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Life after Hurricane María

On September 20th, Puerto Rico was hit by Category 4 Hurricane María. Although I did not live through the storm like many of my friends and family, I vividly recall the collective sense of despair felt by members of the Puerto Rican diaspora. Many of us experienced immense anxiety during the storm, as we watched our Facebook NewsFeed and live videos from afar. I painfully recall the tears that streamed down my face as I tried to communicate with friends and loved ones for days – at times, weeks. After feeling completely useless for several days, I decided I had to do something. So, I sent an email to basically everyone I know on ways to help. I also offered to take donations in-person to ensure the right people got the help they so desperately needed.

Three weeks after the storm, I made my first trip back home. Thanks to the generosity of many, we were able to bring over 500 lbs of supplies. But, to say I saw desolation is an understatement. Here is an excerpt from a piece I wrote about my experience:

“[T]here was a collective sense of sadness and anxiety in the air. People are desperately looking for normalcy in a situation that is anything but normal.
I travelled to the island to visit family and deliver supplies to hard-hit areas. These were mainly delivered to Naranjito, a municipality in the mountainous center of the island. The drive there was full of surprises that could easily be dismissed by someone not familiar with the island. For example, Puerto Ricans are used to seeing people sell delicious fruit or handmade hammocks on the side of the roads. But all I saw were washboards and oil for gas-operated power generators.
Once in Naranjito, we arrived to Sector Bernard, a remote mountaintop community where we were greeted with smiles and open arms. We visited approximately 15 families, half of which were residing with a neighbor because they lost everything in their own homes. Anywhere you looked, every other house was missing a roof, or a room, or both.
We heard story after story of María’s wrath: a couple having to use their bodies as shields to unsuccessfully prevent their door from collapsing, screams from children fearful for their lives and huddled in a bathroom, neighbors linking arms to help someone stuck underneath a storm shutter. There were at least three cars María dragged around the mountaintop and destroyed.”
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Photo courtesy of Tostfilms

I also wrote about my feelings after I left on my Facebook account, before I had the guts to start blogging. In a nutshell, the Puerto Rico I went back to was not the place I know.

However, as I mentioned in my first blog post, light emerges from the darkest of situations. Prior to my trip, I met some fellow Puerto Ricans living in Baltimore who were also mobilizing in response to the storm. In a series of most fortunate events, we began an organization called Puerto Rico Stands and have since been diligently working. Among the different projects we have taken on is working with community leaders in Sector Maná, a remote community in the mountainous municipality of Barranquitas.

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This past January, we hosted our first event, Alegría para Maná, which focused on bringing joy and mental health services to over 200 community members still without power and running water. The event was held the day before Three Kings Day, a Latin American holiday celebrating the Epiphany. Naturally, we made sure the Three Kings were there to bring gifts to the children in the community! Among the many partners we worked with was Crear Con Salud, a non-profit organization focusing on mental health education. The event was a complete success, and it was so rewarding to see so many children smiling.

It is also worth noting that during this second trip, things felt different. The luscious, green landscape Puerto Rico is known for had slowly returned, and you could feel Puerto Ricans’ resilience throughout the holiday season. Although I wouldn’t say things are back to normal by any stretch of the imagination, our spirit still shines through.

Don’t get me wrong, there is still so much work to be done: my parents just got their power back this past Wednesday, 161 days after the storm. In some areas of Sector Maná, there is still no power or running water, and over 20 families lost their homes. Throughout the island, many continue to suffer the long-term mental and public health effects of the storm and its aftermath.

But, I have no shadow of a doubt, we will get through this. That’s just the way we do it in Puerto Rico.


*If you would like to help in our efforts in Sector Maná, visit PR Stands for more updates!

Escritos en Facebook sobre María

Cuando aún no tenía las hagallas para empezar un blog, escribí varias veces sobre mis sentimientos después del huracán María en mi Facebook. Aquí hay algunos de esos escritos, para quien los quiera leer.

Y María added 13 new photos.
October 15, 2017 ·

Estoy a unas cortas horas de montarme en un avión, después de pasar 10 días en mi islita, mi terruño, mi corazón… tratando de aportar un pequeño granito de arena y de aliviarle a unos pocos sus días y sus noches calurosas, aunque sea por solo unos días… Jamás pensé que me iba a doler tanto tener que regresar a mi vida cotidiana. Jamás pensé tener que iba a llegar con cuatro maletas llenas de cositas que tomamos por dadas para repartir entre familia, amigos y desconocidos necesitados, mientras regreso con solo una llena de ropa sucia (y con la mitad limpia porque mami me la quiso lavar a mano). Jamás pensé que me iba a sentir tan culpable por montarme en un avión.

