Hurricane Maria: My 7.5-Month Absence From Multiracial Media

Why Hurricane Maria required me to step away from Multiracial Media.

Some of you may or may not recognize my name. I am one of the founders of Multiracial Media. I disappeared one day and ended up taking a 7.5-month [seemingly unexplained] absence from Multiracial Media.

On September 20, 2017, as was the case for all who lived on Puerto Rico (as well as the U.S. Virgin Islands), my life was turned upside down. Hurricane Maria blew in at 175 miles per hour, and for 12 hours, she rocked the island my husband and I fell in love with and moved to ten years ago. Personal to my husband and me, Hurricane Maria destroyed the organic farm we’d spent the last nine years building.

Fortunately Maria didn’t kill our goats, dogs, cats, chickens and ducks.

Hurricane Maria

The side of my home: How Hurricane Maria missed destroying my car is amazing!

We knew this would happen at some point. We’d been preparing for a hurricane since we bought our farm but I can’t say we were expecting anything as destructive as Hurricane Maria. Although Puerto Rico had been hit by a few hurricanes in recent years (Georges: a category 3 in 1998; Hugo: a category 4 in 1989), its location relative to other islands has protected it from repeated onslaughts. To give you an idea of how seldom Puerto Rico gets hit with a hurricane of this magnitude, San Felipe in 1928 was the last catastrophic hurricane.

Having just come off Hurricane Irma two weeks earlier (which did some damage to Puerto Rico but devastated the U.S. Virgin Islands, Barbuda, Saint Barthélemy (Saint Barts), St. Maarten and parts of Florida), once we (the residents of Puerto Rico) saw the trajectory of Hurricane Maria, we knew she was going to be a catastrophic. The eye looked like it was headed for my town!

(For perspective, Utuado is about two hours from the capital city of San Juan.)

Hurricane Maria

Hurricane Maria’s trajectory placed her eye over my town.

Hurricane Maria’s Initial Effects

If you’ve never lived through a category 4 hurricane, I don’t recommend it. I have often described it as the meanest bully you can imagine trying for hours and hours to knock down the doors, smash all your windows and won’t give up until it kills you.

Although Maria was unsuccessful at breaking down the doors and windows to our home, she turned over, ripped the roofs off and removed the foundation from under many houses on the island. Most wooden structures were little more than splinters when Maria was through.

One might assume cement and concrete structures were safe. Nobody was safe from Maria’s wrath.

Hurricane Maria

A house at the very bottom of my hill. Although concrete and cement, it wasn’t safe from the earth giving way underneath.

We’d built hurricane-proof shelters for our goats, chickens and ducks, so they were safe. Unfortunately Hurricane Maria smashed the fencing around the goats’ play area.

Hurricane Maria

Hurricane Maria destroyed the fencing around the goats’ play area.

She lifted our bamboo (for construction, food and shade) like one might lift a grain of sand from the beach.

Hurricane Maria

Maria plucked out of the ground a 50-foot stalk of bamboo.

She destroyed our greenhouse:

Hurricane Maria

What was once our greenhouse.

It took Paul and me 10 days to get from our front door, down our 400-foot driveway, out the gate and onto the road. Felled trees, broken tree limbs and fallen debris from near and far made our progress very slow.

Hurricane Maria

The front of our house after Hurricane Maria.

Our driveway:

Hurricane Maria

This driveway took over a week to clean so we could get our cars out.

And Hurricane Maria shredded power lines.

Hurricane Maria

Power lines in Coamo (about 20 miles from Ponce).
Photo courtesy of Glendalyz Hernandez

We’d heard from neighbors that a town in the San Juan metro area was the closest place to get cell and internet connection. After we let our friends and family know we were alive, we had to figure out a way for me to work. I’m a freelance writer, I own a small content marketing agency, and of course, I was half owner of Multiracial Media.

It seemed I had very few options. I could go to our friend Joan’s home (whose bed and breakfast is still closed), who lives nearby. She has satellite internet and was happy to share. Or I could drive 2.5 hours each way to the metro area.

It became very clear I was going to have a difficult time managing my own business post Hurricane Maria, let alone continue managing Multiracial Media with Alex.

I had to break the news to Alex that I would need to give up my involvement with Multiracial Media. Much as it broke my heart, I had to. I couldn’t keep my end of the bargain. I had to concentrate on my husband, home, animals, the farm and my business. I didn’t have room to think about anything else. I couldn’t even deliver an article if I wrote one, let alone remain a part owner.

Sarah and Alex

Two years ago, Alex and I co-founded Multiracial Media. We put our blood, sweat, tears and money into making it what it is today. I’m immensely proud of the work we did together. I’m immensely proud of everyone who has contributed to the site. In particular, I’d like to thank Lisa Williamson Rosenberg, TaRessa Stovall and Nicholette Thomas for continuing to contribute week after week. You made Alex’s life much easier, as it was one less worry he had in my absence. Thank you to the fans and followers who like, share and comment on social media. Thank you to those of you who send in photos of your interracial relationships and multiracial families. I’m in awe of Alex for his ability to keep the lights on since I had to leave so abruptly.

