"Despues de la tormenta, vienen los tormentos", that is what my mother says. "After the storm, come the torments". She got that saying from her mother, who endured many hurricanes before this one, Maria, hit Puerto Rico. I suppose that this saying goes back many generations in my family, and it is true now more than ever.
Maybe the time has come to add a new saying to my family's repertoire: "Cuando lo pierdes todo, empieza como si nunca lo hubieses tenido." "When you lose everything, restart as if you never had anything."
People ask me how is my family surviving. Their resilience comes mainly from three things:
First, my family is close. They are physically close, most live less than an hour from each other. And they are emotionally close. My aunts, uncles, cousins, all get together often. So, those who have lost or damaged houses are doubled up with sisters, uncles, or cousins. They are sharing food, shelter, water, and everything they have with each other, with their neighbors, and with their community.
Second, my family works hard. They work in law enforcement, engineering, teaching, banking. Most went back to work as soon as they could, even when they did not have water for a shower or a proper meal. Facing many obstacles, they are back at work. My cousin who works as a scientist making insulin at a pharmaceutical company waited in line for three hours to put gas in her car so she could go to work.
Third, my family remembers. They remember our years of struggle. My mom's generation, and she is only 70 years old, grew up in a wooden shack with a tin roof. They slept in hammocks. Her family lost their house at least three times due to storms. My generation had it a little better. I grew up in a cement house, but it had no indoor plumbing or telephone. I remember bathing in the river and using the outhouse until my teenage years. However, industrialization came fast to Puerto Rico. My youngest brother, who is 12 years younger than me, doesn't remember the outhouse. By then, our house had indoor plumbing.
So, my family is surviving by staying together, working together, and remembering how we used to survive in the past. They are digging the ravines for root vegetables. They have made soup out of the chickens that roam the yard, seasoned with the few wild herbs they find in the garden.
I am proud of their resilience, but how long can they survive like this?
More than a month after the storms, my family is still without electricity or running water. I hope that the solutions will be for a sustainable Puerto Rico. One that is better and more resilient than before. To do that, I support rebuilding the power structure, from government to the power grid.
Dr. Luz Claudio is an environmental health scientist, mother and consultant, originally from Puerto Rico. She is a tenured professor of environmental medicine and public health. Luz recently published her first book: How to Write and Publish a Scientific Paper: The Step-by-Step Guide. Dr. Claudio has internship programs and resources for young scientists. Opinions expressed in this blog are solely her own and may not reflect her employer's views.