Saturday, 3 November 2012

My Travels with Sandy: A Hurricane of Misfortune

In life you can be very certain of two things: taxes and death. And if you live in America you can be absolutely certain of three things: taxes, death and natural disasters. When discussed in any context these lists are sure to make even the hardiest optimist cower away in fear. But courageous are those that find a means to live with and beat the odds of each of these. By filing that tax return, you no longer have the ominous burden looming over your head. By standing strong in the face of death and carrying on with life, you have overcome the tragedy. And by getting up after a natural disaster, by rebuilding and fixing all that was broken by something so devastating you have overcome the grueling effects of this unexplainable destruction.

Hurricane Sandy was a threat that hung over those that stayed on the east coast of America for many days before she even declared her presence. Preparations were being made well in advance; houses were stocking up with all the basic necessities like un-perishable food items and loads of water, cars were being filled to the brim with gas, and blankets were occupying every available space for a cold that was sure to follow. Windows were boarded up and sand bags packed tightly against outside walls for the flooding and howling winds that were to pay an expected but unwanted visit. Many people living on the coast of New Jersey and in high flood areas in New York were scurrying out of their homes because of mandatory evacuation orders from governors, senators, mayors and anybody that even held an ounce of authority. This hurricane would hit, but we would be ready for her. Or at least everybody else would be, I on the other hand was solely unprepared for a storm of this magnitude.
In South Africa, and in particular where I come from, a small town in the inlands of the province of KwaZulu Natal, hurricane is a word found in a dictionary with no real life experience attached to it for most of us. I did not know what to expect or even what would happen during this storm. And no amount of explaining from any person could quite drift all the way to my mind and make it any clearer for me.  So for those of us where the teachings have to be done with practicalities, I had to live through it to completely understand what it really boiled down to. And live through it I did.
Monday morning broke with a suspenseful foreboding in the air. The wind outside my window was whipping around as if some lunatic was out there intent on destruction and menace. The sky above was a dark, coal black color, and the roads did not have a single soul or lonely driver passing by on it. Inside our house life was going on as normally as it possibly could. When you live in the same place you work, a hurricane will have little effect on you in that capacity. Thinking on it now I am thankful for the distraction work and energetic toddlers provided. Toddlers can make you forget a whole lot of things any time, most of the time I find myself in a complete fray because of this, but on this day I welcomed it with open arms. Our playroom window became our replacement television set, with the scenes outside playing like that of a horror movie. Thankfully it had no age restrictions so the boys could watch too.  By late afternoon, into the early evening hours the lunatic wind was really beginning to pick up. Whipping around, bending trees over and tossing branches this way and that not even giving a thought to where they landed. And then the inevitable occurred, the power we had hoped would not go out, but we had slowly counted down the minutes until its expected demise had finally left us in pitch black darkness. Standing in my room not knowing what next, was probably the scariest moment I have ever had to experience. At that moment I would have rather confronted any devil familiar to me, than this unknown one. Yet like most often will happen, you will set aside your feelings of misfortune and carry on with what needs to be done.  Blankets and torches were found and distributed to all to bring a little comfort and familiarity to the situation. With warmth and light taken care of there was nothing left but to snuggle deep down in the blankets and drift off to a restless night. The howling wind and rain were too much of a noise for any sleep to follow willingly, so on my iPod went with the sounds of Josh Groban and Daughtry drifting out. I figured that if the trees outside my wind were to come crashing down during the night, Groban and Daughtry would be singing in their harmoniously perfect voices and make everything better anyway. Together they did well to soothe the frantic worrying’s of the voices in my head.

The night had passed by and as my alarm went off to annoyingly announce that the hour for work was near, I grudgingly edged the blankets off my body. I peered out to see that my bed, actually my whole entire room, was still standing in the exact same place I had left it the night before. There were no trees lying about adding some naturalistic element of d├ęcor to my room either. Things were looking as good as could be expected. I wearily touched my toe to the floor so I could make that giant leap out of bed to turn on the light. At the switch I flipped it up and down about fifty times before finally coming to terms with the fact that no amount of flipping would give me a little light. So Tuesday dawned cold, dark and with screaming toddlers. What a way to welcome a new day in.
Tuesday was a day for assessing damages, checking to see that the neighbor next door was still living and that you had not accidently been blown away or drifted into some other county. In all those counts we were unbelievably lucky. There was no flooding to a basement that was still under construction, all our neighbors that had stuck around to weather out the storm were all still here, (with some added features like disgruntled tempers and big frowns covering their faces) and we were still in the same spot we were in the day before. Down the street enormous trees had blown over landing in people’s yards, on power lines and some on cars. Roads were blocked, traffic lights were out and a huge panic was beginning to fill the air. The radio was on the whole day giving hourly updates on the horrific destruction that happened in many places, some of them so nearby to us, it was beginning to frighten me. And in our little white house amidst all this disaster, everything was still going on as usual. The boys were still evading my polite begging of joining the 21st century and eating with a spoon instead of with their tiny, grubby hands. I still felt as if I was taking care of escaped monkeys from a local zoo, instead of two human boys. And they still made me smile and laugh at their silly antics and wise old ways. A hurricane had hit, there was destruction and damage untold, and things were beginning to look bleak. But I had two crazy toddler boys to look after, who did not quite grasp the concept of a storm or see the importance of anything beyond what was happening in their own lives. It showed you that after something like this life went on, as much as I wanted to sit in limbo processing the devastation that had just happened in the past twenty four hours, these boys forced me to see that life needed to move forward.
Venturing out the house late Friday morning, after sitting inside for so long had played a toll on all our minds, was met with an unrealistic scene of a town that had once been the hub of social life and now stood bare and deserted. Downtown Westfield was a ghost town except for the few zombies checking through the window of the Starbucks periodically hoping for it to spring to life with the aroma of brewing coffee and freshly baked goods. But move out just a little further to the nearest gas station that actually had a little gas to offer and you would find a line a mile long of people standing with containers in every shape imaginable to fill, and just to the side was the line of cars waiting for gas. It was a sight to behold that truly amplified the severity of the situation, the line of cars was so long it carried on all the way into the next town and the wait was anywhere between two to six hours! Many houses were sitting without power and as night fell we could really feel the consequence of this. With winter fast approaching, the idea of heat in a time like this seems like a farfetched reality. We had managed to spend the week at the house, but with the cold becoming an unbearable burden, seeking out anyone with even a little power to spare was our next logical move. So on a freezing Friday night, with the greatly appreciated hospitality of friends we now know what true warmth feels like again. It is a marvel I will forever be grateful for.
Looking at the damages that had occurred right outside our house, and hearing about the destruction to places I had visited so often, I was immeasurably blessed about my circumstances. Yes I had no power, I was getting as cold as someone stranded in the North Pole in the middle of winter, the toddlers were getting way too cranky and driving me so insane I feared I had to go book my room in an asylum any minute, and I was beginning to have withdrawal symptom from a lack of Starbuck’s coffee. Our power is still off, our street is still looking like a war zone and I am still freezing. But I can proudly look forward and say I overcame this storm. Sandy struck and I got up again to carry on life like normal. Things are difficult now, sometimes even challenging, but we all have the ability to find solutions, to mend all that was broken and then to move forward after it is all done. Sandy knocked us off course a little, but we can surely find our way back onto the road.
Safe travels!

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