Friday, November 30, 2018

MARIA log November 30 Day 69 Thursday

Thursday, November 30 day 69

Sixty-nine days after Hurricane Maria, today is the last day of the 2017 hurricane season. It was clear, sunny , and hot.

After we got the second half of the gate up and some cleaning done, we went snorkeling at Shacks.

The water looked pretty clean when I took Oz for a walk but by the time we got in, it was back to murky 20-foot visibility. The tide was coming in and it was kind of rough. We almost abandoned the "dive" and got out early. Am I ever glad we didn't!

Right at the end, right near the shore in the shallows we saw the biggest school of mackeral scad I've seen in five or six years. We used to see big schools like that at lot at Crashboat.They haven't been there for a long time.

I just laid there in the shallows watching the river of fish swim past. Elaine and I got separated as she looked for a way to the beach. She told me the rush of small fish chased by bigger bar jacks completely blocked her way to shore.

Of course, this was the one time I didn't take a camera.

NOW; today is November 30, the last day of the 2018 Atlantic hurricane season. The weather today is almost exactly like last November 30 - sunny, dry, warm. We are so grateful that the weather is the only similarity to last year, and for no repeats. In fact this year we didn't have even a big tropical storm. We're real okay with that.

MARIA log November 29, Day 68 Wednesday

Wednesday, November 29 day 68

I started work on the second half of the gate today. Basically I got the posts in the ground. I wanted to finish it but I can't find the wood I need. I've got the fence boards but not the cross pieces. None of the lumber yards have what I'm looking for. Construction materials are still hard to find and expensive.

Elaine had to go to CESCO - the island version of the DMV. It's only open until noon and the line starts forming about 5:00 am.

While she waited in line, I waited for a crew to fix Jeremy's air conditioner. They were supposed to be there by 8:00 am. Apparently they failed to specify what day.

Since we were both waiting and we both had cell signal we texted. Elaine was telling me about some of the people she was standing in line with and some of their conversations.

I thought, "There is a master's thesis here for some sociology student: the importance of queues in human social interaction."

That could be followed by a dissertation: Gas stations as community gathering centers in Puerto Rico. Its a narrow enough niche I'll bet no one has studied it before.

By the way - cloudy all day but no rain.

Thursday, November 29, 2018

NOW Thursday, November 29

Today's best moment: Rolf meeting Chocolate.

As part of our therapeutic riding center, Horses of Hope, we plan provide services to adults as well as children. We've talked for a long time that we want Rolf to meet the horses. He rode horses when he was younger and we're interested to see if meeting our horses triggers any memories or emotions.

The first meeting went very well. It's a little early to tell if there is a deeper response, but both Rolf and Chocolate look pretty relaxed together. There are more horse encounters in Rolf's future. Stay tuned.

MARIA log, November 28, Day 67 Tuesday

Tuesday, November 28, day 67

Today was the last day of Helping Horses at the Picadero. We - and I include myself even though it was mostly Elaine and Annie - did good. The need is much greater than the supply but we did help a lot of people help their horses. We can all feel very proud.

Now a bit of a rant: We have a friend we'll call X, who left the island right after Maria on one of the very first humanitarian flights out. Many people left, for many reasons.

I can tell you exactly why she left: worried parents, her job, and her first-world psyche couldn't deal with living in the post-hurricane third world.

I don't judge her - or anyone else - for leaving. Each one of us had to make that decision for him or herself. That said...

About two weeks later she sent us a message on Facebook, assuming somehow we would get it. "Emergency! I have maggots in my refrigerator. Can you go clean it for me?" We eventually got the message on one of our borrowed Internet connections.

Uh, no. We have our own stuff to clean up.

By the time she left, electricity on the island had been off for a week. Even so, she didn't clean out her refrigerator or cabinets. She walked away from spoiled food in the 'fridge and food waiting to spoil in the cupboards. Now, weeks later, she wanted us - or someone - to go in a clean up the mess she left.

Another friend, M., agreed to go clean up. When M. got to the apartment, not only the refrigerator but all the cupboards and the entire kitchen were swarming with maggots. No way could she do this job for the paltry $120 that was offered!

