2017 Life Logs, Day 280: Now Here, Now Gone
Date: Saturday, October 7, 2017
Weather: Foggy Morning, Partly Cloudy Afternoon; High 75, Low 64 degrees F
Location: At Home in The Studio, Falmouth, MA
As I write this log, I can hardly believe I am watching television coverage of yet another hurricane. I can hardly focus on that, however, as I am still reeling from Maria’s devastation. Hearing from Justin and Jo and getting to see Ziggy and Coco on Skype video last night was wonderful. It was just like they were here and they do seem to be doing just fine. But this morning, they were gone just as quickly as they appeared last night. I got a message from Jo at 8:48 this morning while I was at the Rite-Aid trying to send cash to them via Western Union. But any trace of communication that I can find ended before 10 am and Western Union says the money has not yet been picked-up. That could mean nothing as the Western Union where they went to pick up the money in Mayaguez might not have a way to confirm. Still, I worry that they didn’t get the money. On the other hand, as any parent knows, kids usually find a way to contact you when they need money, so hopefully Justin be able to find another way to let me know if they are penniless. It is just so hard to get cash in their hands. I know it must be very frustrating to Justin that he has money in his bank account, but cannot access it. So once again, I wait until I hear from them again. Justin posted on Facebook this morning, so I am going to copy that here. Like Jo’s post last night, this one from Justin gives you a great deal of insight into what life is like for them and those around them in Rincon. I spent my day today ordering and buying additional things they need, and many of you have asked how you can help. Justin and Jo have outlined their ideas on Facebook, but both also gave me specific ideas that I will share in tomorrow night’s log. Que viva Puerto Rico, viva!
Justin Handley’s Facebook Post, Sunday, October 7,2017
So, in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, many of our friends, family, and associates have asked what they can do to help. It has taken us these last weeks just to get our bearings. As the shock wears off and we become comfortable with the new state of life, with no power, no running water, and very sporadic communication of any sort, we are now trying to look towards what we can do to help those that are less fortunate than we are.
Because of tax incentives, this island has its fair share of US internet-based businesses. In the last weeks, we’ve watched as almost all of the people who were here in any capacity like that got up and left. It was disheartening and scary at times as people rushed to leave. We also make our primary income from an online business. At this point, I have no idea how that business is doing, and I can only hope that it will be there when we get through this.
We chose not to leave for many reasons, though. Primarily, this is our home. We. didn’t move here to get a tax incentive for our business. We moved here to put down roots and start a farm that could sustain our family now and hopefully for generations to come. We spent almost two years working through the financial bureaucracy to get to the point where we could finally buy our little 2-acre farm.
And then Maria came and wiped the slates clean here. But we were incredibly lucky. We had the financial resources to buy plywood before the storm and make storm shutters for all of our windows, and our house is in a beautiful little valley that is fairly protected from the wind. While our land was hit hard, and it is going to take months of hard labor just to clear the trash from a shed that was torn apart and all of the trees that are down, our house and family came through the storm unscathed. We lost one chicken and one baby chick. And we took in a baby cat we found a couple of days after the storm that also died. But in general, we are alive, well, and in many ways thriving.
But here is the story of our little island. About 10 miles south of here where the river meets the sea, flooding came from both directions and wiped out a lot of homes and families. I believe (and I say that because there is no news, everything I know is based on rumors) that around 17 people died and there are 28 listed as missing. And that is just right here.
Because all we know about is right here. We have heard rumors, some crazy (armed gas truck hijackers and the head of our local military base scared because they are out of gas) and some calm (if you go far enough south, there are still leaves on the trees and flowers blooming).
I heard a woman today saying that she was trying to get to Utuado, but after KM 30 the road is just… gone. One the interior of the island I believe there are still places people haven’t reached, and haven’t been able to check.
We finally got in touch with a friend from San Juan who said the feeling there is very ‘post-apocalyptic’. People who lived through George 15 years ago used to tell stories about the big storm. Now they just say ‘George was nothing’.
One friend said she saw a palm tree shoot out of the earth into the ocean like it was a rocket. Another said he saw a whole tree levitating about 6 feet off the ground, and then shoot off, after which a cow flew by.
There is no real way to describe what is going on here, as I think a lot of it is emotional – the product of a whole society in a state of shock. But the Puerto Rican people are amazing, putting one foot in front of the other, trying to move forward.
I wish I could say ‘now it is time to rebuild’ but I don’t think we are there yet. I think we are sttill just trying to survive, and we’d like to help people do that. So, here is what we are doing, and what you can do to help.
First of all, unless you can verify that something is happening, don’t give money to big organizations who say they can help. Ask for proof of what is happening. Because right here, right now, there is nothing happening. I met one man from FEMA who came to check the old nuclear power plant to make sure it was OK. I hear rumor that one day a van showed up with food and water, earlier than it was supposed to, gave out a little bit of stuff, and left by the time it was supposed to get here leaving lines of hungry people, some passing out in the heat.
