As a native Bahamian, I know what to do when a hurricane is approaching. I know it’s important to stock up on water, get supplies, call my friends and family, listen to the panicked yet comedic voice of Bahamian radio personality Darold Miller for weather updates, and then wait.
Wait for the stiflingly still air to rise up before making room in my home for the inevitable visitors who have fled theirs.
I know where to buy kerosene for gas lamps. I know which way to park the car in the driveway to ensure it’s safe. I know the evacuation routes and the nearest shelters. These are things I am primed for and ready to do.
What I don’t know how to do is watch a historic storm hit the island I call home from more than 2,000 miles away.
I’ve spent the past few months in Canada, where I’ve been working on my writing. As I watch the news about Hurricane Dorian, I am left sending helpless text messages to friends and family on the ground, pleading that they stay safe. As videos emerge of the flooding in the Abaco Islands, waiting in a country that is not my own feels like the hardest thing I’ve ever done.
Dorian has already been declared the strongest storm anywhere on the planet this year. As I follow the news, my body is ready to spring into action and prepare for the storm in all the usual ways. Instead, I’m just waiting in Canada, where no one understands the panic that’s rising up in me.
It doesn’t help that many of the weather forecasters are focused on Dorian’s proximity to the US and other American territories. I’m now relying on footage from close friends and family, along with other citizens on the ground, and listening to cries for help that I am unable to answer.
I listen to voice notes of people who fear for their lives. Some have taken refuge in cars after the winds ripped the roofs of their homes, only to be trapped in the flood. What will happen on my home island of Grand Bahama?
I’m thinking of my mom, and how she coped during Hurricanes Frances and Jeanne in 2004, and Wilma in 2005. These storms bore unassuming names, but they terrorized our island before crippling our economy.
I can remember my mom putting a towel down by the door to soak up the water and then immediately beginning to mop. Her behavior confused me, since I knew the water would inevitably find a way into our home. Why didn’t she just leave it until the storm passed?
I wasn’t mature enough to understand that this was how she coped. The constant mopping gave her something to do.
By the time I was old enough to understand, I always promised myself that I would figure out a better distraction for her. But today, as Dorian hits the tiny islands of the Northern Bahamas, I’m not there to cover her hands with my own and guide her away from the mop. I’m not there.
Many of my friends are finding solace from an unexpected source: memes. It’s a testament to both our generation, and the Bahamian culture. Inappropriate jokes during times of crisis are the only thing I’ve come to expect from Bahamian people. It’s the one thing I love the most about us. So between the scattered hurricane updates and videos of cries for help, I’m scrolling through the jokes shared by those who are staring straight into this devastating storm.
When your home is paradise, it’s easy to forget that disasters often lurk just beyond the horizon during the months of June to November. When I left Grand Bahama for the summer, I never expected that I would be turning my back on a deadly hurricane season.
All I can do is wait. All I can do is hope. All I can do is prepare for the rebuilding and recovery efforts of a country that moves forward, upward, onward, together.