Editors may cringe at this piece since it’s written in first person narration. The sinful editorial mistake is not without purpose, however. I have an ethical responsibility to publish unsolicited recommendations on how the Puerto Rican Diaspora can best help our loved ones, based on my personal experience and my own critical analysis. And while having a very basic training on survival tactics due to my former career as a flight attendant, I’m in no way a professional in any field dealing with emergency situations. Disclaimer aside, let’s proceed.
Boricuas and communities in solidarity have been rattled the past few weeks with the threat of not one, but two category 5 hurricanes. While Puerto Rico dodged Irma’s savagery, María’s merciless punishment on the island proved to be one of catastrophic dimensions. As the Puerto Rican Diaspora suffered in spirit the wrath of Mother Nature against our beloved homeland, we united to take action without hesitation. As a result, we flooded cyberspace to score plane tickets and arrive promptly to aid, relief and rebuild. I was one of them.
I grew up in El Conquistador, Trujillo Alto- a city between Carolina and Caguas- where my mother still resides. Our home borders el río and el lago Carraízo. We’ve never experienced flooding due to the house’s altitude, but with hurricane María anything was fair game. My siblings and I devised a strategic plan with my mom’s neighbors to keep her company; to help each other. All we had to do is hopelessly wait. In the wake of the aftermath, we didn’t hear from our cousins, nor the neighbors, let alone her. My brother, as military personnel, managed to get a next day plane ticket, but like every flight that week, it was canceled. So, I jumped on the opportunity to purchase the second Delta flight that managed to leave and arrive on time. Yes, I made it! Not so fast, my friends. Truth be told, it is brutal!
It’s time to manage expectations based on reality, not just on media’s lackluster and somewhat fanatical coverage, let alone Trump’s towel-throwing, promotional-disturbing appearance. Cutting the chase, we need more than love for our people, prayers, plane tickets and suitcases full of life’s most treasured essentials. We’re resilient, so let’s always hope for the best, but prepare for the worst. To be aware of the worst case scenarios, here are my travel warnings. DO NOT GO to Puerto Rico:
· If you aren’t willing or able to walk from the airport to your final destination.
· If you have a medical condition that requires constant treatment, let alone medication that requires refrigeration.
· If you have special dietary needs.
· If you’re allergic to bees, wasps, insects, pollen, or anything that may trigger a severe anaphylactic shock.
· If you require uninterrupted communication of any type.
· If you, your family and/or your neighborhood don’t have equipment to clean up, remove debris, rebuild or do not know how to use it.
· If you aren’t willing or able to make hours worth of lines under the scorching heat for gas, money, food and water.
· If you don’t want to carry large amounts of cash.
· If you aren’t willing or able to bring your own supplies, including but not limited to: solar powered chargers and generators, USB operated mini-fans, flashlights and other essentials.
Some of these may be obsolete by now, depending on where your final destination is. Now, let’s say you responded positively to all of the above and you’re willing and able to risk possible death for our people, let me dissect some ideas on how you may best handle your missionary trip. Of course, use your judgment as best fits your needs.
Not only humans lost their homes: the bees’ crisis
Our brothers and sisters from other species are without food and homes as well. Bees and wasps are invading houses and cars looking for leftovers and building nests nearby; some even on our windows. They’re causing car crashes and severe allergic epidemics. It’s imperative we take action immediately to tame this situation and no, we shouldn’t kill them. We need a thorough reforestation plan that can be implemented promptly.
Recommendation: plant a small tree with leaves, as far as possible from the house and car, and place a recipient with water and pure sugar or honey. Also, I suggest an initiative for trees and agriculture donations so we can start reforesting and harvesting food in a timely manner.
Not all roads are clear. In fact, the inner cities are almost unreachable. Some lines to fuel vehicles are well into the 8 hour range. On my flight there were two passengers that planned to walk to their final destinations. Now, some car rental places are now working. That’s not to say some of the roads you may need to travel through are free and clear.
Recommendation: This may sound farfetched, but I marveled at the younger generation using this alternative: bicycles. So yes, I’m suggesting you ride a bike with some useful addition for transporting any packages. Is it difficult? Absolutely. But it is still a viable option. Check if you can break it apart, pack it and bring it with you or mail it.
Water is the coveted golden bucket at the end of the rainbow. In some places, such as my mom’s house, water is coming intermittently. She has a system where she collects more water whenever available to replenish her needs whenever the pipes are dry. But, how about drinking water? She bought copious amounts for herself. That’s not to say everyone has the same luxury.
