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I lit a candle for the dead. And also for the living: A year after Hurricane Maria

Life in a colony ain’t easy on the body, on the spirit, and in the heart. And when two hurricanes hit the island back to back, Irma and Maria, last September, two weeks apart, life became a little harder. Every 26 hours a Puerto Rican commits suicide according to the latest statistics of the Department of Health. Depression. Loss of employment, homes, bankruptcy and loss of hope is driving the attempted suicide rate to thirty percent. Mercy on the people of Puerto Rico.  

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Provi Davila Torres, 63, Caretaker, Yabucoa

“I prayed to God and to Our Lady, I am Catholic. I looked for all my religious metals and virgin and the Heart of Jesus I put them on the windows, doors, and my cars. “Take care of us and of our things,” I prayed, “we don’t have much. When “the thing” started to blow, a sound so strong, hours and hours passed, like a drill, when you are making a hole in the wall. The sounds of the wind–we heard voices, my son felt the earth moving, we felt tornadoes, it was like a bomb, like many people were throwing bombs, and bombs, and bombs. It was very impressive. It was here for more than 20 hours — from 6 am on Sept 20th and at 6 am on September 21st we were still feeling those winds. We could hear the winds destroying the trees, we heard things crashing, We were aware that there was no water coming in the house. And we knew that at any time the doors and windows would fly off.”

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Ana Elisa Pérez Quintero, 28, Agroecologist, Monte Carmelo, Vieques

“When you work with the earth and plant what you consume you are literally liberating yourself from the most basic necessity which is to eat. If we produce our food we are also in the process liberating ourselves. With a little land, everyone can produce the most essential for daily living. It’s the most practical way of living especially in a nation where we have been taught to depend, to receive food from somewhere else, and we don’t even know where it’s coming from.”

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Gladys Nazario, 61, Ethnobotanist, Professor, Utuado

“The hurricane was terrible, just devastating, The trees disappeared. But it was also extremely magical too. The way nature behaved. The way trees behaved. There are people suffering, without food and water. But this was the best thing that happened–it was a necessary revolution. The hurricane was a necessary evil.We needed something like this to become aware of all the things that were happening and to stop it. I have hope in the students and in the youth of Puerto Rico– they are reacting in a marvelous way.”

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Pedro L. Tellado Perez, 53, Farmer, Peñuelas

“I had horses, geese, sheep, roosters, chickens, goats, corinas, a special kind of messenger pigeon, bees. I had over 300 farm animals. I have one hundred twenty five left. The goats left and came back after the storm. I had to bury my sheep and covered the carcasses of my chickens with the earth, The horses survived. My animals were traumatized.”

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Mara Nieves, 41, Urban Permaculture Farmer, La Perla

“It felt like we were on our own, off the grid, finding our own selves with our own help. You get a sense of the power that the community has in situations like that and how we can come together. We harvested malanga, tarot, and some of the ladies had cassava, sweet potato. We made a sancocho. And then we harvested the basil, which suffered greatly, but we were able to make pesto. We started a community kitchen. It’s how we survived.”

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Elba Oquendo Pizarro, 61, Healthcare Activist, Vieques

“You cannot imagine the terror and the fear for our lives. The hurricane whistled loudly, the house trembled, windows sputtered and were wanting to come out of their frame. My friend and I spent the entire time on our knees praying for our lives.  For two weeks I cried everyday just seeing the destruction not just of my home, but the entire island.”

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Ruben Ramos, 71, farmer, Utuado

“A neighbor committed suicide weeks after the storm. With no electricity, no food, and no help or hope, he became despondent drove to the lake. His daughter and others would come help, cook for him or bring food but he was not able to hold on. It’s been rough.”

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