As many of you know Tropical Storm Olga destroyed many homes, caused major damage, and tarnished the spirits of many residents of Santiago, Dominican Republic, during this Christmas season.
As many of you know I traveled this December to Dominican Republic for the joyous celebration of my sister’s wedding which was a beautiful blessing. Unfortunately the trip ended in a very unexpected manner.
I witnessed the damage first hand of the storm and it was heart breaking. I am a first generation Dominican-American from Santiago and for the first time in all the years traveling to what I consider my second home, I felt more Dominican than ever.
The desperation in people’s eyes, the sadness, the chaos throughout the city … you could slice the air with a knife … so thick was the fog of emotions.
I was returning to New York that same day. In a few hours I would be away from it all. Not needing to look back. Another disaster for the history books. But I didn’t want it to be that way. And so I recorded, took photos, talked to people.
Pirra, my personal tour guide, confidant, friend, and family all in one, took me to an area that overlooked the city under water, as it is known now. I wanted to cry. I never felt such a need to help. Eyes crying out for help. Police attempting to maintain order. Pirra then tells me that one of my family members, a cousin, lives in one of those houses that was under water. I say a prayer in my heart hoping that he and his family got out in time. I pray.
We walk toward the bridge so we can get a better view. We have to be careful because thieves always take advantage of moments like these to prey on the weak and unaware. Pirra points to my purse and says, “Agarra tu cartera” … I clutch my purse close to my side. I ain’t no fool. I’m from New York. The clouds are various shades of dark grey but nonetheless all grey. The bridge is red. Vivid red, a color that symbolizes and represents so many things; bloodsheds, doctors, warnings, ambulances, fire, firefighters … the sirens are going off everywhere. I think of 9/11. I remember being downtown and meeting with my sister a few blocks from Times Square … hugging, crying, and the sirens …
The river is dirty and running downstream quickly … probably filled with belongings from families, neighbors … maybe someone’s loved one. I look around to distract my mind. I take some video and m battery dies. I take this as a sign that we should get going. We start to walk away and back to our parked car. As soon as we get off the bridge there seems to be arguments going on and trouble is in the air.
The rain starts up again. People look at me. Dominicans know when you’re not really one of them. I have always felt this stare. That you may belong but you really don’t. I carry that inside. I pick up pace. Pirra right beside me. The police have yellow tape where it overlooks the city under water. The rain gets heavier.
As we drive away I feel the tears in my eyes. I look to the sky. I don’t question natural disasters. For that is what they are.
But there is so much the government could do to preserve the country’s natural landscape and prevent something like this from happening again but very few seem to care. They just take people’s money and build and build and build with no concern of space, area, foundation, and/or structure. Houses sink, fall apart, or are so close to one another that you can see when the neighbor is using the bathroom! Architects, engineers, officials must start to come together to build better housing. Stop building homes on top of mountains when there could be a possibility of an earthquake. Build paved streets and sidewalks that don’t have potholes that are 1–2 feet deep and twelve feet wide! The lack of proper water irrigation systems throughout the whole country … the list goes on.
This could have been prevented. This didn’t have to happen. We have been here before.
There is an ever increasing population and the people are living on top of each other like cockroaches. We are not animals. Human beings need to take better care of human beings. Humanity is deteriorating and we are treating one another like disposal garbage. Greed is the new green and we are still objects to be bought and sold.
This New Year’s say a prayer for the planet, for humanity and let us not forget those less fortunate than us … not just in material things but in awareness. My heart goes out to Santiago, Republica Dominicana. I pray God watches over them and instills faith and wisdom to carry on despite obvious obstacles.