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September 1998 Hurricane Georges

1998… and events that change you…

As I sort through my plastic bins during quarantine, I found letters I had written to my family (and my mother sent back). Many sound like an episode of Green Acres, but the one written on September 30, 1998, thirteen days after Hurricane Geoges hit Puerto Rico, seems particularly interesting now during the Covid-19 “lockdown.”

Tina in the camping area
Getting out of the gate

“….it’s like the ole days…no phone [we didn’t get a phone until 1991] but there’s no light or water…except for us. Our generator lets us live pretty normally…until about 8pm when we turn the generator off. [generator bought after Hurricane Hugo which caused us little damage but made us realize a generator was essential]

…the roof is fixed (although it leaks a bit) using the old zinc from the barn and sheets that blew away which we’re trying to straighten out……the paint (inside from the leaks) looks like it has radiation, all bubbled up.

The barn is almost back to normal…still missing some roof but the residents don’t seem to mind. We have 6 new baby goats. We also have 5 baby lovebirds…so animals are fine.

We might start picking coffee this week and sell it dried…it’s more work for us but the $ is better and we won’t have to make daily trips to places that may not even be exist anymore.

Someone said we wouldn’t have light until Christmas, but people exaggerate. I see people working very hard and am amazed how fast things are getting done.

At first, we were all energetic…cleaning, drying, clearing, etc. Now we’re kind of sick of it….. Trips to town are kind of depressing and frustrating….”

Lockdown, or maybe it’s better to refer to it as social isolation, is a somewhat common thing in the countryside of Puerto Rico, especially after a storm. Whether it’s trees that block your entrance or lack of communication such as telephone or internet, isolation is something that people in Puerto Rico have dealt with in recent years.

TJ Ranch photo by Esteban Ramallo, Facebook

I hadn’t really thought of whether these events have had an effect on my life, but now I realize that I made significant changes after each one. Perhaps this isn’t coincidental so I decided to do a bit of Google research on the subject. Researchers from the Disaster and Community Crisis Center at the University of Missouri have found that ….”survivors of natural disasters have the potential to experience positive changes or growth in addition to the stress they experience..” (Science 2018/01/18) Their research seemed to stress that communication (between individuals and community) is the key to growth, something that was not particularly significant in my case. Oh well.

In the Harvard Business Review ( Shawn Achor says, “There is a research principle called “falling up” which refers to how some “positive outliers” — individuals with high optimism and success — manage to gain growth not despite a trauma, but because of it.”

Maybe that’s me….I’m pretty optimistic.

In 1998 we had a farm: a coffee plantation, ducks, chickens, pigs, rabbits and goats and by 2001 we had no coffee, no animals, but rather a B&B guesthouse and restaurant. No one incident caused the change but rather a variety of circumstances led us to a new “beginning”.

The next major event was Hurricane Maria which closed our guesthouse and sent us into “early” (debatable) retirement. The same saying held true, “At first, we were all energetic…. Now we’re kind of sick of it.”  It took us three years to rebuild and now we’re tired. This blog is an outcome of that change..not sure whether it’s personal growth, but it is change.

The earthquakes and Covid 19 lockdown have some similarities… psychologically. They both are full of unknowns. Earthquakes are still happening, especially in the south and although recently I haven’t felt them, I do wonder when “the big one” will come. Earthquakes were replaced by the CoronaVirus. This time we’re isolated on purpose. I think most people on the island are grateful that utilities are working (as well as usual) and communication is intact. The first week I was very productive, getting stuff done. Now I’m not so productive and think of 1998, “At first we were all energetic…. Now we’re kind of sick of it”.  The unknown of when this is going to end can be unnerving, but positive change may come out of it.

I never read Gail Sheehy’s book in 1974, Passages which is about “.. how to use each life crisis as an opportunity for creative change — to grow to your full potential.” (Google review)  Apparently she wrote a new updated version, New Passages, where she says to “Stop and recalculate.” .  (taken from About New Passages; review) The last time I heard that, I was lost in the car and my GPS told me to change direction. Not a bad metaphor for today’s situation….. I think I’ll head for the kitchen and think about things.

#TuristeandoenPuertoRico, photo: seasaltphotography Super Luna

Stay Safe and Healthy…we’ll talk soon.

This Post Has One Comment

  1. Marsha

    While I haven’t been in PR for any of those events, we had a house – and many friends including those at TJ Ranch – during these times. This blog post rings so true. Thanks.

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