By ALICIA WALLACE
HURRICANE relief work continues with donations coming in, needs changing, and systems being imagined, debated and, in fewer cases, created.
We are figuring things out as we go, only managing to do the smallest amount of strategic planning. We are in the thick of it. The only way to move at a more acceptable pace is to accept help from those who have walked similar paths before.
As an advocate, civil society member, and coordinator of relief efforts, I am fortunate to have the support and insight of women throughout the Caribbean. Women in the region have been mobilising for weeks to send money and supplies to The Bahamas. They are regularly checking in with those of us on the ground to keep up to date on changing circumstances and the wellness of advocates and community workers.
In particular, it is advantageous to engage in conversations with people in Dominica and Antigua and Barbuda, learning from their experience of loss, survival, rebuilding, and community work.
There is a wealth of knowledge in the countries that have gone through the devastation of natural disasters, noted their mistakes, highlighted their successes, and developed processes — whether during or after their relief efforts — that are scalable and replicable.
This knowledge is held by leaders, government agencies, non-governmental organisations, survivors, media, and civil society.
They share experience and knowledge with the nuance and perspective that comes with their purpose and position.
The case is quite similar for former leaders, within and outside of The Bahamas, who have had to respond to natural disasters. To ask for, accept, and use the experience of others requires that we eschew pride, ignore party colours, and understand this exercise as a collective effort rather than a competition.
The future of The Bahamas, protection and support of its residents, and effective response to the climate crisis and, more specifically, the devastation caused by Hurricane Dorian must be prioritised, set well above ego. We have to be prepared to acknowledge the successes of others and recognise the learning that comes with failure.
We cannot be too proud to accept help or afraid of being overshadowed when thousands of people are without homes and struggling to meet their basic needs. This is a time for partnership, teamwork, delegation, and innovation. It requires the participation of multiple generations, professionals from various fields of work, and use of tools to connect people across borders, languages, and income brackets. We cannot accept for people in positions of leadership to obsess about personal power and control. We know we need help, and it does nothing good to pretend that we have got it covered. We do not.
Failure is exponential when we refuse to learn from it. It is important to remember that imperfect people and people who have failed have something to offer. If they did it terribly, let’s find out how. If they were ill-prepared, let’s find out.
Migrant people are people
Hurricane Dorian devastated Abaco. We know that areas like The Mudd and Pigeon Peas were completely flattened, and many Haitians lost their homes. Those homes may not have been much to us. Many say they believe the shanty towns should have been bulldozed. Some have just fallen short of celebrating the decimation of the structures that represented difficult journeys, hard labour, struggles to save, and dedication to family life and community. Many of us only see piles of rubbish and land to reclaim.
We do not all see people forced to scatter, flee for their lives (again), and find themselves in shelters that truly are not much better than shanty towns. Mattresses are on the floor, people are forced to live in close quarters, and every resource is shared.
Bahamians are living in these circumstances too, but largely in different shelters that appear to operate differently for various reasons.
Devastation has, in some cases, revealed the truth about the “middle class” by putting people who used to be “not like them” in the same circumstances as the ill-fated other. Still, we make distinctions and try to draw a solid line between Bahamian and non-Bahamian, and attempt to use that line to determine who should have access to resources, limited or not.
A viral video by Jamaican dancehall artist Mr Vegas put popular Bahamian sentiments about Haitian people on display. In the video, he draws attention to “a lot of hatred going around against Haitians” by playing four voice notes by Bahamian people. They are fearsome, disheartening, and intended to insight violence.
After playing the voice notes, Mr Vegas gives a reminder that Caribbean people have been artificially divided into nationalities - Bahamian, Haitian, Trinidadian, Jamaican - but we all came from one place. He called for the exposure of the people who call for violence and contribute to a dangerous environment for Haitian people. This video, of course, has led to upset among some Bahamians who have decided to hit out at Mr Vegas. They believe it is a mischaracterisation of Bahamian people as angry, violent people. Interestingly, most of their responses support that position.
We need to be mindful of our actions. We need to think them through. We need to be careful and thoughtful in our words. We need to listen to ourselves and one another. We need to assess the criticism we receive, and use it to become better people and a better nation. Empathy should not be difficult to practice. Most of us know someone who needed to be saved in those first days of September. Some of us have offered beds, couches, and floor space to people who evacuated from Abaco and Grand Bahama. Our family members and friends are climate refugees. Many of the people here from Haiti are climate, economic, and political refugees.
We can talk about legal and illegal modes of entry for days. We can also talk about immigration policies, the unemployment rate, national insurance contributions, government services, and immigrant labour at length. In this post-Dorian moment, however, none of that is particularly important.
We know that over 5,000 people have left Abaco and Grand Bahama to find safe accommodations, access public utilities, enroll their children in school, and make a plan to rebuild. All of them are not Bahamians, but they are human. They deserve to have the physiological needs met and to be treated with dignity and respect.
This is not an opportunity to others to rebuke, to punish, or to deport. This is a demand on The Bahamas to meet the needs of its residents and help them to recover. Many lives have been lost, and we may never know the number. Those that were spared deserve our care, and there can be no qualifiers. They cannot earn it. We have to be willing to be what we want the world to see, and if that is not savage, hateful people who turn disaster into an opportunity to extinguish, we have to not only show love, but to be love in word and deed.
Many of us are under an incredible amount of stress. Electricity bills keep rising while outages continue. Households are larger and require more food and toiletries. Space is limited. Lines at Social Services are long. We all have some kind of struggle. There is a constant barrage of harrowing tales of loss and survival.
We are taking in so much, doing so much, feeling so much, and feeling like we can do so little. The truth, however, is that every little bit really does help. Sometimes it is helpful to simply bear witness.
To listen to someone’s story and affirm their feelings is to let them know that they are not making it up, overreacting, or taking up too much space. As we do whatever we can for those around us, we have to remember to take care of ourselves.
Popular culture would have us believe self-care is manicures, shopping trips, and fancy dinners. While these can be elements of the practice, there is more to it than that.
The National Art Gallery of The Bahamas has planned a range of workshops and sessions that include one-on-one counseling and a visit to their website or Facebook page would be a good start.
Counseling is important as it provides a space to download after receiving large amounts of information through various forms of media and being part of a support system for others.
Though we do not think about it often, breath is important and can help to recenter us. When we focus on and control our breathing, it allows everything else to fall away.
Simply counting our breaths is a way to meditate, slow down, and clear the mind. Getting fresh air, going for a walk, listening to music, and journaling are all ways to make space for ourselves and our thoughts.
As we go about our daily lives and do all we can to help others, it is critical that we intentionally care for ourselves. We cannot give what we do not have, so let’s not forget to find our own peace in midst of it all.