We cannot deny that the Caribbean has experienced a tremendous amount of natural disasters this year. In fact, it is extremely mind-boggling the destruction caused in just a few months by some very powerful hurricanes to many of our neighbours in the islands.
Once more Barbadians thank the Almighty for having been spared the worst of these destructive forces. For years we have been warned not to become complacent and if there is something we can all learn from what has happened in the past months, is that all the countries in this region are very vulnerable to natural disasters. Earthquakes, volcanoes, floods, storms and hurricanes have all impacted this region with fierce intensity and devastating results.
As I watched the images coming out of places like Dominica, Barbuda, St. Maarten and Tortola, I cannot help but wonder how do persons really live through and get over such disasters. The accounts are heart-wrenching and extremely sad. I believe that we who have been so fortunate to not have experienced such in our generation must be thankful. Hurricane Janet, to the best of my knowledge, was the last major natural disaster to have caused widespread damage to Barbados.
That was some 62 years ago. So none of our present generations will recollect those tragic circumstances. I am told that my great grandfather’s entire village in the hills of St. Andrew was wiped out during that hurricane. It is my wish to find that location so I can visit it. I am currently tracking its precise place. But imagine places in Dominica, about which I have been given first-hand accounts, that have entirely cut off. Can we imagine no food, no water, no electricity, no communication with the outside world?
I met a young lady here in Barbados who told me she was preparing to charter a flight into Dominica, land and hike for around two hours to a village where her family lives and from whom she hasn’t heard anything from since Maria hit. I really don’t think we can truly appreciate what people have to go through in such disasters unless we experience it ourselves or visit these places.
Having spoken to people whose task is to go into disaster zones, it is not an easy job. The psychological trauma is one of the hazards of going into such places. It is definitely not easy to relate to dealing with death and destruction on such a widespread scale. Plants, animals and human beings have been all affected.
For many who have lived through these disasters, picking up the pieces can also be traumatic. Many people, I am told, are left like zombies. Absolutely no clue where to start. They zone out of reality and live in a daze. And that is where we who have not been affected come in.
It is imperative that we help our neighbours; we should and we must. I am extremely pleased to see the outpouring of love, concern and the response here in Barbados and many other countries in the region in support of our brothers and sisters worst affected.
If we really contemplate the effects of these disasters, then we cannot do anything but help. And as many say, “today is them but tomorrow it could be us”. Sometimes persons feel they don’t have enough to help another person in need but the reality is that we always have something. It may not be financial resources or something tangible but it could be a talent, a skill or even just our time and energy.
People who have limited resources themselves can volunteer to help load a truck, collect food items from others and do so much more that would be of value to the entire relief effort. Using social media to forward messages requesting help is another way of contributing. So let’s not get hung up that I don’t have much so I can’t contribute.
Another trend during times of intense disasters is the tendency to regard them as apocalyptic events. A sign of the end times. Persons who hold fast to their religious teachings will speak of these events in such terms. We cannot overlook such opinions as it seems to be pervasive among several religious groups.
Tropical Apocalypse is the title of one book on such thinking. It argues that since the earliest days of European colonization, Caribbean – and particularly Haitian – history has been shaped by apocalyptic events, and the region has been living for centuries in an ‘end-time without end.’
There has been a strange obsession with the end of the world. People of many faiths seem to think the signs of the last day are all around them. And who can blame them? With all the news of devastating natural disasters, endless warfare, perpetual suffering, and indiscriminate violence, it’s no surprise many people feel the end is near. But it mustn’t stop us from helping our fellow human beings in such times of crises.
Relying on faith is one of those ingredients that undoubtedly get us through such challenging times. Oftentimes we overlook the strength of our faith to pull ourselves back up when disaster strikes. We may fall into a depressed mode wondering why did such events occur in our lives? Acknowledging that everything happens by the will of the Almighty allows us to get over quickly what has transpired.
It was noted by one of the teams which visited Dominica just after the hurricane that on the reserve of the indigenous people, the Kalinago (Caribs), clean up and restoration began immediately. They didn’t wait for relief from others, they helped themselves. So that while several Dominicans were shell-shocked, the Kalinago people got busy rebuilding their lives.
Such is the spirit we have to imbue. These are lessons worth learning. Material things are temporary; we can lose them in the blink of an eye. It is not the end. We have the power to rebuild and start over. Easier said than done, I agree, but human beings have such abilities if their minds can conceive and believe in these potentials.
I really hope and pray Barbados continues to be spared from such disasters. But we must be prepared and should never be complacent on such issues.