Recommendation: Pack your own drinking and hygiene water. But, before you do so, freeze it. Why? There were numerous boxes and suitcases drenched in water due to broken bottles. I had two broken bottles and the damage was minimal. Depending on where you’re traveling from the bottles may arrive completely frozen or half way melted. I wrapped each bottle in aluminum foil to keep them cold as long as possible. As a side note, consider freezing coconut water as well.
And speaking of hygiene
Some brands of soaps, shampoos, and shower gels create so much foam and bubbles you need 8,000 gallons of water to rinse it off. This is not the time for spa-like treatments.
Recommendation: Cleansing facial wipes do not cause any foam and they work well on the rest of our body. Consider using dry shampoo or creamy brands that can be easily rinsed off. Of course, pack other very needed essentials such as feminine and baby products.
When bringing and donating clothes, I highly recommend you wear dry fit athletic attire. These are easily washed, dry quickly, and keep us cool. Plus, these clothes occupy less room than jeans and t-shirts. Also, bring rain boots, water shoes, long rubber gloves, surgical masks and protective eyewear.
This is very serious situation and yes, these deaths must be counted in the hurricane’s tally. Some have opted to take their own lives after not consuming food or water for days.
Recommendation: If any of your loved ones shows any signs of depression and express any suicidal thoughts please call the Suicide Prevention Resource Center. Also, bring with you any books, board games, fun materials, music and other sources of entertainment that do not require a power source.
Bugs, more bugs and buzzing bugs
Get ready for mosquito bites in body parts you didn’t know you had. Furthermore, as mentioned earlier, there’s a huge risk of bee and wasp’s stings.
Recommendation: Yes, of course, bring as much bugs repellent as possible. Also consider bringing some mosquito nets. Here’s a trick: mix vanilla extract with water for an insect repellent that smells good. If you like the scent of lemongrass, lavender or mint, you can add those essential oils to the mixture too, and you’ll smell great while fighting off the pests at the same time. Citronella candles may help as well for the outdoors. And yes, eat more garlic. That shall repel anything. Finally, make sure your surrounding areas do not have any standing water. If you do, pour them out and clean the recipient with Clorox.
The power of money, food and the sun
If anything media has gotten correctly is that food is scarce and there’s no electricity. We are in the dark! Which means, only selected ATM’s are working.
Recommendation: bring on your carry on- as it is not allowed to be checked in- solar powered battery, generators and chargers. I brought two generators along with USB/ battery operated fans and those were immensely useful. As for food, non-perishables are always needed. Protein shakes, meal bars, nuts and vitamins are imperative. You will need the energy to endure long hours of hard labor under the scorching sun. Bring your own medication! Yes, you must bring large amounts of cash. Do not transfer money from one bank account to another. That will just be numbers in cyberspace. If you don’t want to risk losing it, check the nearest open check cashing place and bring money orders. If not, you’ll be facing long lines for ATM’s.
And finally we all want to hear from our Boricuas
As with electricity, there’s no communication. I had a sporadic shred a cellular signal, enough to make three 90 second calls. Landlines, in some places, do not work. Internet is only available in some areas.
Recommendation: Bring a satellite phone and/ or an AT&T prepaid mobile with enough minutes- if you do not have AT&T as your provider. Bring calling cards in case the only thing available is a public phone. Write down all the numbers, emails and physical addresses of all the people you’d like to get a hold of. Print out the maps before your travels. Print out a list and contact information of all the open businesses around your area, including but not limited to: hospitals, shelters, post office, stores, gas stations, restaurants and other organizations.
If after this list you decide not to go, or simply can’t, please mail your help. Check if the nearest FedEx and USPS is finally operating, as they already are in most cities, and send your stuff.
Here are some of the organizations where you can donate to hurricane relief efforts in Puerto Rico:
- Hispanic Federation: https://hispanicfederation.org/donate/
- Acacia Network: https://donatepuertorico.com/
- ConPRmetidos: https://www.generosity.com/
- Defend Puerto Rico Hurricane Relief Fund: https://www.youcaring.com/defendprhurricanerelieffund-955117
- Hurricane Maria Recovery Fund : https://connect.clickandpledge.com/
And here are some links to organizations working in Puerto Rico's sustainable farming movement. 80% of the farms were wiped out in this hurricane. Sustainable Food Projects in Puerto Rico: https://fondoderesilienciapuertorico.tumblr.com/
For an expanded list of links and info to other organizations and agencies offering relief and assistance visit: Los Ambulantes: http://www.losambulantes.com/help-puerto-rico/