Living on a small Caribbean island changes your appreciation for certain things we tend to take for granted, like full shelves in a shop. This past Wednesday on my way to work, I saw a fully loaded truck drive up from the harbour with supplies. It was a beaten up, well-used truck and the stack of boxes on it was tilting precariously with each of the many turns of “The Road That Could Not Be Built.” A sob welled up in my throat and a surge of gratitude made my arms tingle. My body went limp in the car seat from relief. Oh, to see those cases of Heineken towering on the open truck was sensational! You see, not so long ago, that truck was hauling debris. Three weeks ago, that truck was helping to remove broken trees, shattered fences, and/or roofs. Hold on the steering wheel! It has been three weeks since Hurricane Irma and a week since Hurricane Maria left us. We all know what happened to Sint-Maarten/Saint-Martin, Dominica, Puerto Rico, and all of the other islands in the hurricanes’ paths. Hardly anybody mentions Saba, which is fine, since we’re so small and came out on the other end reasonably okay, but boy, those loaded trucks were a sight for sore eyes!
Today on my way to work, I was reminded again of the violence of Irma and Maria. Homes are now more vulnerable to the elements, and the trees are barren, though patches of fresh leaves are showing themselves optimistically. I can see houses I never knew were there and the ribbon of road coils itself around our hillsides like an unsightly concrete snake. Beautiful Saba is no longer lush and green. It’s brown. The vertigo I get upon traveling this island is disturbing. Yes, plant life will grow back – amazingly soon too – but it hurts.
Today on my way to work, I realised again how lucky we had been. Two Category 5 hurricanes in two weeks and we didn’t get hit too hard. There were no fatalities, though quite a number of people lost their roofs during Irma. Where Irma was mean, out to destroy and mangle, Maria was nasty. It felt like sibling rivalry where she needed to outdo her sister Irma in terms of destruction. She took longer and had to tear at all the budding new leaves the trees had worked on since Irma. In a way, this made me appreciate Irma more (if you can speak in those terms) – at least she was reasonably quick about it. Just when we worked so hard after Irma to get back on our feet, the dice of life were rolled and we were made to skip a turn. Maria felt like a slap in the face after Irma. And when we thought her eye had passed, that’s when she only started whipping us. Thankfully, Saba made sure there was nothing left for Maria to pick up to wield as a weapon. The sense of community is strong on this little rock and everybody pitched in to help each other and clean. #Sabastrong
Today on my way to work, I thought of tearing down my monthly calendar of September. Let’s be frank – this was a ridiculous month. Never before have hurricanes been so fast to develop. Maria developed into a Category 5 monster in ONE day. Besides, hardly ever do two hurricanes hit a fortnight after one another in such close vicinity. The dejection when Maria announced herself rippled through the whole island. Irma, Jose, and now Maria? We are glad to see the back of this September. Hurricane season is far from over, but life is slowly becoming routine again on our little rock. What else can we do? We go to work, do our chores, and do what we have to. Sabans are hardly ones to dwell and I sure welcomed the normalcy and routine.
Except… life isn’t normal.
Saba currently feels almost a bit like a high school. We have about as many inhabitants as one (approximately 2,000), after all. On the surface, we act like life is normal. But we are all here because we have to be. Everybody is going through the motions -making the most of it in the meantime – but like students, we long for the moment the bell rings to release us (remember that feeling?). That bell here is the sound of the propellor of the Twin Otter plane that brings visitors and takes locals. You see, there is no leaving, nor entering the island, though some want to desperately. Only people from Sint-Maarten are coming in and groups who can charter a plane. Essentially, we are locked in until further notice.
In our local high school, we have a dozen new students from our sister island. In a school with a population of less than a 100 students, that is quite the impact. We’re scrambling for tables, books, and buddies for the new kids. Teachers are keeping their feelers out for signs of trauma like mood swings, unexplained absences, physical stress symptoms, and what not. People are tired and some even have trouble sleeping.
So today on my way to work, I suddenly realised: we are harbouring refugees. These words holds such powerful connotations that I find it hard to wrap my head around it. We have extra mouths to feed, kids to clothe, and we have to make sure they all have a roof over their heads, despite more than a dozen houses losing theirs.
Irma, Maria, and Jose have gone, but they took more than just leaves and roofs. They took a clear future and left a muddled road and a worried people. Sabans concerned for the future, not sure if tourists will find their way to our Unspoiled Queen. We are a strong and hard-working community, but so many jobs depend on people from outside. The restaurant owner who is open 7 days a week, the dive shop, the supermarket, and their personnel to name a few.
Saba is ready for the upcoming tourist season, trails are being cleared, dive sites are checked and monitored, restaurants are getting supplied, hotels are fixed and cleaned, but we are dependendent on sister islands in the area. Saba is beautiful on so many levels. Her anthem sings “Saba you rise from the ocean, with mountain and hillside so steep. How can we reach you to greet you, isle of the sea rough and deep?” The rough sea may have broken our small pier, but it won’t break Saba’s spirit.
Today on the road to work I realised, even with natural disasters, how fortunate I am on this quaint little rock I call home.
But please, no more hurricanes!