Filed under “things I can’t do anything about but can’t stop worrying about anyway”: hurricane Matthew, the most severe hurricane to threaten Jamaica in half a decade.
Yesterday Matthew was a class 5 (out of 5). Today it has been downgraded to class 4. That’s still enough wind and water to do severe damage to both the natural environment and human constructions.
I was very lucky to live through a mild hurricane season in Kingston and was still awed by the near daily torrential rains of November. The warm waters would flood the streets in seconds and recede as quickly as they came. Sometimes the streets ran with water up to my ankles (you have to try not to think about how fouled that water is); I was frequently caught in squalls that would drench me to the skin in seconds, but never once was I in danger from the weather. Roads washed out in rural areas. Parishes I wasn’t quite clear on the location of survived landslides. And I – with my CUSO safety line and plane ticket ‘home’- chalked the distant threat of a storm up to part of the adventure. Want to know how privilege works? Re-read that last sentence.
Jamaica is a land of sea and mountains – steep, jagged, ancient mountains that soar with a violence no Canadian mountains recreate. They are jammed to the peak with lush, heavy vegetation that pulls on the soil as it is barraged with rain. Add to that decades of bauxite mining that has left swaths of the country stripped of top soil, and this jewel of sea and mountains can fast become a muddy, slippery mine field.
I keep trying to think positively. Unfair though it sounds, the people I know and love in Jamaica – Canadians and Jamaicans alike – are also privileged. They have shelter and networks of support and will look out for each other. Some have already left the country until Matthew passes. Others have shared their safety plans. While there are no guarantees, my mind is relatively at ease for them.
But, what about the others? What about the homeless of Kingston with their shelters in the low-lying downtown area? What about the subsistence fishers of Port Royal who can’t leave their boats – their only means of survival? And what about those people living in the hills who may lose their ability to get in or out – potentially for days or weeks? The devastating potential of a hurricane starts before it makes land fall and lasts long after it has passed. I keeps picturing the many hollow shells of hurricane-destroyed homes I would pass on my walks between home and work/shopping/friends. The people who owned those homes were also better off than many Jamaicans. Well enough situated financially to at least build, but not secure enough to repair. Their losses won’t show up in post-Matthew statistics, but in a tenuous economy such things can be life-changing.
Yet, there’s nothing I can do about any of it. So here I sit, slightly chilly but dry and safe. This afternoon I’ll walk over and beside small sections of the placid Pacific, aware that it too can devastate but so very rarely does here. I will be in reassuring company that understands my sometimes far-away look and furrowed brow. I will return now and again to the BBC for updates that are not solely about what might happen to America once Matthew has his way with Haiti, Jamaica and Cuba. And I will hold some faith, not just for my friends and loved ones, but for the resilient and resourceful Jamaican people who have withstood so much and will once again come together to overcome this. I have to believe that is true – there is nothing else for me to do.