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,
[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.