December 26, North Shore Auckland, New Zealand, morning.
It is pouring outside, and the house is quiet. I woke up early because I need these moments of solitude. My day is always a bit strange if I don’t have this stillness in the morning. I’m pretty sure most parents can relate.
When it’s this early, sometimes I write, sometimes I work, sometimes I paint my nails. I used to do yoga quite regularly at this early time but I have to confess I haven’t done it once since we left on our trip. Yes, I stretch here and there, but I haven’t done a full session since June. That felt strange, saying June… feels like a lifetime ago. We are in such a different place both physically and mentally. Having only what we need with us, really opens up space for other things. I guess Marie Kondo was right, “the best way to find out what we really need is to get rid of what we don’t.” I finally had the mental space (and time) needed to read her book, and I found it quite interesting. At times it’s extreme, and a bit mystical for my taste, but I would still recommend it. The most interesting part was that of the effects of uncluttering. I have to say, getting rid of the clutter does change your life.
With that said, we just celebrated Christmas… with gifts under the tree. Even though we kept it minimal, with five of us, it adds up. After all, Santa brings a gift, and grandma sends a gift, and we give a gift, and the kids gift each other. I spent the 25th taking it slow… we made waffles with our new waffle maker and drank champagne. I picked up the wrapping paper mess and enjoyed my new teacup, breathing deep and taking it all in. We had recently spent some serious quality time in our local library and had heaps of books to enjoy, so I did some reading and even napped. Then the 26 came along and I woke up feeling blue.
After Christmas, there is a silence, the kids are busy playing with all of their new toys, and we rest, exhausted from all the celebrating. There is also the additional emptiness and exhaustion that weighs on me with every holiday, the way I start dreaming about my family days before the holiday arrives, and then the mornings when I crave to pick up the phone and call my parents. But I can’t call them, my dad passed away in 2009 and my mom in 2010. I can no longer call them, or hug them, or watch them play with my kids. This year is particularly heavy, as I am aware that many in my circle of family and friends are still feeling the effects of Hurricane Maria. Many still don’t have electricity. My aunt who was hosting the family Christmas party in Puerto Rico found herself with her water down to a trickle the day before the party. I have some family members that have not received water service at all after the hurricane, and everyone in Puerto Rico needs to boil their water before using it for consumption. And then there are the many family and friends that were not able to celebrate in Puerto Rico because they had to leave. This fills me with grief because I know there is no place they would rather be this Holiday season than on the island. Puerto Ricans celebrate Christmas in a loud and unique way, which leaves me panging for the old days every year, even though it’s been more than 10 years that I’ve celebrated a Christmas there.
December 26, North Shore Auckland, New Zealand, evening.
I read that one way to fight the Christmas blues is to be selfless and do something good for other people. Another one is to be active and go outside. We decided to do both.
The amazing thing about the North Shore is that there are accessible beaches and parks everywhere. This time, we went to Milford beach, which is next to a park with a very fun playground. There was even an ice cream truck parked at the beach, so we got cones and went shell collecting. There were many people picnicking at the park and playing in the water. They celebrate Boxing Day here on the 26, so there was a festive mood in the air. We are so grateful to be here.
After the beach, I looked into the different initiatives that are doing good work in Puerto Rico and chose a couple to donate to. If you want to join us in helping people in Puerto Rico, consider donating to local community groups. They are doing amazing work at the local level. For more information check out the interactive map linked below, it has links to the local organizations that are doing grassroots community work.
This year we tried to donate to a variety of places, one of them is the Centro de Apoyo Mutuo in Caguas, they are doing solid work. We hope you are inspired to donate to a charity this holiday season. When you do, make sure they are doing real work at the local level, with the communities that need help the most.
With a heart full of love and hope for a better future full of solidarity,
[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.
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).
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.
(note these are in no particular order)
Feeding America partners with Bancos de Alimentos Puerto Rico
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.
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.”
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:
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…
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…
[cañaveral is a sugar plantation, the translation of the title of this song would be “sons of the sugar plantation”]
It has been an agonizing week for us, the Puerto Ricans in the diaspora. Many of us haven’t heard from our loved ones since hurricane Maria arrived in Puerto Rico. I cannot imagine what kind of week my family had on the ground, with the agony of experiencing 2 days of hauling wind, rain, and flooding AND not knowing from their loved ones.
I won’t post images of the destruction here because I can’t. I have been overwhelmed. I am mourning my patria, the place I most love in this world… because it is gone. There is no way I can explain how I feel at this time. I am in limbo, waiting to hear from my loved ones, while images of destruction pour in through social media. This limbo is very similar to when I’ve lost loved ones. I am grieving. There is no truer saying right now than: patria es madre. Puerto Rico was already struggling, with a recession, with debt, with corruption, with the aftermath of hurricane Irma.. and now the beautiful island we knew is destroyed.
