Sandy is not a sweet girl

Mark Wignall

Thursday, October 25, 2012

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I write this column on Tuesday, October 23 and by now Sandy will have wreaked havoc on Jamaica and headed for our sister island, Cuba.

Not since September 1988 has Jamaica suffered a direct hit from a tropical cyclone. Gilbert was worse, in that it clinically traversed the entire east to west length of the island with, at all times, the whole breadth of Jamaica in its dangerous eye-wall. It entered Jamaica as a category two hurricane, and as it left stepped up its game as a murderous category three killer.

Since Gilbert in 1988, we have been sliced, touched in areas and skirted by a few tropical cyclones.

Sandy has been a rare and most definitely, unwanted surprise. Although we know that the official hurricane season runs from the beginning of June to the end of November, approaching the end of October most of us tend to be signed off in our minds that nothing else will happen.

And now Sandy!

What made this storm so unusual is its far south to north passage. That has been a shocker.

Low-lying areas, where residential settlements are a reality, will have suffered and will continue to be so affected for many more months as householders try to do their best in bringing back normality to their lives.

With an economy on standby, Jamaica could have done without Sandy. Internally generated resources are sparse and with many people already suffering from unemployment and underemployment, the Government will be hard-pressed to satisfy the immediate and pressing needs of the poorest among us.

Jamaica's October surprise will make many of us grieve, and the obvious question is: How do we recover? First, we have to widen the circle of charity, tangible assistance and the Jamaican spirit which enveloped this nation after Gilbert struck in 1988.

At that time, for a few months after the storm, Jamaica was a classless society as men and women from the mountaintops of our social existence walked, talked and made the acquaintance of our brothers and sisters from the lower rungs of society. The country truly moved as one as we set about rebuilding our public utilities and private household network. Of course, it could not have been done without gracious assistance from our powerful neighbour to the north, the USA.

In the last year or so, many of us have grown sceptical of our ability as a people to move as one in nation building. At times it seems that government, that entity empowered by us to lead us into progress, has abandoned us and left us to a goon class of monsters and predators. With the passage of Sandy and the damage left, it presents the Government with an opportunity, perversely so, to reconnect with us. By now I expect that our prime minister will have cancelled her overseas trip and is back in the island.

That is the least we expect from the political leadership.

As time unfolds over the next few weeks, it will dawn on us that many of those who suffered damage really had little choice in living where they are. Whether close to gully banks or in depressed settlements in places along the coastline, many of us have criticised them over the years without fully trying to have an appreciation for the economic plight facing them.

Unlike in the passage of Gilbert in 1988, we may have hardened our individual positions and may not be too willingly disposed to acts of charity.

On the Tuesday before Sandy hit though, poorer Jamaicans were out in the streets as if Sandy was the next big dancehall act to hit the stage.

"No storm nah come," said a man in his 30s.

I turned to him and was about to ask him why he thought so against overwhelming weather data that it was on a direct path to hit Jamaica, when another in his 60s chimed in with, "Too much gunman deh a Jamaica. As the storm dem come dem haffi gallop go whey." A few people laughed and in that moment of mirth before tragedy, I wished it were true.

Another man said, "Mi have a line a clothes hang up." It had not yet started to rain and I told him to go home and string them up in his small house. He left.

My old friend, Gabby, 88 years old, was in the little square the day before - he and his best friend - a cigar stuck in his mouth and a machete sheathed in an old cardboard tube. He also had walked with a well-worn stick and was never without a smile on his face and greeting me with, "Howdy. How dem other one dey?"

I would normally say, "Everybody a'right mi fren, Gabby. Yu cool?"

"Yeh, man, me a go a bush now."

On Tuesday Gabby was absent, wisely so, as he had probably seen more storms than all of us put together.

For those who suffered damage, I am hoping that they get all the help possible.

I will have some work to do too.

By now it should be obvious to all that wishing and hoping and praying will have little effect on natural phenomena like storms, floods, volcanoes and earthquakes.

The earth does its thing, and being the master of us, we have to yield to its beck and call and learn to live with it.

Please be safe and hopefully the hurricane season will give us a free pass until the end of November. After all, one is more than enough.

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