The only person I have personally seen giving any assistance was a local business owner who was out of town when the storm hit and came back in with about 10 suitcases full of supplies like water filters, bug spray, gummy vitamins for kids, diapers, and a couple of satellite phones. No FEMA. No Red Cross (actually, with the internet just now, I did see a post saying they showed up today – unclear on the actual impact). Almost no one official at all – the mayor has closed up shop, the police presence isn’t much different than any other time.
Also, be careful of GoFundMe campaigns. Some of them are legit – for example, the guy who came into town with 10 suitcases I think did it through a GoFundMe campaign. On the other hand, I have heard that a family ran a GoFundMe to help with ‘hurricane recovery’ and then flew out on a private jet.
Maybe things are different in San Juan, it is hard to know. There have been a couple of internet hotspots that have gone up and down, and one day we drove an hour to get to a landline that was working so we could call our Moms. But with gas dwindling and no cash or way to get any, it is hard to go chasing rumors that there might be a phone or internet connection somewhere.
Claro, the local phone company, apparently has restored some cell service, but without cash, there is no way to get gas to go to where you might be able to get a Claro phone. So we are limited in our communication right now. And that means we don’t know much of what is going on beyond what we hear from people who have made calls, or found internet, or had relatives come and find them.
So, we are looking to establish direct and local assistance. Make no mistake – if you follow any of these plans you are only helping a little pocket of the world. As things expand, if there is a lot of support, we will do our best to spread the love. But you can also know that what you give will go to directly improve the quality of life here. There will be no big organizational overhead. You will just be helping real people.
Plan One: Immediately usable supplies. If you want to put together flat rate USPS boxes and ship them to
PO Box 870
(Or, if it won’t go to a PO Box, you can use 100 Carretera 115, Unit 870)
Rincon, PR 00677
We will make sure that the items get distributed. What kind of things? Well – we are going to be working on putting together a very specific list (as a starter, I know of an 85-year-old man who lost everything, including his shoes, who could use a pair of size 10 and a half shoes. Please don’t send them yet, though, because…) but until we can do that, and find a connection, and publish it (remember – this message was written days before we found a connection to post it) everyone can use…
Non-Perishable Food. The healthier the bettter. Meat helps with really hungry people – beef jerky wouldn’t go astray, but again, healthy beef jerky. People who are very hungry DO NOT NEED junk food as the litttle bit of food that they get. Protein bars. Granola. Powdered milk. Things that don’t take cooking – for people who lost it all, that often includes the stove. I can’t even imagine what a normal food shelf in North America looks like right now so you can use your creativity here.
I’m working on the camp stove idea, but I don’t think you can ship gas canisters, and I don’t know where to find them, so until I do, that’s a ‘let’s hold’.
D Batteries. After Irma, there were no more D batteries on the island, and that hasn’t changed – lots of useless flashlights sitting around.
We are also trying to plant as much as possible on our land right now. With many of the big trees down, we suddenly have arable land where it used to be a dark forest. So, organic (ORGANIC) seeds are welcome – if you send us GMO seeds they will be thrown away. Also, we live in the tropics – so nothing that can’t handle the heat. Root vegetables – potatoes, carrots, onions, beets, radish. We are trying with lettuce. Hearty spinach. Tomatoes. Eggplant. Not sure – if you have access to the internet you can find zone based growing charts easier than I can.
If you send seeds, know that you are funding a personal and experimental project. We are hoping to generate more food than it takes to feed us, and if we can, that food will be distributed for free to people in need. This won’t happen for 2 to 3 months, and at this point, we have no idea what life will look like then, and if there will still be a need, etc. so.. Consider this a donation to the future of Finca Maravilla. Although, if we get lots of seeds, we can do starts and start handing out starts the wider community so everyone can plant.
In a more immediate sense – sprouting trays and sprout seeds – the more the better. When there is no refrigeration fresh vegetables can get deprioritized. If we can start sprouting and distributing fresh sprouts to the community, that will give some live/fresh veg that people can work in with the loads of rice and beans that are now being consumed around here.
My wife is going to be doing some workshops with kids, and she is looking for art supplies – crayons, plasticine, beeswax, paper. I know she wrote her own epically long post (in the hot afternoons when it is too stifling to cut back any more fallen wood, we get some good quiet time these days) and if you want her take, it is here…https://www.facebook.com/jujumojo/posts/10155540493821413
Joseph Mueller is putting his tech expertise to work and fixing every generator in a 100-mile radius as far as I can tell. He has a hard time getting parts – keeps a list of needed parts here if you want to send them.https://www.amazon.com/gp/registry/wishlist/3BEZNQP8HRJ5D
If you really want to aid the island, when flights start, come visit us. Bring cash. Go to restaurants. Go to stores. Get massages. Pay for surf lessons. Rent some boards. Help a community that really depends on tourist money get back on its feet. We’d love to see you.
And I almost forgot – here is the obligatory for friends and family … we are fine. We are fine. We are fine. Kids are happy. We are fed. We have a roof. Now let’s try to help everyone else get there as well.