On Evacuations and What We Leave Behind (Bahamas and Hurricane Dorian)

Hurricane Dorian is coming.   Evacuate. Evacuate. 

Painting by Emmanuel Pratt-Clarke

Hurricane Dorian is coming to the Bahamas.

Bahamian Flag

    

Hurricane Dorian is coming.  Evacuate. Evacuate.

Dorian not only hit the Bahamas; she actually hung around, for hours, playing and dancing and spinning, and making havoc and destruction. 

There will be deaths – many deaths.  An area of the Bahamas in Abaco, in particular, was home to many Haitians.  Haitians are the “illegal immigrants” of the Bahamas – unwanted and unloved, but trying to survive and find a better life for themselves and their families.  They are survivors from their own encounters with the forces of nature – the earth quake in 2010, and then subsequent hurricanes. Many came to the Bahamas — for life.

They often live in the bush, or shanty towns, out of sight of the Bahamas ICE, just like the US ICE. Just trying to eek out a living, out of sight, in the shadows, but serving society. 

When the word came “Hurricane Dorian is coming.  Evacuate. Evacuate” the Bahamian government sent planes and boats, many of them, to take their citizens and residents out to safety — to other islands and shelters. It was an evacuation  because they knew death and destruction could be imminent.

The Haitians could not evacuate.  The planes and the boats were not for them.  It was not about humanity and human life.  It was about some lives. 

And even for those lives, the lives deemed more worth of salvation, there is a decision to be made.  For sometimes, we have notice of catastrophic moments and when there is notice, we sometimes have the power to make a choice. And the choice to be made is:

Do we evacuate? Do we leave, with whatever we have?  Or do we stay and pray?

Sometimes, there is no time, no time for decisions – like the California wildfires.  But, sometimes, there is time, not much, but a little.  What do we do with that time?  We make decisions about material things, often.

What do we take? 

I love jewelry.  I’ve invested in jewelry — rings, bracelets, earrings.  They are small, sentimental, but they represent a decision I made long ago about my own self-worth and value and how I would remind myself of my value and worth. It was a stage in my life when I needed to remind myself. I need the reminder less now.

I have some  jewelry from friends, and some from my mother.  She didn’t have much jewelry, but I have what little she had. And then, I have a bracelet from my grandfather I never met from Sierra Leone.  It has his name on it.  Daniel. I think I would take my jewelry.   

What else?   I now have the luxury of time and reflection.  What is important?  Ultimately, it is all left behind when we transition.  All of it.  Those who died in Dorian, whose bodies are floating in the streets, they left it all behind.  No time even for good byes.

I listened to a franctic, harried Whatsapp message – a message of a family member describing seeing bodies everywhere.  Dead bodies.  She is among the living…perhaps just barely.  In need of food and water.  Survival.

My husband, who is from the Bahamas, shares updates from the Whatsapp social groups – pictures, videos, a woman holding a baby, with two other children in a bathroom, flood water everywhere in the home, and the mother praying — loudly, desperately, — literally praying for dear life.

The Bahamas is composed of 700 islands; he is from Exuma, one of the other 30 major habitable islands out of 700 islands that make up the Bahamas. Exuma is not affected this time. I remember the hurricane two years ago — he was there; he didn’t evacuate. Maybe he should have. He is a survivor, though, of many hurricanes.

What else would I take?

Pictures and albums.  You are supposed to take what is irreplaceable; irretrievable;  Where are they?  Everywhere; in different trunks from the 1950s in the garage.  On some jump drive? Hard drive upstairs by the computer?  Wait, do I take my computer?  Stuff is on there.  My draft of my next book.

Where do we keep our memories? 

It used to be photo albums, that we passed on from generation to generation.  Old, old pictures of old folk.  But now, is it all on-line on Facebook?  Insta?  And then, when we die?  Does Facebook die, too?

What else?  What else would I take?

I collect rocks, rocks from around the world.   Keepsakes momentos, evidence of the world beyond my world. Some I found, some my friends and family give me.

Rocks from Egypt, Israel, Sedona, South Africa, New Zealand, Alaska, Cuba.

Do I rush to find them, pack them up?  They represent an energy force, I gain strength from them..  Wait, I remember…some photographs are with the rocks. Pictures…everywhere…some framed…

Wait..a diploma; next to it a picture of me and my mom and brother at the White House.

Wait, there is also art —  from my husband and son.  Some framed on the wall, some sculptured.  A Black power fist I’m very fond of.

Black fist sculpture by Obadiah Clarke

I notice the piano in my mind.  Old, very old.  I can’t take it.  Obviously.   Why did that even cross my mind?  But my violin, hiding in a corner.   Do I grab that?

She (my violin) is hiding behind a potty chair.  Oh my goodness.  My mom collected potty chairs.  Potty chairs from the 1900s, one from 1910 that was brought from Germany.  The owner, evacuated, perhaps from Germany, felt the potty chair was important. I have it now; it was part of my mother’s collection of almost 30 that we had to let go when she moved in with me when Alzheimer’s began to live out inside her.  I can’t leave those.   One is in the bathroom; one in the living room;    One is big; it looks like a dresser.  Will it fit?  In the car?  What else won’t fit?

a potty chair, like the ones my mother loved

and knik knacks….

little piano music boxes my mother liked
gift genies

I think I’d like to take these, the little music boxes, maybe at least the genies, to rub and believe wishes could come true. Surely they could fit in something.

But, those in the Bahamas who could evacuate – the citizens – maybe could only put what they had in luggage.  In a few suitcases; for they would be flown out, on the planes that came for them – the citizens.

Everything else was left behind.

Those who couldn’t evacuate – the old, the sick, they dying….. the non-citizens, left behind..

And for many, what was left behind was destroyed.  Lives were destroyed.

Many Bahamians were just surviving – barely scraping out a living in through the tourist industry – depending on tourists to survive.  Tourists that cannot return for many years — there is nothing to tour; nothing to enjoy. How will they survive?

I have to stop. This rumination.  Breathe.  Release.  

Release these physical things of life.  And remind myself…what is the now?  What matters?

Even if I never have to evacuate.

Time with family and friends, making memories, in an often unmemorable world.  That is what matters. The intangible.

Doing my best at a job where I hope I am making a difference.

And….getting my next book done.  A book I hope inspires many to keep pushing, even when it seems that you got no more push left in you.

Let us keep pushing on together  Let us cherish the life we have,  even when we have to evacuate and leave everything behind, whether in life or death, for one day, we will all  eventually evacuate from this life, for that is the ultimate journey of all humanity, and we all, ultimately, leave everything behind.

1 thought on “On Evacuations and What We Leave Behind (Bahamas and Hurricane Dorian)”

  1. Menah, this is truly beautiful, amidst the ugliness of Dorian, amidst the horrible catastrophe. This brings both joy and sadness to my heart; yet it is relief. And many thanks for sharing …

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *