Help Puerto Rico – salimos de aquí

[Salimos de Aquí is the title of a song by Puerto Rican rock band Fiel a la Vega. Translated loosely as “we came from here”. The featured image is the town of Corozal, pre-hurricane María. I took the picture last summer, I can’t imagine how this area looks now.]

[Update 10/31- I’ve included an easy to share jpg of the list of places that are helping Puerto Rico at the end of this Blog Post]

Here I find myself, exactly a week after my previous blog post. A lot has happened in this week. Frustration is mounting both in and out of Puerto Rico. Those of us that are following the news from the outside are waiting to see when and how our people will receive the help that they need.  I am heartbroken because, even though I have heard that my immediate family is well, there is a large portion of the population of Puerto Rico that is suffering. Many people have asked me how they can help. I decided to make a list of places that are currently helping. This is by no means a complete list, but it’s a start.

Nacio_para_luchar
El jíbaro- Nació para luchar: esa es su gloria. (The country man- Was born to fight/struggle: that is his glory)

At the end of this list, I included the song and lyrics to Salimos de Aquí. The colonial situation in Puerto Rico is complex. There is too much emotional baggage to unpack at this time. The only important truth in this situation is that the people of Puerto Rico are loving people that care for others, and right now they need your help. The lines of this song: “vivir pa’ sobrevivir” (live to survive) have never rung truer. It has been 10 days since hurricane Maria and people are running out of food and water.

And, to my Puerto Rican friends and family, remember: “Salimos de aquí… eso no es de donde quiera”  (We came out of here… and that is not from anywhere).

Love,

Vanessa

Update 10/13 – I’ve talked with my family. Hardly anyone has electricity and supermarkets don’t have much selection of food. Read the news today and there are concerns over Maria-related suicides.

 

DSC_0161_edited
Exploring Playa Puerto Hermina in Quebradilla this last summer. All the green is gone.

 

(note these are in no particular order)

Feeding America partners with Bancos de Alimentos Puerto Rico 

For information go here: http://www.feedingamerica.org/hunger-blog/hurricane-maria-what-we-know.html

To donate to Bancos de Alimentos Puerto Rico go here (pay pal): http://www.bancodealimentopr.org/ (once you are there, click on the yellow button that says “Dona Ahora” and it will take you to PayPal

If you need to be convinced: http://edition.cnn.com/2017/09/25/us/daddy-yankee-despacito-puerto-rico-cnntv/index.html

Defend Puerto Rico

Focusing on the relief efforts of Loiza and other various low-income communities.

For information, and to donate go here: http://www.defendpr.com/relief/

World Central Kitchen

I have been seeing many videos about the efforts of Chef José Andrés organizing, cooking and distributing food. There is no doubt in my mind that they are making things happen.

For information and to donate go here: https://www.worldcentralkitchen.org/donate

If you need to be convinced: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/food/wp/2017/09/29/jose-andres-a-naturalized-u-s-citizen-has-become-the-face-of-american-disaster-relief

 

 

 

ConPRmetidos.org

http://www.conprmetidos.org/

They are independent, non-partisan and non-profit. This group is vowing to use the funds received on long-term recovery and reconstruction which will definitely be needed. They will not charge OVERHEAD.

You can find more details on this page:  https://www.generosity.com/emergencies-fundraising/maria-puerto-rico-real-time-recovery-fund

You Caring- People of Puerto Rico Fund

For information, and to donate go here: https://www.youcaring.com/peopleofpuertorico-957793

If you need to be convinced, here’s Ricky Martin:  http://toofab.com/2017/09/28/ricky-martin-puerto-rico-hurricane-maria-fundraiser-ellen-degeneres-show-leonardo-dicaprio/

 

Voices for Puerto Rico

The funds will then be distributed to local non-profit organizations located in rural and/or disconnected local communities affected in Puerto Rico by hurricane María.

