Just A Lil Rain

We’re a tough old flock, us islanders.  Raised on salt water and sea grapes, breadkind and fish, we are hard to beat.  Perhaps this is why we are the ones Hurricanes are sent to – the world hears about the East Coast getting by a little Cat 1 (a mere kitten) for months but a 100 square-mile island being swallowed by a monstrous Cat 4 (much closer to a tiger) gets a few minutes of news time.  And that’s ok.  Because we are ok.  And, God willing, we always will be.

Category 1 hurricanes find us battening down and then going to the beach.  The calm before the storm is usually the best beach day of the year and the beach is best enjoyed with mangoes in the sea, sweet sticky fruit met with salt.  Our damage is usually minimal due to our construction and preparation.  Informed by hundreds of years of experience we know our flood zones and our best defenses and are fortunate enough to be able to afford to employ our knowledge to our protection.  June 1 is a big trip to the supermarket to start stocking up for the season.  But when the storm has passed and we have had minimal damage, it is not uncommon to see adults and children alike bathing in the rain and riding wave runners and kayaks in the flooded streets.

Shipwrecks, pirates, battles and storms tattoo the tapestry of our history.  We have learned to laugh the laugh of the children of sailors.

Funny thing is this little weather event caught me as the only member of my immediate family on island.  This weekend my dad was in Cuba, my mom in Florida, and my brother in Jamaica.  And of all weekends, it had to be this one.  Funny enough, however, this little event affected us all.  My mom’s flight back was delayed and both my brother and my dad were fighting through the same rain on islands to the north and to the south of where I am.

I became vaguely conscious of the rain in the early hours of the morning.  It made sleep sweet and the Public Holiday (Discovery Day in Cayman) even more relaxing so I rolled over and snuggled deeper with a sleepy sigh of the blessed.  And then I woke up.

Kids Kayaking in the rain outside an old shopping center, torn apart by our last big hurricane. Today’s fun on the grounds of yesterday’s disaster.

My back yard was a lake.  There was no walking of dogs this morning.  The water would have near covered their little backs had we tried to step into the parking lot.  My neighbours didn’t move their cars all day but,  me being on the edge of the flood, I pulled out determined to get my day’s errands done.

Not too long into the day did I realize that this thing wasn’t going to stop.  Errands were rushed and plans abandoned and at some point after noon, and after hours and hours of falling sheets of rain, I joined up with my mad family, the ones who never heed a warning to stay inside unless it is called a C.U.R.F.E.W., and drove around the island in a four-wheel drive.

Have a look at how the day went.  Some of these are mine and some are borrowed.

Tubers pulled behind the white truck enjoy the wake left by passing cars.

A cow pen off the side of the main road at Breadfruit Walk with at least four feet of water stained red by the dirt

I had intended to go down this road but turned back after seeing the high water. Passing by later I saw a fellow traveller who missed the memo.

For more flood photos, visit the Cayman27 site.

A Hurricane Veteran’s advice to a Newby: 10 things you should do to prepare

Caveat: I am not FEMA.
Truth: I am much better. I am the survivor of one of nature’s terrors. The Category 5 hurricane. Heed my words and I will save you from discomforts FEMA would blush to discuss.

How to prepare for a hurricane is a skill perfected by veterans and an art refined by the veterans in the Caribbean – particularly Cayman which is statistically the land mass most frequently visited by the Atlantic hurricane.

1. When to prepare:
June 1 comes along. Every year it comes, not like February 29th. It is the start of crazy-time. It should be in your calendar on your phone with a repeat every year. It is the green-light-GO for hurricane preparedness for hurricane survivors or those of you who want to become hurricane survivors (much better than the alternative, right?).

2. Clear the debt:
We hear money people back and forth on debt and its pros and cons. On June 1 you want a free and clear credit card. And you want to KEEP it free and clear for the season. Why? When you want to get the hell outta Dodge and the ATMs are all either flooded or buried under rubble you will feel love for clear plastic. Also, right before the storm, get yourself some cash. Lots of it. Keep it safe with birth certificates and passports in ziplock waterproof bags. Easy to grab at last minute if you need to run/swim to safety.

3. Stock up:
Big one. Last minute shopping limits your choices. And in the aftermath of a storm while you are waiting for running water (we waited 1 month) or electricity (we waited 3 months) and supermarkets or banks to open, you need to have prepared your choices. There is only so much tuna fish you can eat without growing gills and it takes far less corned beef to make you “moo” in one direction or another.

During the season veterans will pick up four of five items on each supermarket trip and pick up batteries and flashlights when they are on sale.

