Monday, October 29, 2012

First Hurricane Experience

During the weekend before last I was aware of a tropical system brewing in the south Caribbean Sea, but before we knew it the pesky little thing wound up strength and took a northerly course toward Jamaica. Original projections put landfall dead center on the south coast as a Category 1 hurricane, so we started to prepare for the worst. Containers were filled with water, the lantern dusted off and tested, phones charged, bags packed, etc. Fortunately for us, the hurricane ended up landing farther east, but while we were spared a direct hit many in the central and eastern parishes have taken significant damage.

Tuesday morning Linnae and I were down at the fishing beach for a meeting with the ladies of the farmers group who do home economics projects. While we were waiting for the ladies to show up, the fishermen were busy preparing for the storm. With team work and logs to roll the boats on, we were able to push the fishing vessels up on solid ground pretty easily. Eventually, the boats were ashore and the women were ready for a meeting. Sadly, the turnout was poor so we discussed ways to consistently get women to attend. With some gentle suggestion, Linnae and I may have planted the seed for a Rotating Savings & Credit scheme. This is a system where a set number of women agree to put a set amount of money in the pot every week and that pot goes to one person until every person has been able to get a lump sum. You might wonder why the women don’t just save on their own, but this is very difficult in low-income households. For more understanding of this phenomenon, I suggest reading “Portfolios of the Poor” or “Poor Economics”.

Tuesday afternoon, Linnae and I were making final preparations in the house to make sure we were ready to ride out the storm or evacuate should Peace Corps deem it necessary. Wednesday morning was relatively calm, though the sea was rough and dark clouds were overhead. Around 10:00am the winds were picking up. When we started to hear the tin on the roof creaking, I made a couple hasty trips up there to put more cinder blocks on the corners where the wind was catching it. By 11:00 we were catching enough wind to bring down banana and plantain trees and the awning over our side door was ripped off. By noon, the wind was blowing rain through our walls and door. So, while Linnae was making a lovely macaroni and cheese lunch, I was putting towels and buckets in the necessary places and getting the tarps positioned. Our dog, Dora, slept through most of it. Most of the storm had blown over by the time it got dark.

I am sure our rain gauge wasn’t completely accurate given the horizontal nature of the rain, but I was surprised to find only 0.7 inches in it Thursday morning. We were lucky not to get as much moisture as most places, otherwise we would have had a lot more trees down. We spent all morning cleaning up in the yard. I put my machete to good use hacking up limbs from the almond tree that fell and chopping down the broken banana and plantain trees and hauling them out. Linnae did a little machete work herself, which drew surprise from everyone in the yard and passers-by. By noon, the yard was basically back to normal, just with a lot less foliage. The jury is still out on our sweetsop tree that got blown over. We have it propped up and hope to be able to reinforce the roots and keep it going.
The power came back on Friday afternoon so we are back to enjoying the luxury of cool water and have already been to the grocery to replenish our stocks of perishables.

The overarching theme of this blog post is that Linnae and I weathered the hurricane and are doing just fine. However, many are not so fortunate. Some Peace Corps Volunteers were pulled from their communities for safety reasons and have yet to return to their homes. Still, this is just an inconvenience for PCVs compared to the hardships faced by many Jamaicans who don’t have the safety net of a U.S. government organization. I met with a few farmers Thursday night and I could see the consternation in their faces with so much work and investment ruined by Sandy. And THAT is the overarching theme of Jamaica in the aftermath of the hurricane.


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