Letter from Irma–Aftermath

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Letter from Irma--Aftermath

By Madeleine H. Burnside

Hurricane supplies don’t really come into play until after the storm. I have D batteries, tequila, votive candles, chocolate, a book by the Dalai Lama, and a bunch of other stuff. I’m out of cocktail olives but oh well. My fridge is cool not cold. I pulled the ice drawer out of the freezer as soon as it started to leak. I have a cooler for things I need to access frequently―keep the fridge door closed! My windows are open but the breeze has died. Please: no hot flashes tonight.

Hurricane supplies!
Photo: Madeleine H. Burnside

Inevitably, after a hurricane, you are going to be without power, the only question is, for how long? Fort Lauderdale has power, we’ve heard. Key West has no power, no internet, no cell reception, and the land lines that are working can only call outside the Keys―not the cops or other services. Worst of all, Key West has no water―a main broke somewhere up the Keys and the utility company is not sure where. Probably everyone has enough drinking water to last a few days but not enough to flush their toilets. Bad news.

Hurricanes are freaky. I ask myself how we lucked out when, further up the Atlantic coast, it was a nightmare? Dumb luck. Jacksonville had the worst storm surge they’ve ever had. In Lake Worth, we had some fallen trees and broken fences but no flooding. I don’t have TV, so you are probably more aware of all this than I am.

Our luck officially puts us in the “no-whining zone.” There should be an overlay for that on my hurricane app (My Radar), so people know to be thankful and shut up. It’s hot and humid and hard to sleep. Stuff will go bad in the fridge if I don’t use it. So what? Everyone here is alive and not living in storm-squalor. On my block, we are grateful and celebrating.

The night of the storm, we lost power at 9:16 pm. It had dropped three times before that and I already had candles burning when it went. We are very particular about good, long-lasting candles down here. My friend gave me three tall votives―she had picked up a random bunch of them at the dollar store. I chose one honoring “El Nino de Atocha” because I used to work at the Mel Fisher Maritime Museum in Key West that holds much of the treasure found on the Spanish colonial ship, “Nuestra Senora de Atocha”―it seemed especially relevant because the ship sank in a hurricane in 1622. The picture on the candle shows el Niño not a baby, for once. This Jesus looks like a self-possessed ten-year-old in seventeenth century garb. I don’t know much about him but I kept him in the bathroom as a night-light. The other two candles are for Our Lady of Guadalupe who dates from about the same time as El Nino. She appeared in a miraculous vision to some Mayan peasant who had been converted to Catholicism by the Spanish colonists. When the church bigwigs doubted that any Christian saint would take the time to appear to such a humble guy, the Mayan opened his cloak and showed that the lining was full of fresh, out-of-season roses. Take that, Cardinal Whatsit! Anyway, I am writing without benefit of the Internet, so if you feel the need to fact-check this, go for it. I love these characters. I’m not Catholic but these are almost universal stories: the miraculous child; the poor man of faith. The Guadalupes are sitting on the bar that divides the kitchen from the dining area, glowing cheerfully, a vision indeed.

Back on Earth, we worked all day cleaning the yard, front and back. It wasn’t too bad. About a mile further north, it looked as though some small tornadoes had been at work, ripping out shrubbery by its roots but not doing much else. I went on a scrounging mission, hunting storm-falls―the vegetarian equivalent of road kill. I got unripe papayas and some coconuts. It’s how grocery shopping would be if you were a hunter-gatherer. Saving the coconuts for later, I peeled the papayas with a potato peeler, sliced them and mixed them with lemon juice, cilantro, and a little olive oil. They were ripe enough to be orange inside but they have a fresh, crunchy texture and a sweet, peppery flavor. I scattered the slices on a green salad and it looks very sophisticated and gourmet. Hah! And it’s delicious. I’m having some of the neighbors over for a barbecue.

The best thing about survivable disasters is that it brings you closer to the people around you. I’ve chatted with the neighbors before but we’ve never really socialized and it’s a big deal to be able to build community in this day and age. If we don’t get power back tomorrow, we are planning a block party. It should be interesting. I live on a completely integrated block, including African Americans, Haitians, Guatemalans, at least one Native American, and a few white folks. We all get along but there are language barriers and we need to share more commonalities, like a few laughs, some food, and wine!

Meanwhile, we are back to waiting―this time for power, traffic lights, Winn Dixie, and Internet. I’m using the time to write, study, eat chocolate, and play with my dogs.

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