For information and to donate go here:   http://www.voicesforpuertorico.com/

 

The NYC Mayor’s Fund

What made me donate to this fund, before any other fund, is that I saw that the work that Governer Andrew Cuomo of New York was doing for Puerto Rico. As soon as anyone could fly to Puerto Rico, he was there, with generators, food, water and medicine.  For more information, go here: https://www.ny.gov/programs/empire-state-relief-and-recovery-effort-puerto-rico

To donate go here: http://www1.nyc.gov/site/fund/donate/donate.page

Remember to select “Support critical aid and relief efforts for those impacted by Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico and the surrounding areas.” or “Please join the NYC Department of Education community in supporting critical aid and relief efforts for schools and students impacted by Hurricane Maria.”

Governor Cuomo has also spearheading the Empire State Relief and Recovery Effort for Puerto Rico. He has a great list of suggestions on where to donate here: https://www.ny.gov/empire-state-relief-and-recovery-effort-puerto-rico/empire-state-relief-and-recovery-effort-puerto#donate

Unicef, American Red Cross & Save the Children

If you feel more comfortable donating to long-running organizations, Unicef, the American Red Cross and Save the Children are taking donations, according to the USAid site devoted to the hurricanes (https://www.usaid.gov/irma)

 

Easy to share jpg here:

Donations

 

 

Salimos de una grieta 
de una calle cercana 
desde entonces dormimos 
dando vueltas en la cama 
Salimos del pedazo de cielo 
que pudre las manzanas… 

Salimos del baile, la botella 
y la baraja… 
Salimos de un sueño, 
un sueño de agua salada… 

Salimos del Yunque y de los ríos 
y del Combate y del picadillo 
y del fanatismo a los partidos 
y a la iglesia y al bolsillo… 

Salimos de un pozo 
donde ya no queda agua… 
Salimos de un pueblo 
que en silencio se le ama… 
Salimos de donde se reunen 
todas las caravanas… 

Salimos de un monte 
con cadillos en los pies… 
Salimos de un bosque de azucar y café… 
Salimos de centro y del calor y del machismo 
y del amor al conformismo 
y del culantro y del sartén 
y de una ola que se corre alrevéz… 

Salimos de aquí 
de la orilla del cámino… 
Salimos de aquí 
de un paraiso pérdido… 
Salimos de aquí 
de la perla privilegiada 
de la sombra asociada 
de la envidia caribeña 
y de la estupidez isleña 
de sentirse en menosprecio 
por ser de aquí… 

Y así salimos descalzos 
y así aprendimos sin querer 
a comernos las “s” cuando hablamos 
y eso es to’ lo que hay que saber 
Somos los que cantan con la lengua amarrada 
Somos los que alternan Coca-Cola con Maví 
Somos de la tribu que se pierde en su pais 

Mirando la vida por el retrovisor 
de cantazo en cantazo 
aprendiendo con sabor 
Y no creemos en diccionarios 
ni en panfletos de la fé 
ni en los dichosos patriotismos 
de las copas elevados y los 
brindis de chalet… 

Salimos de aquí… 
eso no es de donde quiera 
Salimos de aquí… 
te lo digo sin problemas 
Salimos de aquí… 
de la playa enamorada 
de los campos de batalla 
y de las casas de cemento 
y que se caigan los lamentos 
que se escucha por aquí… 

…vivir pa’ sobrevivir… 
…vivir pa’ sobrevivir… 
…vivir pa’ sobrevivir… 
…vivir pa’ sobrevivir… 

Salimos del beso 
de una diosa olvidada 
Salimos de un volcán 
al que no le queda lava 
Salimos de pensar 
de que ya aquí no queda nada… 

Salimos de madrugada 
de una cuna reciclada 
recitando oraciones 
que aprendimos sin opciones 
y hoy regresan en canciones 
en saludos y discuciones 
en las miradas de tu cara 
y en la forma en que te paras 
y hoy toda la brisa 
sabe a Puerto Rico…

 

 

 

 

Escaping Irma

It’s a stormy morning in Zadar, Croatia. Everyone is sleeping in, most likely exhausted from a week of stress and recuperating from the jet lag. We managed to fly out of the Dominican Republic from the Punta Cana airport on Wednesday at 6:50pm, with the earliest Hurricane Irma winds expected to arrive at 8pm that night.

21271193_10154606865091862_55328277415058393_n
This is the map we were looking at on Tuesday, when making our plans for Hurricane Irma. 

What follows is an account of our personal experience.

