Life lessons from Hurricane Matthew

No school tomorrow! Woohoo!!

As I may have forgotten to mention, because we work in a Catholic school we don’t get any of the usual US holidays off that we had in New Jersey. That means like 15 more days of school in the first three months of the year than we had in the past.

But today, we got that ever-celebrated, always-anticipated phone call! The call we often woke up anxiously awaiting during inclement weather; the “snow day call”!

Well, as you know living on a tropical island is not conducive to snowfall but it is the perfect mix of wind, humidity, and rain for massive hurricanes. Cue major winds and thunderstorms. We have been on the watch constantly for Hurricane Matthew because people can’t quite predict where he is going to hit.

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That little red circle is where we live and really we are not in the direct path of this hurricane. We are probably going to get the tail winds and some seriously heavy rain. Some context for the storm: the internet has been out since Friday (currently using my mobile data as a hotspot) and most of the electricity is out. We have back up generators that will allow us to use small appliances and most lights in addition to a propane stove so we can still cook. Really, we aren’t so affected by the storm. We also have working A/C and plenty of food and drink to get us through.

Almost as if in anticipation of this storm, the city hasn’t seen the sun in three days. Okay, not so bad right?

Wrong.

Like I said we did a little happy dance and then we remembered how lucky we have it. We got the day off, but Jamaica, Haiti, and Cuba are about to get slammed with a Category 4 hurricane; as if Haiti needs another thing. It is much easier to be excited about school off when there is snow because people can stay in their homes, and for the most part we don’t have major concerns of large-scale tragedies occurring when it snows. However, a hurricane is larger than life and the 30-40 inches of rainfall that is expected to drop over those three countries could be truly devastating.

blue-mall.jpgLets look at our beautiful neighborhood, Piantini, that has plenty of money pumped into it’s infrastructure. We live about two blocks left of that red arrow. Houses and high rises are made of brick and cement, insulated to keep cool while the A/C is running. However, when it rains we have such severe flooding, I have seen people take their shoes off and roll up their pants to wade through shin-deep water to cross the street on their walk home from work.

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Barquita, Santo Domingo, DR

These are not my images, by the way. But you can trust me as a history person to ensure you are seeing exactly what I am describing.

Move over to a less-fortunate neighborhood in the same city and people’s houses are flooded to their bedsides. The tin roofs on make-shift wooden/metal structures hardly suffice to keep out the rain and wind.  Worse yet, missing a day of work for some people is missing a day of food.

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Now, move even further west on the very same island to Haiti where they’ve been absolutely devastated by flooding, earthquakes, hurricanes, and as a result, rampant spread of illness and you have a true recipe for disaster when a storm like Hurricane Matthew arrives. At some point you have to wonder “why”? Why them? These people can not have controlled their location on the globe so, how can they deserve to be repeatedly impacted by these disasters? They don’t deserve it. But as long as Haiti is getting hit, it means the Dominican Republic isn’t. More on that in a bit.

Can’t they leave their side of the island and find safety elsewhere? No, unfortunately they are not allowed citizenship on the Dominican side of the island; in fact many of the people who were born here in the last 75 years are currently having their citizenships revoked if they are of Haitian descent. Don’t believe me?

Check it out: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/nov/19/dominican-republic-violated-human-rights-haitians-citizens

So, do they deserve this repeated trauma brought on by natural disasters because they are unable to move from the country they are in; the circumstances they were born into?

While it is certainly a relief to have a day off of school (and it may look like Tuesday will be off, as well) it isn’t worth what may be coming for Haiti, Cuba, and Jamaica. It is hard to be excited about something that serves us (and we desperately could use a shortened week) while it is simultaneously hurting others.

You should read this… because I don’t express my thoughts on this often…

And that brings me to my reflective paragraphs I try to put at the end of each one of these posts. As I said earlier, as long as Haiti is getting hit, it means the Dominican Republic isn’t. Isn’t that a good thing for me? I can’t control what is happening to other people, I can’t control this storm or what the reality is for millions of people who aren’t as fortunate as I am this evening typing away on my blog. So why is there any argument against “good for me”?

Here we go…

We are all entitled to our own opinions, and I thank my lucky stars I was given an education and upbringing that allows me to see outside myself and what serves me. If we all took a moment to stop thinking about how we could each personally get a leg up on another person or group of people (this is about to be a run-on thought, bear with me)… or if we had a little compassion for one another as human beings experiencing life differently because of our circumstances then, I don’t know, maybe if we could look at ourselves and decide that because something enables us personally but doesn’t enable other people who live among us, maybe it isn’t “right”, after all. Just because something is good for me and isn’t good for someone else, doesn’t mean its good. Literally, at all.

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When we aren’t the ones experiencing “the storm”,  do we really have a leg to stand on to make decisions about whether this storm’s effect on another group is founded or unfounded? Can we make decisions about how that storm is handled when we sit far away in a cushy cement building on the second floor with our backup generators and working propane stoves? Should we rejoice in how the storm serves us, when it also punishes others so severely they may not walk away with their lives? How can we make assumptions about how we would have handled the storm when we were not born into a place or circumstances prone to these “storms”? Why have we turned into a people that takes a loud-mouth stand against the guy rolling up his pants to wade through the storm water saying “this isn’t my personal fault, I need help” when we haven’t had our shoes wet? It’s not even that people are unwilling to listen, they are totally unwilling to comprehend the complexity of reality. That maybe there is a reality that exists outside their own.

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  It is a privilege to be indoors observing what is happening around us without having to feel the consequences of it.

I think that the biggest problem with US politics and opinions today is this idea of what’s right vs. what’s wrong in every situation. Things don’t have to be one way or another. The beauty and curse of the United States is encompassed by its heterogeneity. Why do we think we need to choose sides when really no clear side exists? We have to honestly shut up for 30 seconds and listen to what someone else has to say; question who we are and why we feel a specific way and decide if there is possibly any other solution, perspective, or reality that may exist.

There is. There are a lot of realities that exist outside of your own. Life isn’t just black and white. You don’t get to make judgment calls about something you don’t understand when you haven’t tried to understand. That is ignorant. It’s the same reason Donald Trump has moved so far in this presidential election; absolute ignorance. America is looking mighty ridiculous on the world stage.

 

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In the words of one of my personal favorites, “I’m not perfect and I don’t claim to be. But before you start pointing fingers, make sure your hands are clean.”

 

 

 

 

Tonight, I’m sending my love and prayers to those who are unable to control their circumstances, whether its Hurricane Matthew, your own personal, or collectively shared storm. More so, I’m sending positive energy to those who have the ability to change the realities of those they may not understand. The people who can use what serves them, to serve others. Maybe, just maybe, we can change the course of the everyday storms that exist.

I will spend my day tomorrow putting together lessons on global citizenship. I can’t stop the hurricane from hurting people, but I can enlighten young minds to the reality of caring about people, even when it doesn’t serve them in particular. We have been given the gift of conscious thought. Use it. It is time we take responsibility for ourselves and each other.

End rant.

xo SBV

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