Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Maria log day 36 October 27, 2017, Friday

Friday, October 27, day 36

With only limited access to news, information, and communication, we tend to be isolated. Dealing with our own day-to-day lives, we tend to forget there is a bigger world out there. When we do get connected some things come as a surprise, like a major early-season snowstorm in the Upper Midwest.

This afternoon we took a couple of Stan Brock's RAM people to see the operation and meet the people at Ciudad de Salvacíon. More than month after Hurricane Maria, the church's relief efforts are still in high gear.

Stan and the RAM folks are here to scout locations for temporary medical clinics. The church is setting up a medical clinic. Made sense to introduce them and see if they could work together.

What started out as a simple drop off donations/make introductions turned into an afternoon of meeting new people - like Marelsa , a psychologist who specializes in trauma cases (and whose family loves horses!) and her social worker husband - and many many long conversations.

The contact with Marelsa led to meeting Kiki who takes care of Marelsa's familiy's horses. That led to arrangements to meet on Saturday morning to go get the horse in Aguada.

Very late, much later then we planned, we dropped the RAM guys, one of whom was the pilot,  off at the airport to check on their airplane which had mysteriously moved and was not where they left it.

Then we had pizza a Carole and Rolf's.

(Update: the airplane was moved because in the heat of the day, the fuel expanded and was leaking on the tarmac. The pilot spent several hours taking around the airport burning off fuel. All is well now.)

Monday, February 19, 2018

Maria log day 35 October 26, 2017, Thursday

Thursday, October 26, day 35

Today was a day for the horses. First our farrier, Manuel Lopez. came to take care of the horses' hooves. KTJ lost a shoe last week; her hoof was ragged and sore. Manuel did such a great job cleaning up the hoof and re-shoeing her.

Then our vet came to check out all the horses. KTJ and Zip have been breathing really hard. At first we thought it was the heat and lack of shade. That's part of it but they also have "pasture-induced allergies." The hurricane stirred up things in the pasture - dirt, fungus, spores, etc. - which the horses are now breathing. That causes a respiration reaction similar to asthma in humans. Both Zip and KTJ are now being treated with steroids. For some reason, Chocolate doesn't seem to be affected.

The heat also contributes to this problem so the shelter and shade of the run-in is even more important. Today we finished it. It has the extra large tarp (thank you Joyce Tretow!) with lots of room and shade for all three horses.

Evening -

Tonight we met Stan Brock and some of his volunteers from RAM (Remote Area Medical). I'm not even going to try to explain Stan. Search for him online and on YouTube. You'll understand why I'm not going in to his life story.

Among other things Stan has done, he's owned horses. He was part of an operation in British Guyana with 2,000 horses running 5,000 head of cattle on 1 million (1,000,000!) acres. The numbers are staggering. He's working with the American Bureau of Land Management to relocate American mustangs to South America.

In his travels around Puerto Rico scouting locations for medical clinics, he came across a number of lost/abandoned horses in Aguada, two towns south of us.

For reasons that aren't clear, he became fixated on this one three-year-old (we think) Paso Fino stallion. We're not sure how he made it Elaine's mission to rescue that horse. Not on our agenda! But Stan is kind of a force to be dealt with, accustomed to getting things done. Or, more properly, having things done for him.

So, Elaine and I are now semi-committed to rescuing this horse.

Stay tuned.

Maria log day 34, October 25, 2017, Wednesday

Wednesday, October 25, day 34

"Da Guys," the brothers Camacho who do all our construction work, came today to fix and/or replace all the roof pieces that were damaged by Maria. Yay!

The Postal Service has started working and packages are arriving We have so much gratitude for so many people. Just a few of  the many:

Joyce Tretow - a friend of our daughter Amy. Elaine spent one afternoon riding with her a year ago when Elaine was in Ohio doing certification training. She sent us two huge heavy-duty tarps , Bungee cords and batteries. One of the tarps will go on the run-in for the horses tomorrow.

Denise Wood Walsh - a high school classmate of Elaine's sent a whole box of stuff.

Our kids [- Several boxes so far and more to come Food, dried fruit, flashlights and so much more. And a HUGE Go-fund-Me.