X. left no cleaning supplies. There is still no bleach to be had on the island, still no water. M. had to take everything out of the 'fridge, carry the maggot-infested shelves down three flights of stairs and half a block to the ocean to rinse the maggots off the refrigerator parts and her own arms and hands. Only then could she go back to the apartment to clean. With no bleach and no water.

Eventually X. said she couldn't afford to pay any more. M. said, "then I can't clean any more."

Over the last two months I've seen occasional Facebook posts from X. Granted, I see FB maybe five minutes at night at Carole's. X. may have posted an absurd number of comments offering help and asking how friends are doing. They may have been there and I just didn't see them. The posts I saw were comments (complaints?) about how cold it was up north and asking when electricity and water were coming back on in her apartment. As if anyone knew.

Friday we saw a post in huge letters "ISABELA HAS LIGHT!" I've refrained from commenting on any of her crap until now. "Maybe in your part of Isabela. Not ours."

X. posted several times that now that electric is back on, she's coming back. But she's moving into a different condo in the same complex. She suggested people could help her move and get their stairmaster exercise carrying her stuff down three flights of steps, across the complex and up to the second floor.

Last night we got a personal message from her. So-and-so had the key to her condo if we wanted to shower or do laundry. It was a genuine, heartfelt offer. And, as far as I know, the first offer of anything since the storm.

Of course the offer was followed by a request to help her move. Elaine's response was perfect: What was she willing to pay for help? Not for us, but for any of the many people who are desperate for work. Even though she's been off island, working, collecting her regular paycheck, X. replied that she was hoping friends would just come help.

This whole thing rubbed me the wrong way. This person, who bailed at the first opportunity, who has done nothing to help in the last two-and-a-half months, has not been here for the one-foot-in-front-of-the-other hard part, now that it's easy, now that at least her little part of Puerto Rico has reached 2-1/2 World status, now she comes waltzing back and expects everyone to drop everything and help her.

The arrogance and lack of awareness of anything or anyone beyond herself pissed me off!

Am I being petty. Maybe. Probably. Maybe to even ask that question is to answer it. It still galls me.

Today was mostly sunny and warm, no rain. What do I have to complain about?

MARIA log, November 27, Day 66, Monday

Monday, November 27, day 66

Another no rain day.

Carole and Rolf got electricity back today! They now have both water and electricity. We're still filtering water because nobody is sure if the water treatment plants are working properly. Carole feels like she should be filtering the electricity, like it's not safe to use.

Actually, "filtering" electricity is not such a bad idea. No one is sure just how stable the grid is so having key electronics - computers, TVs, modems and routers, etc. - plugged into battery-back up power supplies is a good idea.

But mostly, it's all good Carole!

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

MARIA log, November 26, day 65, Sunday

Sunday, November 26, day 65

Another no rain day. Could it be that we're actually going to have a winter dry season? We haven't had one in the last two years.

In the summer and fall of 2015 we were in a drought so severe that water was rationed in some areas. Then, in January, 2016, in what should have been the dry season, the Pacific weather patterns changed. The El Niño pattern, which means dry conditions for us, switched to La Niña, which means wetter weather. It started raining in January, 2016, and hasn't stopped. That's the biggest reason scuba diving has been so bad for two years. When it rains in the mountains, "stuff" washes down the rivers and into the ocean. That stuff from the mountains screws up visibility.

It would be nice to have some "normal" wet-dry seasons for a change. I say that recognizing that when we talk about weather, there is no "normal" any longer.

I got some things done today. I built the first half of the house fence gate and installed it. I hope to have the other half built this week. We moved the old not-working ice freezer from the bar to "Rancho Raquel" where the horses are. We've been storing grain and other horse stuff in it here at the house. Now we'll have lockable storage right on site.

We were home for dinner tonight. When we're at Carole and Rolf"s we have light because of the generator. We come home  to complete darkness and flashlights while we get ready for bed. Tonight it was darkness for the whole evening. It is really dark down here! But we can see a lot more stars.

MARIA log November 25 Day 64, Saturday

Saturday, November 25 day 64

Another sunny no rain day.

