One of the interesting things about going through a life-changing event like Hurricane Maria is the return to normalcy amid the constant reminder that so much is not ‘normal’ in our post-Maria world.
As we pulled into town the other night, I was struck by how much better everything looked. People were out and about. Restaurants that were open (maybe 60-70% of them in one form or another) were crowded and pumping. Gas stations were open, with almost no lines for gas. There was a crowd outside our locally-run pizza joint, running on generator power and we stopped to say hello and grab a pizza, hungry after a long day of travel. “Junior,” I asked the owner as I paid for my pizza, exactly as I like it, “can I get a couple of bottles of water too.” He laughed with resignation. “I wish,” he said. “I can’t get water anywhere. Not even sodas.”
So, pizza and food are available in the bigger towns that have many amenities restored (I’m told that this is not the case in the interior mountainous areas – we’ll know more on Sunday when we join a humanitarian independent brigade to deliver supplies, door-to-door). But not drinking water.
Yesterday was spent visiting with folks and doing a bit of logistical planning for this afternoon’s wedding – our first since Hurricane Maria. We are so excited. Yesterday was also the best day I personally have had since Maria hit. If I had one word to describe everyone I saw, worked with, and visited, it was…..POSITIVITY. Truly EVERYONE was positive. I was so amazed at the productive changes people are making, and the can-do spirit. Folks talked about the USA and PR working together to rebuild. Both flags flew in unison in many places (which never happens). Many people talked about the frustrations of seeing the international news which is portraying only awful things, instead of the spirit of the people. I expected to hear a lot about the federal government’s response to Maria. People aren’t pleased with it, and feel that more can be done, but they were more interested in sharing that Paris Jackson had visited Aguadilla last week, even visiting a school and singing for the students.
We did a bit of location scouting to find the best spot, post-Maria, for today’s wedding. We were delighted to decide upon Playuela, an amazing natural oceanfront area with the biggest palm trees and greenest grass one has ever seen, hosting a very special and unique eco-system. Before Maria, Playuela was slated for demolition to build a very controversial concrete mega-hotel and casino complex, and a huge international grassroots effort sprang up in protest and protection. We can only hope that one of the silver linings of this natural disaster is that the developer (and associated corrupt government) will choose not invest in the destruction of this amazing part of our earth. It is the perfect place to have our first post-Maria wedding. Playuela embodies Puerto Rico and everything we love about her.
We were able to order a wedding cake from our newly-opened cake shop, power restored a few days ago. Our florist was using the time to remodel and repaint. She proudly showed me the flowers that are available to make a beautiful bouquet for today’s bride. We went to a friend’s Mexican restaurant (on generator power) for lunch and everything seemed pretty normal, except the food was served on plastic plates with plastic utensils because of the lack of running water to wash dishes.
In one of my favorite moments, we stopped at a makeshift outdoor shopping mall of vendors set up outside their cars in a parking area that happens with one of the strongest cell hotspots in town. People were gathering there to get a signal, and businesses have grown up around the cars in response. One friend who usually designs and makes bikinis was there sharing a tented space with another friend selling sunglasses. Her product? Head scarves. She went to a fabric store and bought a bunch of fabric and converted them to head scarves. “People don’t have power and water, but they still want to look good, so these scarves can help them.” Two scarves for $5 later, we pulled away. <img src=”https://prdestinationweddings.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/11/day-2a-1.jpg” alt=”” width=”4608″ height=”2592″ class=”alignnone size-full wp-image-4205″ />
Yes, there are still so many reminders of the tragedies that are unfolding. I was told by a friend who visited the mountains that very little aid has gone to these people, some of whom are the poorest of the poor on the island. They are not able to drive to seek aid. Many have been told by local municipalities to not clean their properties as they should wait for FEMA to assess damage and offer renumeration first. These people don’t have any access to power, internet, clean drinking water, and they can’t begin to get on a clunky website to fill out forms in English asking for financial assistance.
It might be a drop in the proverbial bucket, but I’m delighted that due to so many generous people, 500+ water filters offering unlimited clean drinking water are on their way next week, and we’ll be able to directly help these poor people. These Uzima water filters (www.uzimafilters.org) are truly a game changer, and exactly what Puerto Rico needs. Even in the more populated areas with access to more amenities, handpainted signs still spelled out “FEMA, BORDER PATROL, WE NEED WATER! HELP! PUERTO RICO PROUD!”
In the meanwhile, we are getting by. Just fine. I even heard more than one person say “I hope the power never comes back on.” [Please don’t literally listen to that, powers that be :), but I fully understand the sentiment. People are closer, more resourceful, and, in some ways, dare I say happier]. Puerto Rico se levanta. As for now, we have a wedding and an after-party to throw. And we can’t wait.