By Alicia Wallace
Mandatory evacuation, on the surface, seems like a good idea. It is for everyone’s safety, right? We want to ensure the government can legislate for our safety particularly when we expect disaster will strike. We need to know people in the most vulnerable areas not only have somewhere else to go, but are compelled to go.
Mandatory evacuation means people must either leave their homes to go to the designated locations or face jail time, fines, or both.
It takes away the ability to choose.
It is easy to excuse this, thinking of rescue workers whose lives would be in danger should they have to save those who chose not to evacuated. It is easy to call it care for the people themselves - people who are too foolish to care as much about their own lives as we, on the outside, do.
People who, clearly, are not as smart as we are because we, of course, would evacuate. We would trust a government making decisions about many islands from the comfort of one island in particular, and we would believe it knows what is best for us on our island which it rarely considers outside of election season.
We believe the people who do not evacuate should be punished. They deserve it. They are being reckless and selfish. That goes for the young couple that just bought its new home and just wants to be together in it. When a storm is brewing, there is no time for sentiment. It also goes for our grandmothers who have known their homes to withstand everything from the day they moved in. The same grandmothers who, when they are ill, will let us come in and care for them, but will not leave to come to our homes where we think they will be more comfortable and receive better care. The same grandmothers who have routines and memories, only some of which we understand, and whose effective remedies, tested and proven by our own bodies, spring from the earth itself?
They are wrong to want to be where they have always been, and they ought to be punished for their refusal to move. Not only punished, but criminalized.
The Bahamas is an island nation. We only have so far to run. Shelters failed us in the first days of September. They did not protect people the way we expected. People still had to flee, after watching the hurricane and waiting for the best time to escape. There was no predicting the devastation. If we had known, entire islands would have been evacuated. People would have been directed to other pieces of rock, not to different buildings on different parts of the same rock. Here we are, however, talking about mandatory evacuations and the criminalization of people whose lives would never be the same after the system chewed them up and spit them out.
We care about each other so much that we would do this - an act, we insist, of love. Really? What about the undocumented who already live in fear, who do not want to present themselves at a shelter or any other government-operated facility, and to whom we have proven we do not care and will “repatriate” them in the midst of crisis so they can be displaced and destabilized yet again, but this time, better, because we will not see it. What a Christian nation we are proving ourselves to be these days, selective in our love, in our duty, in our acknowledgement and expression of humanity.
What should our next steps be?
Weather systems are ever-changing and our preparation systems are imperfect.
Even as we look back on what happened before and during Hurricane Dorian, it is clear that even hindsight is flawed.
How much of a difference would mandatory evacuation have made? Do we know who chose not to evacuated and how they were impacted?
Were the areas included in evacuation notices the ones hardest hit? We also need to consider the way we legislate. Is imprisonment an appropriate response to refusal to evacuate one’s home? There have to be better ways to protect people if that is, indeed, what we are trying to do. We need to be clear on what we are doing for safety, what we are doing for optics, and what we are doing to appear busy. We need to set priorities.
We are still in hurricane season. Shelters need to be identified and tested. A notification system needs to be designed and tested. Disaster management protocols need to be developed. A team should be working on a comprehensive report on Hurricane Dorian, the missteps and pitfalls, gaps, strong partnerships, lessons learned and opportunities. Residents should know the timeline for relief efforts led by the government.
By now, we should know when and how people will be transitioned from shelters to temporary homes. We should know how much, in weight, dollar amount, and quantity, has been given to the government for distribution and how the donations are being managed.
There should be a database with information about people who evacuated to various islands and are staying with family members and friends.
We should not still be playing guessing games or depending on personal relationships to gain access to critical information.
We all need to know what is happening now and be clear on the plan for the coming months.
It is clear we cannot sustain our efforts at the current scale or pace for much longer and we need a long-term plan. It cannot be developed in isolation, so government agencies, non-profit organizations, donors, and those impacted by Hurricane Dorian need to find ways to meaningfully engage, regularly communicate and build solutions - and it needs to happen now.
There are times when the days seem longer. It often depends on what we are doing, how we are doing it, who is with us, and where we have to go next. There is little room to self-assess or to make adjustments unless an intentional effort is made and supported by other parties. When burning the candle at both ends, it is necessary to have a standard of care for ourselves. When we neglect to prepare for such times, there is nothing to provide a cushion when we are heading for a crash. It is liking having insurance. Either you are going to bear the brunt of it, ready or not, or you have been investing in a system that will support you when the unexpected occurs.
We all need a list of people we can call when we are trouble.
It may be one person for relationship issues, another for stress at work, another person for financial difficulty, and yet another for when we have no idea what is wrong, but we feel “off”. We need someone to call when it is time to go for a long drive, gas price permitting. We need someone to remind us of who we are and, sometimes, who we are not.
If you don’t already have one, start making that list so when the days are a little harder, you don’t have to think about who to call.
Over the past week, I have given in to small pleasures. It has been a busy period, and tempting to be laser-focused on work. Due to a series of events and unusual circumstance, I decided to do more than work. I made it to Short Tales, part of Shakespeare in Paradise at The Dundas which I highly recommend, and June Collie’s art exhibition which I had been looking forward to for weeks and was worth the wait. It was difficult to make adjustments in my schedule to ensure that I could do these things, but I knew it was important to cultivate joy for myself.
Early last week, I went to the beach on a cool day that threatened rain and thoroughly enjoyed the solitude.
Friends have given me glasses of lemonade, smoothies, lunch recommendations, photos of their recreational time, ice cream, funny photos and words of affirmation.
These seem small, but they all have meaning and purpose, and serving as a reminder that while we are responsible for ourselves, sometimes we need a little a help.
It is gift to be cared for, and a privilege to be able to offer care to one another.
As you do for others and allow them to do for you, take time to feel not only the gratitude we are reminded to have all the time, but the joy that comes with it.
None of us can really earn it, but we all deserve care.