Fuerte! Strength! Puerto Rico!
Now that I am back home in Palm Springs, I have had some time to reflect on my trip to Puerto Rico.
This trip was filled with some unexpected turbulence. And not just for me, but for the people of Puerto Rico. I thought I was getting away from the land of tremors but to my surprise, and the surprise of many, the southern part of the island was getting rocked by earthquakes. At first I was surprised that we were not feeling the quakes in San Juan, but that all changed at 4:24 AM when a 6.4 rocked the entire island. That was also the quake that knocked out power to the entire country.
The days that followed taught me a lot about the inhabitants of this precious island and even more about myself and my values. I got to know some of the neighbors in the condo hi-rise we were staying at. Even though we didn’t have power in our units, the association ran generators for several hours in the morning, again at noon, and for a few more hours at night. This gave us the opportunity to use the elevators, have running water, and most importantly, we could charge our phones in the lobby! This lobby time is where I met many new friends and got to learn so much more about the culture and people of Puerto Rico.
I have always been enamored with the friendliness of Puerto Ricans. But this time, it was more meaningful. What I experienced was the true nature of Puerto Ricans. Strength, humility, compassion and love for their neighbors (even neighbors they may not have met in the past). Many people immediately apologized to me for my misfortune of having a vacation during this disaster.
But the apologies were not needed. Sure, no power for a few days, and constant threats of another quake, could cause some people distress. But I’ve been through quakes before. Initially, the thought of no power was more disturbing for me. However, this is where I really got to see what even local Puerto Ricans could not see. Strength. Fuerte.
My new neighbors were upset that I had to see how unstable their electrical grid has become. They were upset that they could not show off the best their island has to offer. But in reality, that’s exactly what I saw. I saw the best in the people, and a surprising amount of humility and strength. More than I would expect if this had happened anywhere in the United States.
Within hours of the quake, we needed to run to the store to get supplies. I was filled with apprehension because I could only think of what it would be like if we had no power in the states, and limited access to supplies. It would be chaos, long lines, and inconsiderate people hoarding everything. That is not at all what I found.
Puerto Ricans have learned a lot from recent disasters. And they have made meaningful changes despite not receiving the aid they so desperately need.
When we got to the store, it was like a normal day. The grocery store had a generator, and Puerto Rico has strict laws preventing price hikes and hoarding in the wake of a disaster. Ok, there was one woman in line talking on her cell about the pending apocalypse, but other than that, it was a pleasant day to go shopping. When we went further into the city, I was shocked to find that almost every store and restaurant were open for business. They all had functional generators so in a way it felt like we weren’t in the middle of a blackout.
Now I want you all to imagine a scenario. Every traffic signal in town is not working. What would it be like? Honking horns? Collisions left and right? People screaming at each other? Road Rage? Not in Puerto Rico. I’ve never seen anything like it. The people self-metered, let each other have the right of way, and in all reality traffic actually felt smoother with no lights!!
As Americans we have been conditioned to believe we are the best. We have the best. And everyone else is a little worse off than us. Puerto Ricans, without any representation, and without the help of their mighty federal government, do have some insecurity about the state of their island. But they don’t need to have this insecurity. These are strong people. Much stronger, and more genuinely caring, then many Americans. They know how to survive. They know how to treat each other. They know how to love thy neighbor.
I am humbled by the people of Puerto Rico. I am humbled by their silent strength. I am humbled by the way they continue to move forward despite many obstacles.
Many people I met asked if I would ever come back to their island. What I want the people of Puerto Rico to know and understand, is that I now have even stronger feelings about this enchanting place. I cannot wait to get back to the island, to experience more of the culture, the food (don’t get me started on the food!!) and most of all, the beautiful souls of the inhabitants of the most beautiful place in the world.