A Connection We Never Asked For: The Annual Trauma of Hurricane Season for Caribbean Islanders
Updated: Sep 15, 2019
As I write this post, Hurricane Dorian is bearing down on the Bahamas. The storm, which maxed out as a Category 5 with 185mph winds, rolled over the islands overnight at a very slow pace. Videos have been coming through social media of the devastation - wind damage, flooding, flipped cars, families stuck in buildings waiting for rescue that is also delayed by the ongoing storm. The way my stomach is sinking right now is an all-too-familiar feeling. It's the same way I felt in 2017 when I had to personally deal with the affects of Hurricane Harvey. It's the way I felt two weeks after Harvey when Category 5 storms Irma and Maria devastated my family and friends in the U.S. Virgin Islands.
I'm not from the Bahamas, but I am from the Caribbean. While the region is comprised of dozens of different countries and territories with slight differences in culture - we are connected in more ways than we are different. Many of us share bloodlines and ancestry. Our music derives from the same African roots. We share the painful history of slavery and the genocide of our indigenous peoples by European settlers. We share the ongoing struggle of colonization in a modern age. Today is a reminder of just another connection - annual and debilitating tropical storms and hurricanes.
As a child the thought of hurricanes excited me. I have always loved and respected the ferocity and strange beauty of storms. Hurricanes back home used to be a time where the family came together and spent a few days under the same roof. We'd see our elders' ingenuity as they cooked outdoors and made due with what supplies they'd prepared with. I still can hear the hum of generators and frogs croaking during the long weeks we'd go without power. Any Caribbean child can probably tell you the joy we felt when we'd get our unofficial "snow days" due to an incoming storm.
The excitement has faded over time.
With the rise of global temperatures, storms have become stronger, scarier, and all the more devastating. Already dire economic situations have not improved much within the last decade. The naivety of my youth and the excitement I once felt about hurricanes is now replaced with constant worry - so many of my friends now share this sentiment.
Those who continue to live on the islands (especially after experiencing both Irma and Maria) now live in fear of the months of June through November. They often wonder if the slow but promising recovery they've seen within the past two years will be uprooted just as quickly should another strong storm come through. Those of us who have moved to the mainland share a similar fear - the one we felt when we went days and weeks without even knowing if our parents were alive and safe. When we could only see pictures and videos from the weather channel of our childhood homes without actually hearing about the damage from our own families. We shared the helplessness and hopelessness of watching mother nature drop her own version of a bomb on our home on live television.
So many of us have lost loved ones due to the direct impact of storms or during their aftermath. I lost my grandmother in 2018 after her health drastically deteriorated in the aftermath of the 2017 hurricanes. While her cancer diagnosis was inevitable, I believe to this day that the news of her home being completely destroyed played a huge part in her willingness to fight. I wonder often how much longer I would have been able to have my grandmother here had those storms never come.
With a greater likelihood of storms visiting our shores before they arrive to the U.S. Mainland, Caribbean islanders (West Indians) have the unfortunate experience of revisiting this type of trauma every single year. Today, the hurricane is not affecting my biological family. Still, Dorian is in every way affecting my Caribbean family. I am bothered by my helplessness, but I am doing everything in my power to share accurate information that will help in relief efforts going forward. To my Caribbean family, especially those of you in the Bahamas, my thoughts and prayers are with you. We stand with you once again as you have with us in the past - we will all work to pull you out of this devastation.
If you're reading this, please consider supporting local hurricane relief organizations. Collect supplies wherever you may be or order supplies from Amazon that can be sent to appropriate locations. The Bahamian Consulate in Miami, FL has made itself available. Below I'll be posting a list of helpful supplies and a mailing address where they can be sent:
Supplies Needed in the Immediate Aftermath of a Hurricane:
Bottled Water Baby Formula Onesies Diapers Canned Food (Non-Perishables) Batteries Air Mattresses Mosquito Nets Mosquito Spray/Citronella Candles Toilet Paper Baby Wipes Feminine Hygiene Products Soap/Toothpaste/Toothbrushes (new) Towels and Blankets New underwear and socks * New or lightly used clothing (double check with the org you’re donating to, some do not take clothing)
The Bahamas Consulate General 100 N Biscayne Blvd Suite 900 Miami, FL 33132
* This post is a response to the Day 2 Prompt of my "Wah You Sayin" 30-Day Journal Challenge. To read more about the journal and download the PDF, click here.