Pat and John Pawlik - our neighbors when we lived in Michigan sent a superduty water filter. Even though we have water service, we still filter our drinking water so this is so welcome.

Elaine's sister Mary - Water filters, batteries. lights, so much that we've been able to share with others.

So many people. So much help. So much gratitude.

Maria log day 33, October 24, 2017 Tuesday

Tuesday, October 24, day 33

Today I did my ritualistic ever-hopeful flick of the faucet and I heard gurgle gurgle WHOOSH!


I let it run a bit to see if it was real and to clear the air bubbles out of the line.


I yelled up the stairs AGUA!!!!!!!

It looks like it might be for real this time.

Having water changes everything. It shifts our priorities back to cleaning. We're still filtering our drinking water; we will for the foreseeable future, maybe forver. But we're not dependent on captured rainwater to wash dishes and flush toilets. That's a good thing because we haven't had significant rain for a week now. The rain buckets are getting low.

The current rumor about why we haven't had water is - pirates!. The story is very morning some people were opening the valve up the mountain that feeds our area. But they only opened it to fill their own water truck. Then they shut off the valve and came down the mountain to sell that water to they'd stolen it from!

We don't know if that's true or not but it's a good story. Plus, the day after the person "discovered" and "reported" the piracy, we got water back. Hmmmmm...

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Maria log day 32, October 23, 2017, Monday

Monday October 23, day 32

Some days, like Saturday and Sunday, are low-key with nothing much to write about.

Others, like today, are jammed full.

This morning I got a call, on my cell phone! I was up in the pasture with the horses, the only place on the planet where I get cell signal.

Our bank finally opened. We can get money without paying another banh's ATM fees.And, we got our balance for the first time in two months. Good information to have.

Today was one of those amazing days on the ocean. Sunlight, dark clouds and gazillions of colors. Greens, blues, grays and everything in between, colors we don't even have names for.

The infinite colors of the ocean were one of the first things we fell in love with in Puerto Rico. Since Maria, the water has been so murky, cloudy, the colors dulled. It was such a joy to see Mother Ocean back in her incredible beauty and glory.

Tonight we had a date. Together! With each other!. We went to 110 Thai for dinner, our first real outing since the storm. In addition to a great dinner we got to see some people we haven't seen since before the storm.

We found out another friend is leaving the island. Nassine owned a really great wine shop in Aguadilla. She had just moved here shop to Rincon a couple of months before Maria. Rincon is a better market for her - more mainlanders, more of a wine-drinking culture. Local Puerto Ricans tend toward beer and Johnny Walker. And rum.

Maria decimated tourism and the snowbirds. The economy was bad before the hurricane. I can't imagine what it's going to be like with so many jobs gone.

Nassine is leaving because she doesn't think she and her business can survive. Talking with her we realize - once again - how incredibly fortunate we are. We don't have to work to survive. We can survive on the resources we have. It would be thin, tight, but we can do it. That puts us in a much better position than many people. Once again - so grateful!

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Maria blog day 29, October 20, 2017, Friday

Friday, October 20, day 29

I must have done something today besides feed the horses and eat pizza at Carole's, but I darned if I know what it was.

Friday night pizza has become a ritual, a new post-hurricane tradition.

We stop at Cofo's, a side-of-the-road pizza truck. It's just a block or so from Carole and Rolf's house so the pizza is nice and hot when we get there.

Cofo's has the same problems the rest of us have - no electric, no water. They, like so many, are operating on a generator. They normally have the usual variety of toppings but with no refrigerator, right now they only have cheese, no extras.

I didn't know a plain cheese pizza could taste so good!

They are usually open 'til midnight but now they pretty much close by dark. They only make a limited amount of dough. When that's gone, they're done for the night. Last week we were a little late getting there and they had taken all the orders they could fill for the day. Okay, I get it.

