Of hurricanes, unity and hope

2:06 PM

I have tried to write this post several times and didn’t know how to begin. I had a few posts written and ready to publish but it didn’t feel right. Not after all that has happened. I even had written one about how to stay happy despite all the wrong -which I will share soon- and re-reading it now feels as if I knew what would happen, without knowing it.

I will go back to my original content, but first I wanted to share my story and why I have been long gone. They say it helps you heal to talk about what has hurt you. So here I go.

On September 2, I landed back in Puerto Rico after a year living my dream between Spain and Germany. I was excited to see my family and eager to start my job hunt, continue with my German classes online and move out. Little did I know. Little did anyone know. Four days later, we were indirectly hit by hurricane Irma, and although the eye never entered the Island, our ever-fragile electricity structure left thousands without power and water supply, my family included. I was glad that my house had survived the storm, and despite a tree falling and breaking our fence, we were alright. Five days after, we got water service back, but our phones and electricity were still long gone. I celebrated my birthday in usual fashion, with a cake and surrounded by the people who I love the most. It’s a great thing that I’ve always preferred it that way.

A week and a half after Irma, Monday 18, we saw light at the end of the tunnel as personnel of Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority were repairing power lines near home. And then the news came. María, a hurricane CAT 5 would hit us on September 20, and this time it would be bad. It would enter the Island and cross it. I was helpless, sad, mad, frustrated. I remember clearly how I felt that my world was crumbling down and I could do nothing about it. It had been already difficult -so I thought- making the transition from living in Spain and later Germany, to coming back to Puerto Rico.

Then, María happened. I tried to sleep all night but the noise of the wind was deafening. I didn’t feel scared; few things scare me in this life. I had just shut down, I wanted to feel numb. I had my closest family with me and I knew the others would be safe. I had to believe it. The hurricane hit for 12 hours. When it was safe to go out of the house I was staying at, my parents decided to go home to see how things were. I thought that my house was probably gone, so I needed to be there for support. I had a flashback of the worst day of my life, when amidst the sadness that was pulling me down I put on my bravest face and stood while others broke down. Would I have to do it again? Was I strong enough?

Driving home in our car semi-flooded, water on my feet, I saw the devastation. I had never seen anything like that. My memories of hurricane George, CAT 3, were harmless in comparison. All the utility poles had fallen on the road, trees had no leaves, homes had no roofs. My mother kept on driving and, as I saw that houses like mine were down to pieces, I was expecting the worse. As we were closer, my heart pounded faster. It felt like an eternity. And then we finally arrived.

My house was still there. The roof was still there, most of it. I felt a relief I hadn’t felt in so long. I looked right and saw my neighbor’s home, crumbled down like it was made of paper. I felt lucky. The luckiest person in the world. We then saw a tree that had felt down on the back of my house, right were my room was. We went in and the living room was flooded, stinking like a swamp. The walls were completely damaged but still there. The rest of the house was fine. Somehow the tree didn’t tore down the wall. Our rooms, beds and belongings were there. Intact. I tried to calm down my family, who were clearly affected by the living room nightmare. I’d say, “this was nothing, we still have a home”.

The weeks that followed were the most difficult we have ever faced. No power, no water, no communication. The government’s inability to cope with the situation, the lack of an emergency plan -in an Island that is at risk of hurricanes every year- just made it all worse. Without power, we needed gasoline for generators. However, the distribution of gasoline and diesel was a mess, making people wait in 10-hour lines to get gas if they were lucky. No gas meant no generators to power supermarkets, which meant limited access to food. No power meant no city water supply. Damaged roofs and destroyed properties meant hundreds of people without jobs. Broken bridges meant isolated communities. It was a chain, one problem caused another, a snowball that grew bigger than all of us.

The sun was shining bright, making visible our torn country, our mistakes, our wounds, our fragility. Not just our land, but also our spirit was shaken by the catastrophe. People were scared, mad, sad, desperate. But the good in the people will always prevail. Good neighbors, good strangers would make up for the bad. We shared the little we had. And people shared the little they had. A bottle of water, a bit of gasoline, a power cord from one house to another to use the neighbor’s generator, plenty of hands to cut the fallen trees at home, neighbors helping you install tarps on your roof while it was raining. 

Two months later, we are still far from alright. It will take a lot more, probably years, to go back to “normal”. Sadly, my plans to continue with my online classes and job hunt were far from viable at the moment. How could I help my family without a job? And how could I find a job when those who had one, lost it? With tears in my eyes, I packed my bags, my hopes and dreams, and moved out temporarily. It hurt like few things have hurt me in my life. Never had I realized how much I needed to be home, until I was forced to leave.

I left my heart in Puerto Rico and a promise to go back for the holidays. I don’t care if there’s no power to light up the Christmas tree, my family will be all the light I need.

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How to help Puerto Rico

Due to the postal service delays, the best way to help is through a monetary donation. Through
Unidos for Puerto Rico, an initiative led by the First Lady of Puerto Rico, Beatriz Roselló, with the support of the private sector, you can donate money that will be used to buy products locally to help my Island.

Likewise, my good friend and blogger extraordinaire, María Elena from Ambinity, wrote a post about Hurricane María lessons and shared a list of other ways to help Puerto Rico, so I invite you to visit her blog as well.

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