The Bahamas: First Impressions
IsraAID logistics volunteer Joe Serkin describes his first few days in the Bahamas, three months after Hurricane Dorian.
24 hours after leaving my home in Israel I landed in Nassau International Airport in the Bahamas, surrounded by beach-seeking vacationers. At customs, when asked the purpose of my visit, I uncomfortably mumbled ‘humanitarian’. Uncomfortably, because there were no indicators that I was anywhere near a ground zero of what the Bahamian government has referred to as ‘generational devastation’. While waiting for my taxi I enjoyed a hot cup of Dunkin coffee and connected to the airport wifi.
When Tina, a retiree from Atlanta turned Bahamian cab driver picked me up, she welcomed me with a smile and some recommendations for local eateries. Ten minutes later I was pulling up to a quaint and well-kept apartment … with a pool. Here I met a colleague who had spent the last three months on the islands, since the first wave of response to Dorian. As she gave me a brief tour and caught me up on IsraAID’s humanitarian activities across Nassau, Grand Bahama, Freeport, and Abaco, I started to understand. Obviously some places were hit harder than others, those who were insured or had the resources to repair and rebuild, did so. But, Abaco … just wait and see, my teammate said.
Early the next morning I got on a small plane to Abaco island. Once a peaceful haven with beautiful beaches and views, now it still has the beautiful beaches but with no electricity, no hot water, views of piles of debris as far as the eye can see, and reports of hundreds of people still missing, presumed dead. The official number of casualties sits at 70, but there were many undocumented Haitian immigrants living on Abaco primarily in an area referred to as ‘The Mud’. The Mud is gone. Washed completely away. All traces of the community that once was — gone.
I joined my teammates as they held a training session for volunteers, mostly teachers. They are charged with establishing Child Friendly Spaces across the Islands. These are designed to give local children a place to play, learn, and recover. The volunteers are taught to identify warning signs and red flags of PTSD in children, comfort distraught children, and provide psychosocial support to the most vulnerable of victims. I sat in on the session to hear personal accounts of what went on during the hurricane. Shocking stories of bravery, strength, and pain hit me right in the feels.
While my responsibility during my time here is to support the activities of the other team members by making sure they have what they need, where and when they need it, these stories have made it possible to connect to the job expected of me in a much more sincere way. In the meantime, with no police, fire or EMS services, limited medical services and only one food market, my challenge will be to help out anyway I can.
Collapsed structures, decimated piers, and piles of rubble are pretty clear signs that a disaster has occurred. Driving around Abaco, those are the only things one can see. Seeing a local business reopen its doors is cause for celebration — even though “open for business” really means little more than a folding table, a gas burner or generator, and a cash box to operate a small food kiosk or alcohol dispensary.
The most shocking sight to me, having seen my fair share of destruction by now, is what I’m calling the Highway Marina. Countless boats that washed ashore during Dorian’s onslaught are littered across roads, in yards, even on top of houses. On paper the solution is simple: use a winch or crane to right the ship, return to the water or transport back where it belongs. One small problem — where do we get the heavy equipment needed?
Next problem — thousands of tons of rubble, cars and trucks that need to be scrapped, metal, wood, plaster, trash. Let’s say we could bulldoze the lot of it, we can’t, but let’s just say we could … where would it go? Abaco Island is small, roughly 650 square miles. There is nowhere to put it. Eventually, even after any recycling/reuse of building materials that can be done locally, there will still be a need to process thousands of tons of debris. It will need to be barged off the island at great cost and difficulty to somewhere that can handle it. This dilemma reminds me of spring cleaning my house. With clothes, games and toys, books, and the lot, I feel like all I am doing is futile shuffling of things around, since everything still needs to fit within the same four walls.
Anyway, that’s just what has been on my mind today, got to go, the local sanitation truck is here to empty my trash cans and take his load to the local dump.