Thursday, September 16, 2004

Then and Now

Hi, hello, how are you all doing? It's been such a long time since I have had anything to write about, in fact, last week and most of this week have been occupied with teaching preparation, not to mention the frantic telephne calls and e-mail messages to friends and family members back in Jamaica to ensure that Ivan the Terrible had not sealed their fates. Well, I am pleased to report that most of my friends and family suffered only minimal damage to their residences, but more importantly, they are all OK! God is truly a good God!

I was just thinking about the differences between Ivan and Gilbert with respect to how people dealt with it. Of course, I was a mere eleven years old (if that much) when Gilbert struck. Now, being somewhat older, I have a different perspective on Ivan, particularly because I was not at home when he hit, but mainly because I am no longer an innocent child.

When Gilbert set foot upon Jamaica, I had just started going to Jamaica College and, quite frankly, I hated going to school [nothing against my alma mater, but I just hated school in general back in those days]. Gilbert came at quite a convenient time for me because it meant that I had more time to study for my math exam, which I was bound to fail, and to make the prize even sweeter, no school for weeks! I guess hurricanes are the Caribbean equivalent to a snow day in the United States (but on a much grander scale IMHO!).

Flash forward to hurricane Ivan. I'm a 27-year old college professor in the US and, judging from my chosen profession, it's quite obvious that I now enjoy (or at least tolerate) being in a school environment. I spend my office hours tracking the storm online and communicate with friends and family all over the Caribbean and Florida (via telephone and instant messenger) about the storm and, in some ways, I've become a bit proficient at reading the signs on the NOAA website. I'm concerned that my younger brothers and sister will miss out on important parts of their education, like I had during Gilbert. After all, time at home means less time at school which generalizes into the Jamaican students being way behind many of their Caribbean counterparts with respect to various syllabi that must be followed. I still failed my math test, regardless of how much more "time" I had to study for it anyway, so what was the use?

When we considered the term "looter" back in the context of Gilbert, my mind goes back to the media showing images of wet, barefooted inner city residents running wild through the streets of Jamaica with various appliances, furniture and miscellaneous articles. I even remember jokes my friends told about the alleged one-footed looter that held a fridge on his back. Not only did this fictitious looter succesfully evade the police and other looters, but he also managed to jump clear across sandy gully. All this from a one-footed man with a fridge on his back! Oh how creative is the Jamaican mind!

The "looters" have become an organized task force of sorts! Back in Gilbert, it was quite normal for someone to steal a few appliances or clothes, but the looters that are talked about by the media during the time of Ivan are armed to the teeth and actually have vehicles and are organized enough to strip an entire warehouse in a relatively short space of time. Then the media talks about gun battles during the storm, something completely unheard of during Gilbert! Oh how Jamaica has changed from a fun-loving land!

During Gilbert, we had no power for almost three months where I lived. Of course, the Internet users didn't suffer, because that domain only existed for the true techno-geeks back in those days! We had power at our house because my uncle got a generator and hooked it up to the wiring system in our house, thereby making us a Honda-powered house for the duration of the power outage. The generator was a loud, noisy thing, and we had to feed it with a never-ending supply of gasoline. Even my grandmother became proficient at pouring gas into the beast and using the little pull cord to restart the machine! Telephones were down for a while, but I don't remember how long we were without service, certainly not as long as we were without light though [but I forget, because I didn't talk on the phone in those days anyway].

Electricity was shut down just before Ivan hit and most places already have power restored, all within a few days. Water is a fickle thing, but from what I understand from my "reporters" at Ground 0 it's back in most places. The local telephone service was up and running throughout the storm and, even though the international link has been damaged, calling to Jamaica is still possible, though difficult at times. As I said to my Aunt Prudence in Florida before Ivan hit Jamaica, "this will be a test to see how our technological infrastructure has advanced in the past ten years" and we did indeed succeed!

Well, I think I've done enough reminiscing about the ghosts of hurricanes past. My prayers are with Mad Bull and his family and here's hoping that we will be able to get in contact with them very soon! To those in Jamaica that have weathered the storm and have emerged stronger, people like Yamfoot, Dr. D, Owen and the family of Stu. Here's hoping that you will be able to quickly pick up your lives from where you left off before Ivan and move forward even stronger, having literally weathered the storm!



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