Crónica de una Mujer Determinada
Tara Rodríguez Besosa
The whole "trump" visit discouraged us as we sat together in good, communal company sharing dinner. An important decision has been to cook as good of food that we can find, and share it. The day was spent waking up and heating up yesterday's coffee, trying to charge our phones with an unreliable yet whatever-we-can-take solar charger, and doing what would normally be a "walk of shame" at early hours of the morning, but in this case to my friend's house to shower after a hot night's sleep. I then went to connect to Wifi and electric power at the rooftop of a bank that months before charged people with vandalism and attempting to put it on fire, with toilet paper and a lighter as weapons "deserving" of a heavy jail sentence. Strange days.
The shipping of goods meant for immediate relief is still an issue and becoming an art to master. People in New York and other places are also meeting, hustling and trying to figure out the best ways to help. I send them love for many days to come.
Just had to stop writing. I was in my hammock on my balcony and it has begun to rain. Time to rush inside, where there is no breeze and I wake up sticky hot and wanting to shower, which is a walk away.
We were such privileged people, in our bubble, in our domesticity. Not all of us.
I think about how I felt privileged in NYC a week ago, and how as I express myself right now I think of all the people who have lost their roof, their house, that have no place to hang their hammock, and I feel yet again, privileged.
The green, the lush, is gone. For a while. The scenes of my adventures to rivers, beaches, mountains, will never be as they are in my memory. I want to see these places, feel them the way I remember them from just a few days ago. Where was it less devastated? Is there a spot on this island that remains as beautiful as I remember it from recently?
We have a lot to deal with. It is definetely a "zone". Hard to get out of this contrast in my body between what I just the other day surrounded myself with and what I resist accepting is now no longer.
And then comes that "trump". The name, the man, wow, the "president"? Really?! No, I mean, really?! Really.
We were deeply affected by his visit, brought to us at such a vulnerable moment. To come and what? Help? Sucking the energy and time of others that could have been used to clear some roads, get some efficient shipping; we let out an exhale of "fuck you". It's a lot to handle right now.
Another night, another "too tired to write about it", it starts raining, and... another moment to seize your feelings and breathe through them.
Do what you have learned. Imagine and transport yourself to a hot night on your farm. Dark, wet, quiet.
A good night's sleep can be self-inflicted too. We are getting good at that.
Wake up, walk to a hardware store to find the biggest lock for less than $10 of cash you have on you for the the restaurant space. El Departamento de la Comida keeps getting robbed, broken into; we keep adding locks, filing police reports. The whole area has been robbed and looted nonstop since the hurricane. It is pitch dark at night, only to appear the next morning with more things missing. we have been trying to get our stuff out of the space as quick as possible, but the difficulties with gasoline, communication barriers, and finding safe storage have slowed us down dramatically.
Our friend Eva found me on my way to the hardware store, and we sat for a moment to check in with each other. I expressed my concern for the rainforest and how my body was hurting for not checking up on my sacred spots. She offered her van for going to check out El Yunque, and we hopped on. What we encountered was a site similar to a forest just after a non-tropical winter, with no leaves on the few surviving trees, many trunks on the forest floor, completely unrecongizable. We were able to reach a spot where I would bathe after a morning hike up the peak and cleanse from all the city stress with some cool clean river water.
The water still ran its course.
I bathed in a special formula of secret ingredients, offering a small gesture of habitual ritual to the river and I, despite the changed landscape around us. I thanked it, I cried in it, I spoke to it. We drove down El Yunque in silence.
To keep my sanity I decide to go check up on my friends Luz and Nori in Cabo Rojo, far southwest. Nori just moved into a farm down there and constructed a small house for her and her daughter, moving her goats just before both hurricanes hit.
Visiting Cabo Rojo brought us strength. Nori and Luz were both the bold, independent women I have always found strength in. Despite having lost her newly hand-built home, Nori was determined to rebuild and could not spend too much time sulking, she has animals to tend to and a bunch of work to do. She shared a few stories of how the storm helped her community have conversations and work together, with each others' well-being at stake. Luz had just moved a few weeks ago from San Juan, to a wooden house near the coast. My heart, and mouth, filled with joy when I saw her fruit trees still standing. Avocado, mango, mamey, starfruit; so far I had only seen fallen ones. Many old houses and buildings had survived, the town was up and going, with its good share of destruction and without electricity, but was the best area we had seen since I returned. As always is the case, it was good to leave the city and recharge. The trip was much longer than usual, but worth it. We brought Nori a small fridge from my place for storing her seeds and connecting it to a solar panel. We walked down the mountain and sat on the forest floor, her goats munching at all the foliage from fallen trees they would normally not be able to reach. We shared our feelings of anger, frustration, shock and determination. We ALL needed to rearrange, alter, let go of what were our plans. I'm talking about five women who are chefs, farmers, restaurant owners, hotel managers, unmarried, their own providers, stubborn and a force to be reckoned with; now having to take deep breaths, cry, scream and accept that things are going to run according to a different plan than what we had in mind.
We drove back to San Juan with news from the South, a few deliveries made and some coconuts we salvaged from a fallen palm tree.