This week Jose saw me walk up. He asked me what I wanted, I told him two large to go. OK. He made sure we got our pizzas. He made them in order but put them in ahead of some or the people waiting. When I went to pay, he said, "You are my regular customer. I need to take care of you>"

It was an amazing moment, Nothing I expected, nothing I asked for. Just a gift freely given and gratefully accepted.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

NOW February 13, 2018, Tuesday Electricity

Tuesday, February 13

A couple of weeks ago, CBS News posted a video on Facebook of kids in a school here in PR when electricity was restored. It is a fantastic celebration, joyous and exuberant, as it should be.

On February 5, 137 days after the storm, 139 days after the lights went out, we got electricity back.

Our celebration wasn't quite as rambunctious as the celebration in the school but we quietly celebrated.

Some of our response was  humorous. For example, after flipping switches out of habit for the first few weeks, when the light finally came back on, we couldn't remember where the switches are. We had to use flashlights to find the light switches.

On the first morning we got up in the dark and turned on the lights. And immediately turned them off. Too harsh, too bright! We went back to our solar lights and flashlights to light the morning. We're still using them.

We don't miss the noise and the smell of the generators. We do miss the dark at night and the stars. We've lost that contact in the light haze.

As I said, having power back is a game-changer, a life-changer. In the past four months I've moved away from so many of the things I did before the hurricane, especially photography. I have not had access to my usual photo editing software because I don't have my computer because I don't have electricity.Without my camera, software and the Internet to upload photos, I have done none, zero, surf photography since the storm.

I've filled that void with other things, especially caring for and working with horses. Horses, not photography, have become my daily morning ritual. The restoration of electricity brings at least the possibility of returning to photography. Since typically both are morning activities, I will have to choose between them. And that thought just flat out depressed me. I may be the only person on the island depressed by the restoration of electricity.

The need to make that decision has been delayed. Even though we now have electric back, I still don't have my computer; it still has it's own issues and isn't working. Back to shop it goes. .

Maria log day 28 October 19, 2017 Thursday

Thursday, October 19, day 28

It has become a morning ritual: as I walk through the kitchen to make coffee, I turn on the faucet to see if we have water.

Nope. Not this morning.

Someone made a Herculean effort to clear the road down the beach. I did some raking and some bushwhacking around a downed section of fence and cleared out some vines that partially blocked the end of the path. Now I can take the dogs to "our" beach again.

There is still that three-foot drop at the end where the dune washed away. The dogs can jump down but that's hard on them. And, I have to lift them up on the way back. They don't like that and neither do I.

So I built a ramp out of storm debris. Amber will go down with coaxing. Oz still prefers to jump. I have to butt-push both of them to get up. I think/hope it will get easier as they do it more.

Monday, February 12, 2018

Maria log day 27 October, 18, 2017, Wednesday

Wednesday, October 18, Day 27

We are all starved for "vitamin sea" therapy. All of us, including the dogs. "Our" road to "our" beach is blocked by downed trees. I haven't had time yet to clear a path. Most of the stuff is way beyond my pay grade and equipment capabilities.

I realized the dogs haven't been to a beach in a month (!) so I started taking them for walks on different beaches. Yesterday it was Punta Borinquen,

today at Baño de la Princessa.

The transformation in Amber is simply amazing. He is like a different dog on the beach, The beach truly is his happy place.

We went snorkeling at Shacks again today. Still really crappy visibility and today we had a really ripping current. Still no chance to see what damage the hurricane did to the reef. We drifted down from "our" end of the beach to the "key hole" in front of Villa Tropical. A huge amount sand was moved, not only off the dune and the beach but under water as well. There is a lot more submarine rock exposed now.

I wrote earlier about my "hurricane beard," for the first time in - 13? 15? - years. I don't remember Anyway, for the first time in a really long time I have a full beard and, limited though it may be, hair on my head.

 Snorkeling with hair is weird! The water on my head was a very strange sensation. It doesn't seem like it would make that much difference, but it does.

Thursday, February 08, 2018

Maria log day 26, October 17, 2017, Thursday Ciudad de Salvaćion

October 17, Day 26 Ciudad de Salvaćion

At the far opposite end of the universe from the ego and agenda in Rincon is the Ciudad de Salvaćion.