Off to Home Depot in Hatillo for fence posts. Not many people on the island seem to use T-posts but suddenly they are a hot item. The 50 posts that were "no problem" on Wednesday? Today there were only 38 posts in Hatillo. The Home Depot in Bayamon had 0. Ultimately we need 80 new posts. Oh well. We'll start with what we have.

Even more than usual we have to piece things together. It is very rare to find everything we need in one place. Most projects take at least two an frequently more stops.

After my early morning trip to Hatillo, we decided to check out the beach and the water at Wishing Well. Wishing Well, or Peña Blanca, has always been one of our favorite snorkeling spots. The reef, with beautiful soft seafan and featherduster corals waving in the current, starts right at the beach. It is home to schools of blue tang, ocean surgeon, and sargent major fish and almost always a turtle or two. Or five. Or six.

Once little known and little used, the two beaches stretching on either side of a rocky point have grown in popularity in the past two or three years. Where once we could have the whole place to ourselves, lately it's been hard to find a parking place.

Today there is no sand anywhere. Both sides are bare rocks and boulders. The rocks are always there, they are just usually covered with sand. And it's not only the beach. In the water the sand was stripped away by storm-driven waves leaving a treacherous foot-grabbing rocky entry.

In the water we found pretty much what we've come to expect: visibility about 30' and murky. Most of the soft corals were stripped away. A few remain in some of the cracks and crevices where they were protected.

There is hope however. A number of small featherduster corals have taken hold. And, we saw a juvenile hawksbill turtle.

It's not the Wishing Well we've known; it won't be for a long time. But there is hope.

NOW...November 24.

I went back to dive Crashboat today, almost exactly a year after seeing it for the first time after the hurricane. There is more life, more fish, more species of fish, than when I saw it a year ago.

There is a lot of beauty. You just have to be a bit more patient and look a little deeper to see it.

Swimming through the wreckage I am still in awe of the power of nature, the power of wind and water to do this.

Monday, November 26, 2018

MARIA log, November 24, Day 63, Friday Collateral Damage

November 24, Friday, day 63 Collateral damage

A friend's co-worker was taken to the hospital last week with undiagnosed respiratory distress. She had no history of respiratory or bronchial problems. No history of asthma even though that is pretty common on the island.

(Puerto Ricans have a higher incidence of asthma than the general population. For a long time "they" [whoever "they" is] thought it was because of the dust from the Sahara Desert in our atmosphere [that's a story for another time]. It turns out people of Puerto Rican descent, even those who have never lived on the island, have the same higher incidence rate. No one knows why.)

For a while doctors weren't sure she was going to survive. Fortunately she pulled through.

She was one of many many people looking for medical help for new, never-had-'em-before respiratory ailments. At Helping Horses at the Picadero, we're hearing the same kinds of things about horses. Many horses are having trouble breathing, just like KTJ and Zip.

There were so many people reporting respiratory distress the specialists (breathologists?) got together to talk about it.

Their conclusion is all these people - and animals - having breathing issues are collateral damage from the hurricane.

I've never heard this phenomenon discussed after any other hurricane or disaster. When we think about hurricane damage, we think about - and the media focuses on - in damage to stuff: houses destroyed or damaged by wind, rain, or flooding; downed powerlines and trees; blocked roads; grieving people. In the aftermath we are fed images of lines for gas, food, water, medical attention.

Slowly, those lines disappear. Things appear to return to some semblance of  "normal. The public - those who aren't directly involved - get tired of the disaster. The media moves on to the next big disaster somewhere else. Meanwhile, there are people and animals with on-going respiratory ailments and only a handful of people are asking "why?" and "why now?"

When Maria blew through the island, she stripped all the leaves, broke limbs and toppled many many trees. Estimates are between 60% and 70% of the trees on the island were damaged or destroyed. Fields and pastures were stripped of grass and other vegetation. "Things" in the soil below were stirred up into the air.

Those trees were a massive air filter, changing CO2 for O2, capturing dust and spores and goddess-knows what else, cleaning and filtering our air.

We talked in the first days about how bare everything was. The hills and cliff sides looked like they'd been hit by a devastating forest fire, except the spider-y trunks and branches weren't black.