In the midst of this ordeal, news came from Mexico, the magnitude of the earthquake in itself left us silent with fear. Children trapped under the rubble of a school, family members waiting to hear from their loved ones. The desperation. My husband spent many months in Mexico, working on his dissertation project. I joined him many times and during the years it became a place to feel at home, when I wasn’t in Puerto Rico. Mexico became my second home. My Mexican friends have always made me feel like I am part of them, even though I talk a very strange version of Spanish. Mexicans are amazing people, their resilience and sense of humor is something that I have always admired. This week they stepped up and showed the world what they are made of. I am so proud of my Mexican brothers and sisters.
At the time that my husband was pouring over twitter receiving news from Mexico, I was on my computer trying desperately to get any information on my family. Phone lines are down, so twitter hashtags with the names of the barrios where they live became our biggest hope. Someone, somewhere in the world must know something.
Some people have told me to stay calm, there have been no casualties reported in their specific towns, so they must be alive, right? And of course, there are people that are doing so much worse… and everything will turn out okay. But still, I agonize thinking of my aunts, who are 80 and 83, spending the hurricane alone, in a town that flooded so badly the bridge to connect it to the metro area broke. Yes, they can be accessed by a coastal road, but we have to wait for that to be cleared out. Titi Adel and Titi Ana in Quintas de Dorado, 1 km from the beach and 1/2 km from a river that overflowed.
In another part of the island, in the carstic mogotes, I have a group of family members that will most likely be isolated for weeks. The roads getting there are bad on a good day. On a good week, they are without water for days when it rains, and without electricity whenever it decides to not work. There were 4 family houses occupied up there, and I haven’t been able to communicate with any of them. The Observatory of Arecibo is a stone’s throw away, and they don’t expect to be accessible any time soon. The Observatory just posted a message saying that the researchers that fared the hurricane on site are doing well.
These are just 2 groups of people I haven’t been able to access. I have family in other parts of the island and many many friends that I still haven’t heard from. Yes, casualties have been low, but some people lost everything. There was also massive flooding, landslides and yesterday’s news that 2 whole towns had to be evacuated because a dam was about to burst. 70,000 people that do not have access to electricity, cell phones or landlines needed somehow to be informed that they needed to evacuate immediately.
Whenever I manage to get through to a friend in Puerto Rico I sense the hope that is on the ground. Still, from here, the feeling of impotence creeps up. From here, I’ve talked with my closest friends and family in the diaspora. I am in Croatia right now, my closest prima is in Virginia, my other two closest diaspora friends are in Sweden and Florida respectively. We want to get on the next plane there, but in reality that is not wise and that is not what we will do. Going there now, as many have advocated, will not help the relief efforts because we are not doctors or construction workers and there is no electricity or running water and there are limited amounts of food and fuel. We would only be going there to take up what little resources they have available to them. Sending money and provisions is all we can do. Donating money to relief funds is the easiest, though you can also send provisions via postal mail if you know who to send them to. Some cities are collecting goods to send to Puerto Rico as well.
I did some research yesterday and I really like this group: conPRmetidos
They are independent, non-partisan and non-profit. This is very important for a population that has persistently been robbed by politicians. The first lady immediately opened a fund to collect money for the cause. I don’t doubt her good intentions, but as a Puerto Rican that has seen corruption for so many years on the island, I can’t trust that they won’t use the management-overhead of these funds for their political gain.
This group is vowing to use 100% of the funds received. NO OVERHEAD. This is also essential to me.
We had an amazing time in Puerto Rico this last summer. As soon as we are not a burden on the people of Puerto Rico, we will be back there, spending our American-tourist money. We will go to whatever establishments are open and support the local economy. That is the single most important thing we can do in the Caribbean, not give up on it. A great article from AFAR magaine explains why.
I know that Puerto Ricans are going to build a better Puerto Rico. I’ve already seen the desire to help, in the strangers that have sent me information on my Aunt’s neighborhood, on the people that have offered to go see them as soon as the roads are open, on the people that are on the streets right now, cleaning and helping their neighbors. I have seen videos of people giving coffee to the people that are cleaning the streets, supermarkets that are giving away food packets, people giving hot-dogs to those waiting in the long gas lines. These are my people, we have big hearts and we are resilient ante el temporal.
I leave you with this song, about who we are as people, and how resilient we are. The lyrics, in Spanish, are below. I will try to translate, at a later time, I have to get ready to fly out to Bangkok.