September 27, 2004
Ivan...Amazing how almost 4 weeks ago that name had no more meaning to me than some brief spot in Russian history. And now those four letters have created this huge chasm in my mind, my life, my home and my Peace Corps experience. Before Ivan and after Ivan. I imagine with time that divide will become fuzzier, but for now it seems so big it's hard to imagine it ever fading. The following is the almost unedited version of what I wrote in my journal the day after Ivan tore through (Ivan arrived on Tuesday afternoon). This is the first time I've had the opportunity (physically and more so, mentally) to sit down and record it here. I have also posted some photos for you to browse.
September 8, 2004 (Wed.)--I'm alive and my house is intact. I feel exhausted and numb from the roller coaster of emotions. On Monday, I felt an anticipation, a sick curiosity of what was to come, what might be--the end result. What will it be like--never knowing, never suspecting what this would turn up. We collected to safehouses (a volunteer's home in the vicinity) on Monday thinking most likely 1 night, perhaps 2. This thing was supposed to head north towards Barbados and St. Lucia. We heard Monday evening that it had dropped and was headed our way. Most of the meteorologists scenarios were wrong wrong and this thing was headed right to Grenada...and it was BIG. ONly then did people start whispering about Janet (the OTHER big one that hit 49 years ago). We hardly slept Monday night--a mix of fear and anticipation. Not letting ourselves believe what was to come, especially as the night was warm and calm. The day had been sunny, the only hint of this looming storm was the oppressive head that the hurricane was shoving towards us..."Here I come!" The next morning we made pancakes and were online checking coordinates and the reports issued every 3 hours. As we watched this swirling eye coming wards us, it seemed unbelievable that this thing was picking the exact spot that our little island that measures 12 x 21 miles was in the DIRECT path of this thing. One last phone call and one last check of the weather before our phone and power went out. The water had gone the night before.
It was about 2:00pm when this thing started showing it's might arms. The winds started, the sky darkened and the rain started to fall as our fears rose. Gathered on the veranda, the 7 of us volunteers started taking pictures of the tall palms swinging like an upside down pendulum. Not realizing that this would be the last evening we would see most of these trees. We marveled at the 1st banana tree that feell. Then things started getting scary. The first piece of roof from a house about 200m away was what finally got us all inside. We watched with horror as pieces of galvanized steel flew off like confetti, littering the newly flattened area. We endured the next four hours with terror--unlike any I've felt before. I watched scenes I'll never forget--the neighbors roof flipping off like the top of a jack in the box and then Kevin and his wife running to safety next door with their 2 year old in his arms. Kevin's efforts to reinforce it in the rain hours earlier were futile compared to the strength of this storm. While we waited for the end did practical things like put mattresses in front of the front doors and windows, put towels under leaking doors and less practical things like wonder when it would be over and play games to distract us. It was a piece of galvanized hitting our house that sent me spiralling. Sheer panic and fright caught up with me and I found myself shaking, almost too scared to cry.
Later, we decided to make pizza to try to ease the mood and the pit in our stomachs. Everyone wanted to be busy, but no one was able to focus. We would all do some small task in the process and then realized that was all we could do. I peeled the garlic and could not focus long enough to chop it, so I passed it off. 2 hours and 7 volunteers later, a pizza emerged. We scarfed it down and realized that the pit in my stomach was not real. This was for real. Around 6pm, the winds slowed a little and we were able to emerge and survey the initial damage in the last moments of daylight. Tons of houses were flattened, about 80% of trees snapped or uprooted. I felt nauseous at the sight but that was partly overtaken by a necessary numbness. As we started to breathe again, the questions started coming. Will Peace Corps let us stay? Is anyone dead? Is this over? What will life be like now? Will we lead rescue efforts or cower in fear? Will I have the guts to stay? Only skimming the questions because our minds and bodies couldn't embrace them yet. This can't be. NO, I DO NOT WANT THIS! How is my house? Bathway? Grand Etang? My started scanning the most vulnerable places and people and I started wondering how God could do this to my home...our home. Around 8 it got calm. Unsure if this was the eye or the end, we waited. I wanted to lay down. I needed to be away. I wanted this to never have happened. I pulled a mattress off the wall where it was blocking the window and tried to read, but found myself unable to focus or make sense of even two words next to each other. The only ones that were beginning to were "Hurricane Ivan". Eventually I rejoined the others, barely letting this settle in. Like a feather slowing falling to the ground--the reality and gravity of it still being blown by the wind. This is too big to understand. I eventually went to sleep and woke up around 2am and joined a few volunteers still up. We listened to the rain pour down and again my mind started to scan vulnerable places--this time with flooding being the terrorizer. We sat and watched and waited and were comforted by the first signs of life--fireflies. If they made it, perhaps we've all got a chance.
Wednesday morning, I woke up to a battlefield of houses, powerliens, debris, devastation. It was early but people were already up picking up the pieces of their life. The scene was shocking and sickening. I want to go home and forget this every helped. I want to stay and help. These emotions cycled through me--each one powerful, each useless, each simplistic in this mass of emotion, exhaustion and complication that is my reality. And yet it's not my reality, it's Grenada's reality and as much as I feel at home and connected here, I know that in some way it's not my reality. I can leave--and this makes this thing alternately harder and easier to take. Which is worse? Witnessing this for people you love and greet and teach and learn from--or knowing this is you, this is it--or some sick combination of the two which I seem to be caught in. And yet, as we go out in the community and hear the "Good Morning"s and thanks to God for being alive, I realize that it's not hopeless. I talk to a woman I know who's telling me how glad she is to be alive as her husband is pulling their kitchen sick off off the river bank in their backyard and realize that there's hope. This isn't it. There's more than just this devastation I see. It's confirmed as I talk to a man who's 5,000 chickens only had 40 casualties and he's thankful for that blessing. We're alive. Miraculously we found a working phone in the area and the call to my Dad brought me to instant tears. My home--his voice. My home's OK. Then calling Peace Corps headquarters in St. Lucia and realizing no one else has called--are the others OK? I walk to Telescope (where I live) and see more devestation...and more optimism. Someone loading their stove and fridge into a flatbed truck. Someone glad they're alive. The Peters had moved down to my apartment when part of their roof went and it made me feelgood that I could do something--somehow I had been able to give them my home--but then I realize that THEY are the ones that gave ME a home. Grenada offered me a home a year ago. I took me a while to understand it, to love it, to feel comfortable with it, but it is now my home. BUt then the guilt comes again when I realize I can leave this home if I want--they can't. Again I feel these conflicting emotions--painful and reassuring. As the day progressed the rumors about the damage started spreading. We have no TV, no radio and feel alternatley frustrated and grateful for that. Learning too much I fear would not be good. I can digest this small part of my world. A calm approaches as night falls--an odd paradox to 24 hours earlier. We can hear the familiar sounds of crickets and dogs and yet there's been no word from Franka or any other safe house. Our minds "knowing " they're OK and just can't get to phones, but you still can't help wondering. We get the unexpected treat of hundreds of fireflies and a galaxy of stars as we see Greanda with no artificial light. As I look at this Grenada (which looks a LOT smaller with no trees), this one I now see and must get to know, I wonder if I will love it as much--with it's beauty and splendor now lying on the streets and in it's fields. The panic and fear subside and I realize that Greanda will get through this just as they do anything--1 step at a time (with a lot of parties along the way!). And I am reminded that Grenada'sbeauty has little to do with the trees or hills or seas, but rather the people that plant those trees, inhabit those hills and swim in the seas. I have a feeling that I'm going to love Grenada in spite of Ivan...or perhaps because of it.