Pero tampoco pensé que esta tormenta me daría la oportunidad de fortalecer relaciones que ya tenía, y de crear nuevas amistades que te llenan el corazón de sonrisas. Nunca imaginé ver tantas sonrisas en medio de tanta necesidad, y de sentir el calor humano del puertorriqueño de maneras tan indescriptibles. Ayudar se siente bien, pero ayudar a los suyos es otra cosa. Gracias a quienes me prestaron su cama, su bañera, pero más que todo, su compañía. Gracias a quienes compartieron un rato conmigo para darnos unos palos juntos, y hablar y llorar y darnos abrazos de los ricos. Y a quienes les pude traer cositas – ya sea para uso personal, para sus abuelos, suegros, ahijados, primos, familiares, vecinos – espero que la estufita sirva, que el abaniquito dé un poco de fresco, que la linterna alumbre lo suficiente, que las baterías duren.

El alma se siente completamente destrozada cuando tienes que partir en contra de tu voluntad. Por mí, me quedó aquí, bañándome a cubito en casa o yendo a casa de alguien con agua fría… me quedo acostándome en un cuarto sin abanico y dejando que me coman viva los mosquitos. Me quedo cogiendo sol en un Puerto Rico desconocido, sin la sombra de los árboles, ni la brisa entre sus ramas. Hay tanto más que quisiera hacer, tantos besos y abrazos más que me faltan por repartir… Se les quiere y sepan que tan pronto las responsabilidades de la vida diaria me lo permitan, estoy de vuelta. Porque, no importa lo que digan, esto nos dió bien duro a todos… y va pa’ largo.


Y María
November 16, 2017 ·

Hoy me levanté con muchas ganas de llorar. De llorar porque, aunque han pasado casi 60 días desde que un huracán destrozó a mi patria, peor aún son los casi 60 días de caos creados por la ineptitud de un gobierno que ha terminado de joder lo que María comenzó.

Me bebo las lágrimas, porque cada día que pasa, siento más dolor, porque cuando la gente a quien quiero me habla y escribe, puedo palpar la tristeza amarga y el coraje profundo escondidos en sus palabras… Son una tristeza y un coraje que yo no puedo reparar, por más que trate.

Lloro de la rabia de no poder darle un abrazo a las personas que significan tanto para mí – de abrazarlos y apretarlos hasta que nos duela y nos cansemos y nos bebamos las lágrimas juntos. De dejarles saber cuánto los amo y cuánto deseo poder estar ahí todos los días para que se desahoguen.

Lloro porque no puedo quitarme este sentimiento de culpa de tener luz y agua y todo lo “normal” desde lejos. De poder cargar el celular sin problemas, de prender el televisor cuando llego a casa, de echar la ropa a lavar, de seguir con la vida “cotidiana”… que no es tan cotidiana ya, porque cada día me levanto para ver qué más puedo hacer hoy para ayudar desde tan fucking lejos.

Se me salen las lágrimas solas del coraje que me da el no poder resolver este desmadre. Cómo quisiera poder arreglar todo, de un cantazo. Botar a todos esos políticos de mierda que lo único que hacen es empeorar las cosas y quitarle la esperanza, la empatía y el deseo de echar pa’lante al pueblo. Porque ellos son los que se han encargado de hacerle sentir a la gente que no hay luz al final del puto túnel.

Lloro porque me duele el pecho de aguantar todo esto por dentro. De querer ser fuerte para los demás. De tener que responder de la misma forma cada vez que me preguntan “how’s Puerto Rico?” o “how was your trip?” De sentirme culpable por sentirme así, pues quién soy yo para quejarme? Pero esto también nos afecta a los que estamos lejos. El estrés y la maldita ansiedad nos están consumiendo.

Así que hoy me voy a dar el lujo de llorar y sacármelo de adentro, porque mañana tengo que seguir. Esto no lo van a arreglar por nosotros, y hay mucho que hacer.


Y María
December 4, 2017

Day 75 today post-María. Seventy-five.

Seventy-five days where millions of people still have to light a candle or purchase batteries to light up their flashlights, because they still don’t have power. When you don’t have power, you can’t wash your clothes, keep food refrigerated, cook if you have an electric stovetop, use the microwave, sit on the couch to catch up on news, rely on traffic lights, store temperature-sensitive meds, or turn on the air conditioner when it’s over 90 degrees outside.

Seventy-five days where thousands lack reliable water. If you live in the mountains, and you get your water from the water company, you need power for pumps to push water up the mountain. So, if there is no power, there is no water. You can’t take a shower when it’s hot outside, you can’t flush your toilets, you can’t hand wash your clothes.

Seventy-five days where people literally feel like time stopped. You don’t know what day it is, because it’s the same crap over and over again. It’s like Groundhog Day – reliving the same story, but as each day passes, people around you become more frustrated and less empathetic. Driving takes three times longer than usual, and the constant buzzing of gas-powered generators is enough to drive anyone insane.

And I’m not even going to go into the mental health issues, because it’s too depressing. Suicide rates have skyrocketed, and the island wreaks of anxiety and depression. There seems to be no getting out of this dark rabbit hole.