In the second week after the hurricane, when the first tentative flashes of green appeared, we remarked how quickly Mother Nature was rebounding. Now, two months later, there is lots of foliage returning.

But it is an illusion. It is just a fraction of what it was.

Every truckload of debris - and there are hundreds, thousands of them - is full of trees that used to clean our air. The huge dumpsites around the island are the repositories of thousands, maybe millions, of leafless lifeless trees. Even those that survived and have new foliage are caricatures of themselves, trees from a Tim Burton movie or a Dr. Seuss book.

With 90% of the island still without electricity thousands of gas and diesel generators bun constantly. Now that gas is plentiful and relatively cheap ($.70 - $.75 per liter, roughly $2.66 - $2.85 per gallon) traffic is worse than ever.

The diggers (front-end loaders) and dump trucks block roads as they scoop up the bones of trees, stirring up the dust those same trees used to protect us from. Long lines of cars back up behind the diggers and trucks. Memories are short: people have already forgotten about the lines for gas just a month ago. The sit in lines, going nowhere, with engines running and air conditioners going full blast.

There is no wonder that people and animals are having difficulty breathing.

Sunday, November 25, 2018

NOW Thursday, November 22, Thanksgiving

"We are born in one family. If we are lucky, we get to choose another family in addition to our birth family. I choose this family. And I am so grateful!"  --Carole Dyce, Thanksgiving, 2018

And we are a family! We've been through so much - good and bad, mostly good - together. This year we are especially grateful for the members of our chosen hurricane family who couldn't be with us for Thanksgiving last year because they were stuck on "the other side," off-island: Anna, Penny,Vivian, Lee.

What a difference from a year ago! We have lights and water and more people.

And even more food. Last year our turkey dinner was a surprise. On Tuesday night, just two days before, we talked about which of our post-hurricane dinners we would have for Thanksgiving. Grilled cheese? Peanut butter and jelly? Tuna salad sandwiches? Pancakes? Yes! Pancakes for Thanksgiving! How appropriate! And then Jeremy showed up with a turkey. In the immortal words of Arlo Guthrie, "we had a Thanksgiving dinner that couldn't be beat."

This year we were back with Carole and Rolf, in what has become one of my favorite places in the world - their back patio. And to quote Arlo again, "We had another Thanksgiving dinner that couldn't be beat."

But the best, the part of this I am most grateful for, is the people, our extended chosen Puerto Rican family. Thank you. Happy Thanksgiving.

To  our birth family and our friends wherever you are, we love you and miss you, more than you can know. We are so incredibly grateful for your love and your support. We hope your Thanksgiving was full of love and joy and wonder and gratitude.

Ours certainly was.

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

MARIA log Day 62 November 23 Thursday

Thursday, November 23 day 62

Happy thanksgiving! Amid all the chaos and craziness, we have so much to be grateful for, starting with each other. I don't tell here nearly enough but I am beyond words grateful for Elaine in my life. I can't even imagine going through this with anyone else.

I am grateful for our kids, even the one who hasn't returned a message or phone call in almost two years. I am especially grateful right now for our renewed relationship with Steven. I am grateful for Amy's strength as she goes through a shit-storm with Miguel.

I am so grateful to our extended Puerto Rican "family" who have meant so much over the past couple of months and the past 11 years.

We spent a quiet but wonderful Thanksgiving evening with a big part of that family: Rolf, Carole, Jeremy, and neighbors Judy and Anthony. Huge thanks (again!) to Jeremy for getting the turkey and cooking it in his oven with power from his generator. An huge thanks to Elaine who spent most of the day Jeremy's kitchen fixing turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing and apple pie!!!!!

Later in the evening we got to spend time with our fabulous musician friend Rique and his wife Raisa. We didn't know it but Raisa is a film maker. We got to watch a couple of her videos Very very cool!

Today was sunny and warm all day. Just a tiny bit of rain--barely enough to get the ground wet--in the evening.

We took advantage of the weather this morning to spend time with the horses. They all got bathed and groomed. Chocolate got a good workout (thanks to Marie, not me) which he needed. KTJ and Zip are both breathing better and KT is starting to put on weight, which is good. Maybe they are finally getting over their hurricane stress.