4. Food choices:
Already touched on this in point #3. When stocking up think in food groups. Think things that won’t spoil.
A. Meat – canned, dried, long life stuff.
B. Beans and legume – very convenient in cans and don’t require cooking. Warm and serve.
C. Starches – easiest one. Snacks, crackers, breads, cereals, but pastas and rice will cut into your water supply and need to cook so look out for that.
D. Sweets – very stressful time. Calories not important *wink*
E. Easily stored drinks – powdered, canned, boxed. Anything to keep you from the doldrums of a diminishing water supply.
F. Fruit and veg – this part is the most important and is often forgotten or disregarded. I cannot over-stress this point – fruit and veg are crucial in the aftermath of a storm. From my personal experience I will demonstrate and beg your forgiveness for being gross. But you’d never get this from FEMA.

So Ivan came and, as usual, hurricanes make people hungry. We ate oreos, snacked on pretzels, drank juices while they were cold before power went out and took the fridge. All hell broke loose, two thirds of the country was under water, lives were destroyed and homes lost and we woke up two days later in a disaster zone. Constipated. NOT FUN. Imagine having no running water to bathe or flush toilets and having to struggle with THAT demon too!

So canned fruit, onions and carrots that won’t go off quickly, dried stuff, metamucil. All necessary.

Be creative. Mix the food up. Remember this could be what life looks like for months.

5. Practical goods:
There are hurricane lists all over the internet. I will not attempt to replace any of them and when I get to a computer and off my smart phone I’ll stick a few links up. In the meanwhile, think DESERT ISLAND and what you would need. Northerners, think SNOWED IN with no electricity and no running water and you’ll get the idea.

6. Water storage:
One thing I have to correct the pros on is water storage. If you can help it, please do NOT fill up your tub. Buy two of those massive outdoor barrel-sized garbage cans and put one in your bathroom and one in your kitchen. That way you have the use of your tub to rinse off in or wash things in AND you won’t be using bathroom water in your kitchen. This is especially useful when the bathroom drainage stops working. So keep your bins and clean them and fill them in the hours before the storm.

7. Candle? Or flashlight?

Both! Candles give off light. But they also give off heat. The aftermath of a storm can be the hottest, stickiest time of the year. Battery operated lamps and lights are best for indoors and are bright enough to give you all the light you are accustomed to. They are less hazardous as well.

Outdoors is a different story. I am convinced that hurricanes carry with them some steroid for mosquitoes. After a storm they are huge and relentless. Light attracts mozzies but citronella candles can repel them. So stock up liberally and buy some repellant as well.

8. Two MUST HAVES:
A camp stove with lots of fuel. And a battery operated fan. Not on most lists because it seems like a luxury to the powers-that-be. But you will thank me later!

9. Personal hygiene:
Shop with the inability to shower for ten days of sweltering hot weather in mind. Think baby wipes and hand sanitizer. Women think Summer’s Eve and feminine products too.

10. Entertainment:
When you hunker down you will be there a few hours. Don’t twiddle your thumbs or drive yourself into a psychotic break. Make sure you have card games, board games, books, toys for kids and animals, bones for dogs. And your sense of humour. This may be needed not only during the storm but for days after as you are stuck on the 79th floor with no TV or electricity. Do some bonding. Laugh a lot. Force it if you have too.

Pray. Rest well. Be safe. Good luck!

Irene, Ivan’s little sister

Hurricane Irene made landfall this morning in North Carolina. She is a category 1 storm, a mere kitten among lions like Ivan, Andrew, Hugo, and Gilbert. But big cities have much to lose at the playful hands of kittens as New Orleans is likely to testify.

Every time August ends and September begins I sense a tiny change in my psyche. Something akin to PTSD. A deepened vigilance. It is the gentle grandchild of the terror of 2004, the year I thought my whole family would die at the hands of Hurricane Ivan. It is 2011 and I still don’t have the fortitude to be able to write about it in detail – the tearing apart of my grandmother’s house as she made corned beef sandwiches in the kitchen, the sight of people swimming to shelter at the hospital where I was tied together with rope and carrying young children, the floating cars, the twisters tearing off roofs. Ivan was a Cat5 or a Cat4 – no one is quite sure because all instruments on island broke under his fists.

But that is another tale for another, stronger, time. My islands are the most hurricane prone land statistically than anywhere else in the Atlantic. The time will come for those stories.

But today giants are bracing for Irene the kitten. Ivan’s little sister is on track to New York, Washington DC, Connecticut – places more accustomed to snow storms. Down south the people are always ready, always strong, and a Cat 1 will knock down a few trees and change only a few lives. How prepared are the people of the North?

Today my prayers are with them. My friends, my cousins, my colleagues and my readers. I am certain this will be much gentler than Katrina but the unprepared mind may feel it more deeply.