The only way to help the Caribbean is to visit the Caribbean. These are the words I recently typed in a post I wrote and published here in November last year. Funny, how damn Irma keeps rearing her ugly head, even now 5 months later. Fact is she is a huge part of the region’s history and a part of its people.
To those of you who are visiting or thinking of visiting St. Maarten or other hurricane struck islands in the Caribbean, I thank you. From the bottom of my heart. The islands need to set the wheels of their economy in motion again and since most of us depend heavily on tourism as our number one income and source of revenue, you vacationing here is what will help bring us back to our pre-“IrMaria” status.
But allow me to be frank. We are not nearly there yet. Not even close. The islands struck by the “Bitches Duo” as I like to call them, are still very much bruised and there are obvious signs everywhere of what we went through. Fallen fences, bent street lights and buildings in rubble to name but a few of the things you can expect to see. Please, do not let this alarm you. The four reasons to visit us are still here: Sunshine, beautiful white sand beaches, friendly service and flowing rum punch. Believe me when I say, we still “Got it”.
So in reality it really is not as bad as you think. I live here and folks, if this place is good enough for me to to live in, it certainly is good enough for you to visit for a few days. Fun in the sun is still guaranteed.
But before you board that plane or cruise ship, sunscreen in hand, allow me to warn you about a few things.
Point, aim and don’t shoot
Before you grab your camera and aim it at a destroyed building, half sunken boat or some other kind of devastation, remember that what you are photographing are remnants of someone’s life, hopes and dreams. You may even be trespassing to get that totally awesome shot of you walking in the rubbles just to post on your Instagram later. While I completely understand today’s obsession with likes and followers, I also see the other side of that photo and the “damage” your picture can cause to the person whose destroyed house you just photographed or the island in general trying so hard to get back on its feet.
Social Media me this
Social media has been a great tool to inform the world of our hardship. Photos and videos of the destruction left behind by the hurricanes quickly went viral even before we could safely come out of our houses. Unfortunately because this is the internet that shit is still going around today and is impacting people’s decision to visit. I recently got a comment on the Facebook page of our bar saying that you’ll need to bring a gun here just to keep safe. This person was of course referring to the looting and chaos that ensued right after the storm. Chaos always follows a disaster. Just ask those who experienced the riots in LA in 92, hurricane Harvey in Houston last year or the riots in London in 2011. The looting was bad but it was quickly brought under control and looters were brought to justice immediately after. Unfortunately the videos were already doing the damage online and continue to do so today. I agree that you want to document the real true state of the island when you visit but please don’t only post pictures of the disaster, which by the way is quickly being cleared, but also post photos of the progress and beauty that has returned. Our waters are as clear and blue as ever, our sand as white and the sun is definitely still shining.
Small progress is still progress
I recently saw a comment by someone who visited St. Maarten not too long ago and complained that he just cannot understand how slow the progress has been. Please remember that things don’t work the same here as they do at wherever you call home. Has your home been hit by a terrible category 5+ hurricane lately? I seriously hope it hasn’t. It’s too bad this person chose to see the slow progress and completely ignored the true progress we have made in only 5 months and with limited resources. Dude, we deserve an award for what all we have accomplished so far.
“Resilience is the capacity of a system, enterprise, or a person to maintain its core purpose and integrity in the face of dramatically changed circumstances.”
– Andrew Zolli –
Missing the big picture
The Caribbean is synonymous with slow internet and a slower pace of life entirely (seriously, it is much too hot to be moving any faster). After the hurricanes we had no internet for weeks (I can almost hear the collective gasp of horror by millenials around the world) and guess what? We actually survived weeks without it. I’m a blogger and a social media manager. So the internet is my lifeline. Yet, I survived. When you come here to visit for a weeks or days, supposedly for fun in the sun, please don’t you dare complain about faulty internet, slow connection or the electricity falling out for an hour or two. It may be not yours, but this is our reality and we learned to make do with it all. Do what we do, grab a book and read by candlelight, go to the beach, spend time actually talking to those on vacation with you or grab drink and sit out on the balcony staring at whatever beautiful view you have. Or better yet, drive down to the nearest bar and be social. Maybe you’ll even make a new friend or two.
Why not volunteer while you are here? There are dozens of organizations that are doing a marvelous job helping those still struggling with the hurricane aftermath. Many still have no roofs, dogs are being abandoned on a daily basis with no food or water, children are in need of school supplies. There is enough that you can do while here. It doesn’t have to be every day of your vacation, it can be lending a helping hand with a clean up project, or donating dog and cat food or packages to families still struggling. There are dozens of ways that you can help should you want to.
Again I thank you for ignoring the mostly untrue picture the media is portraying of most of the islands that were hit and still booking that flight to come down and visit us. You will be received with open arms and you will enjoy your trip. The islands have so much to offer, things that no hurricane can ever take away from us. I try to keep a positive outlook regardless of what I see everyday. There is no place for negativity here. Only sunshine, sand covered toes and tan lines.
Contact me if you would like to know which organizations you can volunteer at while you’re on St. Maarten.
*The above is based on my personal opinions and experiences and are not directed at anyone in particular.