She saw trees and houses flying. Her neighbor’s house ended up in her yard. Her other neighbor’s washer machine too. But that was not the worst the mother of five witnessed. When she saw the mountains of her beloved town the morning after Hurricane Maria pummeled through the island, Wanda recalls doing two things: falling into prayer and crying.
The once lush green landscape of mango, coffee, guanabana, avocado, cherry, guava, and other fruit trees was leafless and burnt to a dark crispy brown. Then days after the storm she said it rained for sixty-two days. Rivers overflowed to the point that neighbors made human chains to cross the small bridge to their homes in El Sector Maldonado.
Then something magical started happening–felled trees began sprouting and there were pumpkin flowers and blooms everywhere. She went harvesting for ñame, a tuber that grows inside the earth, and shared the harvests with everyone in the community where she lives in a humble wood and zinc roof home. The area still doesn’t have electricity nine months after the hurricane. She spends her days replanting and harvesting–the hurricane left a large bounty.
Born in Ponce, raised in New Jersey, the mother of five returned to the island of her birth three years ago to farm. Today she is part of a group building a community garden and organizing for solar panels. We visited on Day 85, there was no electricity.
“It’s a lot of work, we carry buckets of water, I buy two bags of ice everyday for my perishables. Ice prices are up. I saw young adults, teens, and kids cutting trees, washing clothes int the river, riding bikes–doing things that I used to do as a child. They can’t use cell phones so they are talking to each other. Adults having coffee and crackers on their balconies, with candles and under the stars. This hurricane has taught me about the meaning of community.”
“People here are are still suffering.”
*Wanda Iveliise is my oldest sister. I traveled to the land of my paternal ancestors to check in on her and other relatives. I didn’t plan to include her in the series but after she shared her stories, how could I not?
Words: Sandra Guzmán
Photos: Sandra Guzmán & Rebecca Gitana Torres