Two Islands, One Storm

This past week, instead of hanging out at the beach or studying at CSI, I was in Chantilly, Virginia. A mere forty minutes from the nation’s capital, I drove to my Aunt and Uncle’s house to evacuate for Hurricane Dorian. At the start of the evacuation, I had all the intention to drive into DC, go to a few museums and check out Georgetown coffee shops. In the end, I spent most of my time at the house doing homework while Scarlet, a 15-pound miniature labradoodle, snuggled next to my laptop. However, since this blog post can’t be a detailed description of the ridiculously cute antics of Scarlet, and her brother, Gus, I thought I’d talk about the Bahamas.

Scarlet chilling on the couch with me the day after we got evacuated.

My Aunt works for a company called the Martin Group and goes to the Bahamas frequently for business. Don’t ask me exactly what she or the company does though, because I could not tell you. She was already planning to fly out on Sunday to Nassau for a week of meetings, before news of Hurricane Dorian broke. The entire week leading up to her departure, she ran to every Target and Walmart in Loudon county to purchase supplies for relief efforts. One of the days I was there I went with her to a local Walmart, and we filled up three shopping carts with toothpaste, diapers, ibuprofen, soap and other basic necessities. We emptied entire shelves and eventually managed to pack everything into bins so we could fit it all into her car. While checking out, one of the store clerks wandered over to our aisle to watch the absurd number of products move from my hands to the conveyer.

Aunt Erin, AKA the “Selfie Queen”, snapping a picture of the Bahamas supplies we collected before dropping them off at the airport.

The Bahamas are a chain of islands. They rely heavily on tourism and have a deep connection with their own coastal ecology. Manteo rests on Roanoke Island, and similarly relies on a steady churn of tourists. As we’ve experienced, the locals love their coast and the respective processes, wildlife and weather that comes with it. In the Bahamas, people spend early mornings fishing. Last week, we did the same. On weekends, those who seek adventure fight for the perfect wave in the Abacos. Last Thursday, we spent an entire afternoon at a surfing competition. In the evenings, Bahamians gather around tables to eat a meal with family. The first week we were here we met our Community Advisory Board and bonded over a Country Deli dinner.

The WRV Pro Surf Contest at Jennette’s Pier!
After thirty minutes of attempting to catch one of these elusive crabs, I finally “reeled” one in (and threw it back in the water, of course)!

Last week, the Bahamas and Roanoke Island were impacted by Dorian. Bahamians took shelter and waited, while Roanoke natives packed up their cars and drove inland. In the middle of the Atlantic, parents first hand watched their children drown, while a Roanoke “evacuee” stared blankly at a television screen in the suburbs of Virginia. On Friday night, Bahamians ransacked homes to try to find supplies, while a “displaced” North Carolinian munched on a $5 vegan cupcake. Last week, thousands of Bahamians died, even though the news will tell you it was less than fifty. Last week, thousands of trees fell to their death on the east coast of the United States.

No, Roanoke Island and the Outer Banks have not gotten off scot-free from the hurricane. Fallen trees, flooding and loss of power can harm businesses and private households financially for years to come. The process of moving your family is a challenge in and of itself. Trying to find and afford a place to stay for an entire week, in addition to not making money from a job, is a heavy burden. First hand responders put their lives at risk trying to aid individuals who decided not to leave. While the majority of people remained safe and comfortable, damage to a small community can be a difficult problem to fix. We’ve seen that over the course of orientation with the septic tank leachate just in a small part of Dare county. One small leakage in the OBX system, whether ecologically or economically, can create large challenges for business owners, city managers and citizens.

Looking at this from a broader perspective though, I have realized just how much privilege I have. I would never want to oversimplify the damage from Dorian on our coast, but in comparison to what happened in the Bahamas, I am appreciative for the resources and infrastructure we have. Whether or not people left, it is a privilege to know that it was possible to leave. From bridges, highways, cars and planes we were able to get out of the path of the storm. In the Bahamas people did not have that basic privilege and were forced to endure Dorian’s wrath. Pity is a complicated feeling. I think a lot of American pity comes from a place of feeling bad for people because they do not have the same life as us, one filled with comfortable suburban mansions, Saturdays spent at the baseball field and 24/7 access to a McDonald’s. Whether or not the hurricane hit, you will hear people saying they feel bad for Bahamians because they don’t live that lifestyle. I don’t want to pity these people because they lost their loved ones, homes and businesses. Pity is to merely recognize that someone else is suffering, there is no attempt to understand or feel it. We need to move more towards compassion, where we actively feel for people who are in pain, and try our best to listen and alleviate it.

Now, I’m no saint; I acknowledge that this is something I also need to work on. As inconvenient as it was to pack up my dirty laundry and hit the road for a five-hour drive filled with traffic, it really was a privilege to be able to do that. And as horrible as downed power lines and broken trees are, I know that the nation as a whole will not violently suffer from Dorian. While the Bahamas has no choice but to focus on the devastation, the people on Roanoke Island, and elsewhere in the U.S., should take the time to actively appreciate the security and love we have not lost.