While Elaine and Jeremy cooked this afternoon, I finally got in the water at Crashboat. The legs of the long pier are like pick-up sticks. I just snorkeled today. Maybe next week I'll get to dive there. It's pretty surreal.

A least I got salt water on my skin!

MARIA log Day 61 November 22, Wednesday

 Wednesday, November 22 day 61

We go new fence wire today so we can fence new field areas For the horses at Rancho Raquel. A huge "Thank you" to the people at Jeffers for waiving the $86 shipping costs and for sending wormer for the horses. Such amazing generosity! And we truly appreciate it.

Now we need T-posts to put up the fence. T-posts aren't easy to find here under the best of circumstances; not many people use them. Home Depot is about the only place to get them.

In the aftermath of the hurricane T-posts seem to be a hot item. I drove to Mayagüez and they had one. Count 'em: 1! I had the Mayagüez store check with the Hatillo store. Yes, they have them. How many do you need? I need 50 6-foot posts. No problem.

I couldn't get to Hatillo today. I hope they still have them when I do get there.

On the way home from Mayagüez I realized that's the farthest I've been from home since the hurricane.

Monday, November 12, 2018

MARIA log, day 60 November 21 Tuesday

Tuesday, November 21, day 60

Wow! Clear, bright and sunny all day. No rain.

I started working on the fence around the house. It was completely wrecked by wind, flooding. and falling trees, but I managed to salvage most of the boards from the front fence. The bamboo fence and supporting framework is a total loss.

We waited all day for news of a shipment of horse supplies. Five pallets of stuff have been sitting at the airport in San Juan. Hacienda, the island tax department, wanted us to pay $500 import tax on aid donated by one nonprofit to another nonprofit to be given free to horse owners in need. It's taken nearly a week to straighten that out.

If this is the way all the aid to the island is being treated, no wonder so little is getting through to those who need it.

The truck with the supplies finally arrived just before dark. Elaine ha a couple of friends/volunteers to help unload. In a couple of hours we had it all unloaded, sorted and stacked. The bad news is there were supposed to be five small generators in this shipment. Somehow, when they started loading the truck at the airport, the generators weren't there. Hmmmmm...

This isn't the first shipment that's gone missing. A pallet of 40 bags of grain went missing at the airport in Aguadilla about two weeks after the hurricane.

Back when we took the RAM (Remote Area Medical) people to Iglesia Ciudad de Salvación, I had a conversation with their pilot Ron about who should be providing aid. Based on his reading of writings of the Founding Fathers, primarily The Federalist Papers, his premise is the Federal Government has no business being in the natural-disaster relief business. In his view the proper providers are church and community groups like Iglesia Ciudad de Salvación. (There is a certain irony in his use of The Federalist Papers to support his position. The Federalist Papers were written to create support for the ratification of the U.S. Constitution. Alexander Hamilton and the other authors advocated a strong central government.)

While I absolutely agree that the people at Iglacia Ciudad de Salvación are doing an infinitely  better job than either the Puerto Rican or U.S. Federal government of getting relief in the hands of those who need it, their efforts, like ours with horse owners, points out the greatest inherent weakness of this system: resources.

Even now, more than two months after the hurricane moved on, there are still a huge number of vulnerable people--and horses, dogs, and cats--on this island.

But the hurricane is history, old news. People in the States have given, donated, sent care packages, supplies. The storm is over. Things are getting better, getting back to "normal." Right? There is gas for cars. So 75% of the island still doesn't have electricity. Generators are back in stock at Home Depot. Even the grocery store has generators for sale. Yeah, some things are hard to come by but there were plenty of turkeys in the stores for Thanksgiving. For those who could afford them. And those who had a way to cook them.

Ciudad's big stocks of supplies are gone. Except for small trickles of individual donations, there aren't anymore supplies coming, for either people or horses.

Don't get me wrong. I do not believe the government has a duty to feed our horses. I do believe the government has an obligation to help people. The government has the continuing resources and the ability to deliver them as long as the need exists. Community groups, like the church and our local efforts to help horses, only have resources as long as donors keep them supplied. Once those donations dry up--and they are drying up--community groups have nothing left to give, no matter how much they want to.