But after Hurricane Maria, all I could do is be his biggest cheerleader.

Hurricane Maria: Getting On With Our Lives

If you read the news, you know Puerto Rico is far from fixed. Seven and a half months later many on the island are still without power. Don’t believe the hype from PREPA (our power company) that 96% of the island has power. I believe all municipalities have power in town but those of us in the mountainous areas and in the countryside are a different story altogether. Our lines criss cross, run down hills and sometimes they’re strung across valleys. My husband and I got power two days before the island-wide power outage on April 18th, which was seven months after Hurricane Maria.

Everything with the power and water restoration has been walk two, step back three. Money is the biggest issue. Because we’re a colony of the United States, we need them to approve disaster relief funds, so we can fix our island.

Six months after the storm hit, Congress and President Trump finally earmarked some money our way. Congress is giving us the money they approved (a fraction of what the governor asked for) in tiny increments. PREPA uses it to buy poles, lines and transformers to rebuild the power grid. One friend who lives only 20 minutes from us tells us she doesn’t expect power until December—assuming a hurricane doesn’t thwart that effort.

Hurricane season starts up again in three weeks.

Many roads are closed still because they were simply washed away.

Hurricane Maria

A road in Coamo, Puerto Rico. There are so many on the island like that where the rain caused massive mudslides.

I’d love to tell you things have returned to normal.

We’re all coping the best way we can. We are getting on with our lives—those of us who stayed here, I mean. It’s estimated over 200,000 left the island both just before and since Hurricane Maria.

Hurricane season is less than a month away and the island is still repairing and rebuilding after Hurricane Maria destroyed it. On a personal front, we’re still concentrating on rebuilding our farm. We started a fundraiser to help offset the money needed to do this—over $25,000. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) doesn’t give a dime toward farm restoration. The U.S.D.A. and the Puerto Rico Farm Bureau don’t support organic farming here, so we couldn’t get help from either of them. We called it Operation Rebuild Mayani Farms.

We’ve had some fun too. It hasn’t been complete doom and gloom.

Hurricane Maria

Walking the streets of Old San Juan with my husband Paul, my brother from another, Hector, and his funny, introverted wife Wendy. An amazing post Hurricane Maria outing.

In March we went with my brother from another mother, Hector, and his awesome wife, Wendy, to see Phil Collins in concert at the Puerto Rico Coliseo. This couldn’t have happened without our wonderful petsitter, Tina. Owning a farm means never leaving for more than five hours at a time, unless you have a trustworthy and knowledgeable person person taking care of things back home.

Rumor has it the Puerto Rico date was his final concert. Hector and I have both been Phil Collins fans for decades. Collins opened with my favorite song of his, “Against All Odds.” I just have to say thank you, Phil! It was the first concert in our coliseum post Maria and what looks to be his last concert. How poignant. His voice was flawless. His 16-year-old son was on drums and Phil’s backup band was perfect!

We also got out to see the film Black Panther. Of course we saw it! And of course we absolutely loved it!

A New Family Member On Our Farm

We had decided to hold off mating our goats until this August. We wanted to have the summer to do more cleaning and replanting before we started new families. Well, Mother Nature had a different plan in mind.

Hurricane Maria

The first goat born post Hurricane Maria. Nadia is the mother and Frida is her daughter.

On Friday, May 3, Nadia gave birth to a 7.5-pound girl. We named her Frida after Frida Kahlo. By Saturday it hit us that it may have been what we needed. We’re such planners but this new life, this baby allowed us to stop and appreciate all we have and remind us why we left our corporate jobs and came to Puerto Rico ten years ago: to be more tied to Mother Earth.

And I’m Writing Again!

With power back, I have been able to get back to writing, which I hadn’t done much of since the hurricane. I’m writing a preparedness guide for people who need help knowing how to minimize the impact of a natural disaster. Having lived through one of the most devastating hurricanes in Puerto Rico’s history, what good is my knowledge and the learning I’ve done (my husband and I) if I don’t help others? I’m donating 100 percent of the proceeds to two non-profits on Puerto Rico.

During the first week of every month, I will write about something for Multiracial Media. Feeling as though it’s important for me to stay close to home, so to speak, I will write about Puerto Rico and the Caribbean. It’s my home and we’re all multiracial after all.

Thank you for reading. It feels great to be back.

My name is Sarah and I am one of the founders of Multiracial Media. Not only am I multiracial (Black, Asian and White), but I’ve also lived in or spent long periods of time in several countries, throughout the United States and now my husband and I live on the Caribbean island of Puerto Rico. I see myself both in terms of my racial and ethnic identity as well as someone who appreciates the food, culture and customs of all nations—like a citizen of the world. Sarah’s World Beat column reflects this.

If you would like me to write about your culture or country, please drop me a line and suggest a topic.

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