Think of it this way: imagine the state of Rhode Island (a population of ~1.1 million) still didn’t have power or water, and couldn’t drive to adjacent states. People would be losing their SHIT. The difference is that, instead of 1.1 million, there are 3.4 million people suffering the consequences of corruption and poor leadership – both in the island and here.

So, if you can find it in you, reach out to your reps. This has to change. And, if you are looking for a more tangible way to help, donate money or supplies. You can start by visiting Puerto Rico Rising-Maryland for ideas on how to assist.

Y a los que están en la isla, les mando un abrazo. Acá, seguimos trabajando por ustedes.


Y María

December 18, 2017 ·

I just got an email regarding six souls lost in Vieques due to the lack of power, gas and doctors in the island. This sickens my heart.

Please, don’t forget to help people in Puerto Rico. This is inhumane. Call. Write. Donate. Volunteer.


Y María
December 20, 2017 ·

On my way home, exactly three months after María. I woke up wanting to write, but am finding myself without the right words… so I’ll just say this:

Three months and counting. Hundreds of thousands are still without power. Or water.

It’s easy to feel like you are drowning, but try to focus on doing good. As I recently told a dear friend, I choose to believe things will work out in the end. It won’t ever be the same, but I hope it will be better.

In the meantime, keep going. And keep doing.


Y María added 29 photos and 3 videos. 
January 6 ·

Ayer fue uno de los días más lindos que he tenido después del 20 de septiembre. Por medio de Puerto Rico Stands, pudimos llevar a cabo un evento increíble para la comunidad del Sector Maná en Barranquitas. Un evento lleno de amor, alegría y sonrisas genuinas.

Gracias a todos quienes lo hicieron posible: a Crearconsalud por auspiciar el almuerzo y dar talleres tan necesitados de salud mental; a los miembros de #ElFamilión por su liderazgo y coordinación de tantas partes del evento; a Anna, Adalberto y Danny por ayudar en el evento; a mis colegas de PR Stands; y en especial a Sarita, por ser mi mano derecha y mi motivación para lograr que esto fuese más que una idea.

El huracán llegó y nos cambió, pero no para mal, sino para bien. Mañana me regreso al frío con una sonrisa de oreja a oreja y el pecho hinchao.

Y si quieres seguir ayudando, seguimos recaudando donaciones. Me avisan!


Y María

February 20 at 8:46am ·

Breaking my FB detox to remind you that today marks five months since María hit Puerto Rico… Yes, my family has been 154 days without power (new light posts just started being installed two days ago). So, yes, there is still a lot to be done.

Check out Puerto Rico Stands for ways to help.


Y María

February 28 at 8:13pm ·

Llegó la luz a Cambute! 🙌🏼😭

161 days… 23 weeks… 5 months… However you wanna count it, my family finally has power! Elation doesn’t even begin to describe it!

So, I started a blog…

Last week, I was reading a NY Times article by Matt Ritchel entitled, “How to Be Creative.” In it, he provides fantastic advice on  allowing yourself to let go and feed your creative self. What really hit me was his section on being imperfect when creating something new. As he so eloquently states…

“Perfectionism is creativity’s biggest foe.”

 

Wow. Honestly, this couldn’t have come in a better moment.

See, I’ve been thinking about starting a blog for years now. I love to write, but it’s a scary process to write something and put it out there for the world to see. It opens you up to criticism, opinions, and a myriad of emotions. Not only that, but something else always happens: Work. Travel. Home. Starting a PhD. Trying to finish a PhD. You know, life and the anxiety of it all. Inevitably, blogging – and writing anything not conducive to my dissertation – was set aside. This, in part, was due to fear of starting something imperfect; something I couldn’t finish.

But this past year definitely set a different tone. It was, by far, the hardest year I’ve experienced: Charlie’s knee surgery. Anxiety. Cancer. Death. Way-too-early biopsy. Self-doubt. World doubt. My 2017 culminated in Hurricane María completely devastating the place I call home. I’ll be writing more about Puerto Rico recovery efforts in Rincón Boricua, but what I will say here is that even out of the darkest moments, there is light. I basically had to stop working on my dissertation for a few months, while I tried to figure out how I could help communities impacted by the storm back home. During this process, I realized how lucky I am to have special people in my life, and I felt a renewed passion for helping those who don’t even know I exist on Earth. I also met a group of amazing, hard-working people who really want to make a difference – so we started an organization and are working with a community on long-term recovery efforts. This experience has reminded me that if you want things to happen, you have to stop thinking and start creating.

All this has brought me here. I’m ready to share my stories with whomever wants to read them. They won’t be perfect… and that’s okay, because life’s beauty is in all its imperfection. And, because life is multi-faceted, I won’t be sticking to one topic (or one language). I’ll be sharing posts about:

My hope is that you will find some of these entertaining and insightful, and that they inspire you to create whatever it is you want to put out into the world.

Time here is finite, so you need to make every moment count. Como dice mi amiga Vane, el miedo lo dejamos en la gaveta… so, I started a blog!

Thanks for reading! img_8313