We got to my humble apartment after a road trip with three women, two dogs and a hen. Back in Santurce, hungry and tired, I voiced a craving for sushi as part of my sarcastic storm humor, which got me some bad looks from my fellow roadies. I got an idea. I would get enough ingredients to satisfy the out of context fantasy, only Tara would think of finding wasabi pickled ginger and nori at a time like this. There was hardly any rice, bread, and tomato sauce, but there were some "sushi-esque" items at the supermarket. Vero, the cook-partner of El Departamento de la Comida, is already used to accepting my impromptu cooking challenges. She prepared with her handy headlamp an amazing rice dish with nori, anchovies, the last fresh scallions from my balcony, and I brought out the last of my stash of greens. Marihuana to the rescue. Any need to judge will be sent straight to voicemail at this moment.
Another hot, but solid night's sleep.
Next morning, time to hustle! We went to Cucina, a kitchen space turned into hub for recieving, organizing and meeting space for various groups and grassroot organizations. Here people are distributing seeds, tools, tinctures, ecokits, food, and information for all over the island. Our first pallet arrived from the airport, finally. Now we know that it worked and can start to send awaiting supplies through this shipping collaboration with a Puerto Rican with connections to the city of New York. I am not giving too many details on purpose, so as not to jinx our recent success.
To start off the day, the coordinators of this space introduce themselves and we each take turns saying our name, how we feel today and what our priorities are this morning. I met a woman who works with communities in Caño Martín Peña who I have heard many great things about and am excited to meet for the first time in person. She mentions her priority for the day is to help someone dear to the community to leave the island because of mental and emotional instability. I go up to her to organize a visit to a community garden we needed to get supplies to and she tells me I must know the person she is trying to help. As I write this I cannot help but let the tears drop down my face.
No. Not possible. Not HIM. What? No.
There have been many people I have crossed paths with during my years working with food. Through community garden projects I have met some of the most influential forces of nature within my work. When the woman insisted i knew her friend, I told her I wasn't sure, unless she could refresh my memory with a photo of him. Her broken cellphone became the reflection of my broken to tears heart. I burst quietly in front of her and a man next to us hugged me as the three of us shared the same feeling. I now sit at the lounge of a ferry boat, listening to passengers singing "cortavena" kareoke songs, and I cannot think of anyone but "R". The mixture of emotions between the rocking boat, my tearing face, and latin love songs is probably best not to describe in further detail. I will just add that between each song something is said about "Viva Puerto Rico!", "Let's Keep Strong!", "This one is for you Boricua!"
"Why is Tara on a boat?", you might ask.
All inclusive resort escape in the Dominican Republic?
A real kareoke fan, huh?
Desperate to leave Puerto Rico and go to NYC for a bit?
No, although I would understand that feeling.
I just got in a few days ago, desperate to get back home and with my feet on Puerto Rican soil, helping and being present. There is a lot to be done. Many friends in need, communities pulling together and figuring out their own relief efforts, montain roads in need of clearing after landslides and trees covering our connection to those on the other side, farmers with no communication, my own animals and home requiring my presence.
I am taking a twelve hour ferry ride to our brother and sisters in the Dominican Republic, to catch the only available flight I was able to get on to NYC. I realized something while back home, that the week and a half that I was "stuck" outside my island called "casa", was quite a productive one. I was able to quickly get the word out about the importance of sustainable farming and the immediate need for support. Fundraisers were organized, people voiced their concern, offered to help, hundreds of emails later a sea of support from peers around the world has come to orbit around Puerto Rico. Communications, posts, phone calls, meetings, driving and getting solar panels and chainsaws and water filters and sacred seeds... I was a living, breathing 24/7 representative for an incommunicated food community. On a roll as they say. I was a mess.
Getting back home has been essential to my personal wellbeing. I could not have lasted another day without squeezing my cat, visiting my cleansing spot in the rainforest, checking in with my compañerxs, organizing from within, sharing, hugging, and exhaling. I am thankful to be able to come back home.
I am also aware of what's ahead of us if we want to rebuild Puerto Rico, and in a more sustainable way than ever. There is still no communication, there is still shock, pain, desperation, and a need for organizing help from others who are not on the island and that want to contribute. People in Puerto Rico are on fire! We are all helping each other, supporting and rebuilding, holding on to what's left. It is incredible, the resiliency Boricuas have in their blood. I have no doubt of that, and it gets warmer with each day that passes. I realized that despite how I felt, my week of being away from home was important within the bigger scheme of things, for those I work with, those I love. I have been so grateful and privileged to live in paradise for so long, that I am on a ferry listening to "Preciosa" to then get on a plane to a subway to an inflatable mattress in Brooklyn, anything for supporting resilience and real food.
No, I am not trying to appear a martyr, I feel like a fighter and a lover, with a greasy appearance and a toothbrush. I will fight and love for Puerto Rico, for its decolonization, for its autonomy, for its reforestation, for its magic. I promise that every time somebody like "trump" comes to piss on my family and my home, I will journey in whatever way needed to act with smart strength and powerful intentions. Nothing like learning how to use the energy of rage towards acts of love.
This is a part of a series of 24 chronicles that will be published weekly in English and Spanish, as a part of www.24weeks.us.
Read here Report on Puerto Rico's Food Post-Hurricane Maria