I woke up with a heavy heart on the morning of September 20. As I got ready and went to my morning classes, the only thing on my mind was the Category 4 storm that was ravaging my home, Puerto Rico.
That day I was able to talk to my parents and get frequent updates on the storm. They said that although the eye of the hurricane did not cross the island until about 9:00 a.m., they were awoken at 4:00 a.m. by the whistling of the winds and stayed up, anxiously waiting for Maria’s arrival.
By the end of the day, I was thankful that my family was all safe and that the storm didn’t cause severe damage to my home. Nevertheless, nothing could have prepared me for the wave of emotions I was going to feel over the coming days.
I finally saw pictures of the island on the day after the storm. Seeing a place that was once so colorful stripped completely bare was heartbreaking. Puerto Rico is a tropical place, lush and bright year-round, and the changing of the leaves is a foreign idea. So to see pictures of my neighborhood without any bushes and of all the trees without leaves was disturbing. In the words of my dad, the post-Maria scene looked like an episode of “The Walking Dead.”
For a while, I had to forbid myself from checking my Facebook news feed, as it was filled with devastating pictures of places where I grew up and could no longer recognize. Buildings without windows, street signs all over the ground, a beach-shack that I frequent splintered into nothing. I was used to seeing pictures of the effects of natural disasters, but seeing the effects on a place I know so well left me overwhelmingly sad.
The worst part of the days following Maria was the fact that the island was cut off from communication. Although going two days without speaking to your family might not seem like a big deal, it felt incredibly frustrating to hear the answering machine every time that I dialed the phone. The uncertainty of not being sure when I would next hear from them was unbearable.
As time went by, I felt increasingly guilty. Here I was at school, worrying about tests and assignments, while the people back at home were adjusting to life without power, water, or easily-available gas. Despite my family being safe, I constantly felt anxious about their well-being and found it challenging to concentrate on anything other than my home. How I managed to function those days, I don’t really know.
Despite all the sadness, frustration, anxiety, and guilt the storm brought, there have been some positive aspects. Seeing the massive response by Puerto Ricans from all over the world has been heartwarming. Yes, my Facebook was full of gloomy pictures, but it was also filled with the pledges of people offering to send supplies or donate money and with updates for those that couldn’t personally contact their families. Back in Puerto Rico, some have talked about rekindling relationships with neighbors as people have teamed-up to clean the streets and help one another.
Maria has shown that Puerto Ricans are incredibly strong people and that no matter where in the world a Puerto Rican is, part of their heart will always be back on the island.
The situation on the island is improving but at a tremendously slow pace. There is still a lot of work to be done, and it will be a long time before things go back to normal. Nevertheless, people are hopeful about the island, and they’re willing to help to put it back together.
The Puerto Rico that I left behind in August is not the same as the one to which I will return. I’m not going to lie, it still makes me sad thinking about how different my home looks and how long it will be until it looks normal again. But, it makes me proud to know that although the Puerto Rico that I will return to will be different, it is now ten times stronger. All in all, it’s safe to say that there is a lot of might on that 100-by-35-mile island in the heart of the Caribbean.
For updates on the island: http://status.pr
For donations: http://unidosporpuertorico.com/en/
Gabriela Rodriguez is a sophomore in the College from San Juan, Puerto Rico. This is a one-time piece by a Latin America and Caribbean writer.