On Tuesday, the day before we were scheduled to leave, we came to realize that there was no evacuation plan for Americans in the Dominican Republic. Canada sent 10 planes to evacuate  Canadian nationals from the island. Luckily, we had purchased tickets to Croatia months ago and they happened to be for Wednesday September 6th, 6:35pm. It was a stressful night, making sure everything was packed and also making sure that we were ready to stay, with enough food and water to make it through; we didn’t know if our flight would be cancelled. The airport in San Juan, Puerto Rico had already been shut  down, so it seemed it was just a matter of time until they cancelled all flights leaving the Dominican Republic. With a storm that big, the effects could be felt long before the eye of the storm approached the island. It was certain, at that point, that if the storm continued its expected path, Punta Cana could be wiped off the map.

21314696_10154606865096862_6352507508127033425_n
Punta Cana is in the east coast of the Dominican Republic, in this map it fell in the pink Hurricane Watch Zone. 

When we arrived to the neighborhood of El Cortecito in Punta Cana over a month ago, I admired the tidy apartment on the first floor with a view of  the pool, but I also worried. One of the first things I told my husband was that I felt like I was in a condo in Florida. The apartment had all glass windows and 2 large sliding doors. I knew the hurricane season had started, and thought about the unsuitability of this type of construction in the Caribbean. We had conversations about it. Now I was feeling particularly concerned, because in the month we were there it only rained a handful of times, and  never for very long, but the streets flooded EVERY TIME it rained.

File_000 (4)
Grainy photo of our apartment complex

 

Knowing that El Cortecito flooded added to the eerie feeling that no one around us was truly preparing for hurricane Irma. I come from Puerto Rico, an island that has vast experience with hurricanes. As soon as our expert meteorologists* tell us to prepare for a hurricane, we PREPARE. Supermarkets are swarmed, people start hauling large pieces of plywood to protect their doors and windows, and everyone begins planning how they will spend the hurricane. There is a sense of anticipation that allows us Puerto Ricans to prioritize: we need food, water, batteries, but we also need alcohol, dominoes and a radio. We must have some fun after all.

I understand that this level of preparedness is only possible because of privilege. Puerto Ricans, with a median household income of about 19,500 dollars a year, are still much better off than their neighboring islands. You can’t go buy a bunch of stuff at the supermarket if you don’t really have the money to do so. However, the level of indifference that we experienced in Punta Cana was pervasive at different socio-economical levels, from the people in the markets, all the way up to the people managing the airport. There was a sense that there was no reason to prepare, and that is what scared us the most.

File_001
Markets in El Cortecito neighborhood

In the end, the hurricane did not hit Punta Cana as it was expected and there wasn’t much damage to the region, but we didn’t know that on Tuesday. I had called the airport early on the day before our flight and they said that they had no plans on closing, that the airlines would be the ones to decide if they were cancelling their flights or not. Our international friends in the area were starting to worry. They were feeling the locals calm disinterest in the storm as well. They were talking of fleeing to the capital if things on Wednesday looked bad; that was our plan B as well. If we couldn’t leave the airport on Wednesday, we would do everything we could to make it to the capital, which wouldn’t get hit as bad, and would have the resources (food, water, safety) to house us until we could leave the island. Our plan C was to return to our apartment. We had already made arrangements to stay through the storm in case we were stuck. We were lucky that the apartment manager was very flexible and allowed us to make an open agreement to stay, if needed. On Wednesday, as we were ready to leave for the airport he told us that if we had decided to stay he was ready to give us an apartment on a higher floor, because he expected the first floor of the apartment complex we were staying in to completely flood. We asked him if he was going to do anything to prepare the apartment and he explained that there wasn’t really a point to it. It would all be under water regardless.  

On Wednesday morning, I called the airport and no one was answering. Life in the town of Cortecito was pretty chill. Some people were buying water and provisions, but no one seemed particularly stressed. Gardeners were still beautifying the properties, restaurants were still open and food delivery motorcycles were still running.  