This is the Western Puerto Rican version of a mega-church. Their main chapel/auditorium normally seats 2,000. When it is not being used for hurricane relief.

The people in this church take their mission seriously. Their mission is not evangelizing or proselytizing their mission is helping people..(Are you listening Joel Osteen?)

In the wake of Hurricane Irma they set up part of their campus to house nearly 200 refugees from other islands. They bought - with church funds - cots, bedding, toiletries, towels and flipflops for every person. They already have an on-going clothing drive so everyone would have clothes to wear. They had food supplies so their cafeteria could feed the masses.

Many of the refugees they expected were people with disabilities and their caretakers. It was decided that the crossings from the other islands were too dangerous for them so the refugees never arrived here. When Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico, they already had many resources in place.

In the first days after the hurricane, before any relief agencies were even on the island, the congregation actively searched for people in need and took help to them. They didn't say, "we have it, come get it." They took it!

They opened their cafeteria and began serving hot meals every day to anyone who showed up.

The Food Bank of Puerto Rico is in San Juan. The food bank contacted the church about being their distributor on the west side of the island. Yes, of course, with one request. Church volunteers  would do all the work - sorting, packing, delivering - but they wanted to remain anonymous. They didn't wank any confusion of identities. Now, with the same request for anonymity, they are also the distributor $1 million in aid Ricky Martin sent to the island.

 As relief supplies arrived at the church, they ran out of room to store and sort them. So, they moved the chairs out of half of their main chapel to create storage and packing room. They stacked pallets of food and supplies on the floor and on the stage, driving muddy trucks and forklifts across the carpet to get there. (Are you listening, Joel Osteen and all the other "ministers" of mainland mega-churches?)

They are only doing hot meals in their cafeteria three days a week now because they've turned the cafeteria into a food packing assembly area Henry Ford would be proud of.

In  one day volunteers assembled and delivered 5,000 bags of food.

Meanwhile, other volunteers go out looking, searching for people who need assistance. For example, acting on a suggestion from a volunteer, they found a small community of 80 families tucked away in a forgotten, almost unknown corner of Isabela. This are was completely blocked in and isolated for several days by downed trees, wires and poles. Volunteers from the church walked, climbed scrambled over the debris to reach this small community. Maria had virtually destroyed it. The residents had nothing. 

The volunteers walked back out, went back to the church and told the kitchen volunteers to stop what they were doing. They needed hot meals for 80 families, to go, ASAP.  Then the volunteers drove back to the area, hiked through the debris again, and delivered the meals.

While people were eating, volunteers wrote down everyone's name and clothing sizes. The next day those same volunteers returned, again making their way over an through the trees, wires, poles, and debris, with clothing and food bags for everyone. They brought tarps for makeshift roofs over damaged and destroyed houses.

Other volunteers at the church created a department store-like set-up for clothing donations. Every donated piece that comes in is washed, sometimes by hand, and then hung up on racks. Clothes are arranged by gender and size, women's, men's, and children's. People can browse and take what they need.

Elaine asked one of the church officials which they needed most, supplies or money. Hector said money. Right then they were just about out of fuel for the generator to keep the operation running. She asked him if people should specify if donations were for relief for the church. Hector kind of smiled and said, "It doesn't matter. It's all for relief. The church is operating in the red. Everything coming in, regardless of where, is going to relief."

Talk about a church putting it's money - and it's true Christian values! - where it's mouth is! (Are you listening, Joel Osteen?)

Every one who heard this story has said the same thing, asked the same question: Can these people take over relief efforts for the island? Get rid of FEMA, the army, the Red Cross, and the Puerto Rican government. Let these people run it!

In the course of the conversation with Hector Elaine told him about Calorcito P'al Corazon, her non-profit that delivers blankets to hospitals, and about the therapeutic riding program. He was very interested in both. As they talked about the riding program, Hector said, "That's the kind of help a child with autism needs. They don't need a sermon from us."

My respect for these people grows and grows With many organizations, especially "faith-based," help comes with a huge helping of agenda. You gotta listen to the sermon to get the soup. Not so at Ciudad de Salvaćion. They put people ahead of any evangelistic agenda. I like that.