages by then}.  My other neighbor is still on a waiting list for a tarp to cover her large open area and this morning, there was a line wrapped around the block for our one Home Depot store.  I was told that the line today had drastically improved since yesterday.  When we visited a day later, they were sold out of everything on our list.  These are all most certainly inconveniences and not life and death predicaments.  I keep hearing that other islands have it much worse.  Puerto Rico, for instance was hit harder and that is part of why we aren’t receiving any mail as it all goes through them first.  Generally, it’s just that I feel stuck.  We are still helping our farmer friend as much as possible but we can do nothing to help fix the power lines or towers.  My friend said that she looked into booking tickets off island and they were scarce or expensive.

As I sit here, I remember all those days I happily floated in these same waters, feeling like it was a surreal dream but a dream come true.  Similarly, our island family has come forth with such generosity, I am in awe.  St. Croix really is such a magical place.  I felt it from the moment I stepped off the plane.  It immediately felt like home.  From then, life went in such a positive trajectory that it was easy to feed into it.  Life can be difficult anywhere, no matter who you are.  There are several things about island life that are necessary to adapt to. Even paradise isn’t perfect but for those long, stressful days or internal struggles and everything in between, there was and is something to be said about the healing power of the water.  I often just stare out at the endless blue water that meets the endless blue sky.  It always makes me feel that everything will be ok and will always work out as it should.  That’s the magic that will have us returning to our little rock.

I know that no matter where the next part of our journey leads us, this experience will have made us stronger.  I recently came across this quote:

“And once the storm is over, you won’t remember how you made it through, how you managed to survive.  You won’t even be sure whether the storm is really over.  But one thing this is certain.  When you come out of the storm, you won’t be the same person who walked in. That’s what the storm is all about.”

-Haruki Murakami

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