What We Mourn
by Huascar Robles
After the Hurricane Maria tore through my country of Puerto Rico, friends and acquaintances reminded me I should be grateful my family was alive, well and in the company of neighbors and other family members. While I was grateful - deeply grateful - I felt I was in mourning. Something was gone.
I wasn’t sure what it was until yesterday at eight in the morning when I received a Facebook message from a friend from Haiti:
“It is wild. NGOs, military, FEMA, Coast Guard,” she said and explained she had flown on a helicopter to Puerto Rico on an aid mission. [This occurred at the Hotel and Convention Center in San Juan, which is Hurricane Response Center.]
“In Puerto Rico?!?!,” I asked.
“Yes,” she replied and added, “We dropped off a doctor in (the town of) Caguas”
“That is my town”, I responded with elation.
She described a scene all too familiar for me not in my town of Caguas or Puerto Rico but in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. I step into the Haitian capital almost eight years ago after the 7.0 magnitude earthquake did what Hurricane Maria did to Puerto Rico. I travelled through the border in the Dominican town of Jimaní with a U.N. convoy. I reported from the heart of trauma and what I saw was similar to what my friend was describing in Puerto Rico over text - U.N. tanks and international peacekeepers guarding facilities, U.S. military vehicles speeding on dust roads, volunteers from Medecins Sans Frontieres and other humanitarian agencies, men and women in scrubs, civilians that became rescuers. It was a chaos matched by a powerful - and a times deadly - humanitarian force. The mere presence of a Red Cross makeshift tent, an Oxfam camp, or men in fatigues hoisting war weapons tells the mind this that just happened here is unprecedented, at least it does for a country like Puerto Rico that has mostly escaped the violent past of the majority of its Caribbean and Latin American neighbors. This force in my country and in my town marked the beginning of something unfamiliar.
In those towns now overflowing with mud, blood and possibly humanitarian aid are the memories of our past. When my friend said she had landed on a hospital in my town, while it could have been the regional hospital, I wanted to believe it was the HIMA hospital, less than I mile from my mother’s house. She described the concrete homes to have remained in good shape while others of other materials - which are many in rural Caguas - were not. Bare and battered trees everywhere. That is what we mourn. While our loved ones might be in relatively good spirits, the inexorable truth is that our homes and the places where we harvested memories are gone or transformed. That is what we mourn - the streets that took us to school; our aunt’s home where we did homework; our mother’s kitchen where we were fed and loved; our rooms where we prayed, wrote, dreamed and designed our future. In time we will create other memories of the same caliber and strength. For a moment - not sure how long - grieving for our towns, neighborhoods, and homes will be a road to healing and recovery.