File_000
Map on Wednesday. El Cortecito upgraded to Hurricane Warning

The woman who was to clean our apartment upon our departure arrived before we left for the airport, and was surprised to see that I had already done most of the laundry. My intention was to wash all towels and bedding, because that’s what some AirBnB hosts expect, and also because I didn’t want to leave much of a mess; but she got to our apartment well before our check-out time. My husband was almost done cleaning the kitchen, which made her teary eyed with gratitude. She explained that she had 3 properties to clean that day, and her daughter and granddaughter were alone in their metal-roofed house. She said most people in these apartments leave a huge mess so she was thinking she would be cleaning it for hours. She also said she was anxious because she needed to find someone to help her tie her roof down.  She was happy to see that I had some extra food in the cupboards that she could take home. After her workday, she wouldn’t have time to shop for food before the hurricane; I wondered if she had money to shop. I was overwhelmed with emotions. She was cleaning an apartment that might just flood the next day. She should have been going home to prepare, but I wasn’t her boss. The precariousness of the whole situation sunk in with a rawness I couldn’t explain.  How many people were in her situation, stuck working on the day that they should be preparing?

Our transportation to the airport was late. My husband and I left the kids in the apartment, watching a movie, and went to see if we could find the drivers in the parking lot. We went together because we both needed some fresh air. As most of you know, it is really hard to deal with a crisis in front of your kids. I was worried sick about my family in Puerto Rico. I was concerned we would be stuck in the Dominican Republic and at the same time I was sad to leave people behind. With all of this going on,  I had to stay calm and seem like I was in control. I needed to vent. I wanted to cry, but I couldn’t.  Then we heard a loud boom and saw a flash. A palm tree frond had fallen on an electrical cable in front of our building. My husband ran back to the apartment to be with the kids. The hurricane hadn’t arrived and our apartment complex was already without power. A small fire sizzled, the palm tree frond burned, and I stood in the parking lot realizing that nothing could prepare anyone in this area for Irma. Preparing was just an illusion. Leaving was the only option.

Picture1
And just like that… we didn’t have electricity.

Our drivers came, they said the airport was not crowded with people. We were still nervous. When we got to the airport it was business as usual. I was a little shaky. I felt bad for the cleaning lady, bad for our drivers, bad for the people in the neighborhood we had left, bad for the owner of the apartment we stayed in. I felt like I was running off, fleeing, getting out because I had the option to leave; they were staying behind because they didn’t have that option. I thought of my international friends, stuck in the confusion of spending a hurricane -something they hadn’t experienced ever before in their lives- surrounded by people that were eerily calm. Not that I am saying it would be better to be surrounded by people who are freaking out, but at least it would be nice to feel like people are concerned.

File_003
Punta Cana International Airport, Wednesday September 6.

As I sat waiting for our flight I thought of my earlier interaction at the local market. I went for 2 large bottles of water and some beer early Wednesday morning. The guys hanging out there started joking about how I was preparing for the hurricane. It was lighthearted banter, and I went along with it without much thought. As I walked home I wondered why weren’t they at home, securing their belongings, gathering provisions, making plans with their family members, figuring out where to go if they had to evacuate?

We checked into our flight and went through security. The airport was preparing for the hurricane in ways that baffled us. The airport in Punta Cana is very open. Strong winds could tear it apart easily. The employees were putting plastic bags over monitors and removing some advertisements. The wind was picking up, and in our opinion they should’ve been working on evacuating the airport. There were no signs of the airport closing anytime soon. I heard employees talk about working straight until Saturday. We were glad so many flights were able to leave, and happy our plane was allowed to take us to Europe, but at the same time we were worried about how strong the winds were. Turbulence on the flight was nerve-wrecking.  I worried not only about our safety, but about the safety of those working the tarmac. I later read that the safest place for an airplane during a hurricane is in the air flying. Pilots can navigate hurricanes, like that one that flew between the bands of hurricane Irma to evacuate people from Puerto Rico .  The dangerous thing is to be on the ground. How much were the employees in the Punta Cana airport risking to get us out? The guilt laid in. These people had families to take care of, they had children at home.

File_000 (2)
Sandbags, preparations at the Punta Cana airport.

We landed in Brussels and everyone started clapping. This is something Puerto Ricans do when landing, so it took me off guard on a plane mostly full of Europeans. I clapped too… and that’s when I started crying. We were safe.