Monday, April 16, 2018

How We Got our Groove Back: Piecing together Life Post-Irma

Haven looks at what used to be our home.
Our first charter for our daysail company, Aristocat Charters, was April 10th. It might not seem like a massive announcement in the grand scheme of things, but getting our flailing business back up and running (we lost both our day charter boats to the storm and have been income-less since) was the last piece of the "Irma puzzle" we had to put together to resume life as normal. It's a laughable concept - "as normal" - because life here after hurricane Irma is anything but "normal"... so much has changed. People have left (both by choice and not), "disaster relief" groups have taken their place, buildings are destroyed, construction is booming, tourists are few and far between, new industries and companies have emerged, tides have changed in a million ways, and many lives and livelihoods face uncertainty...The fact that our first charter was six months overdue is just one *tiny* anomaly among many. It's pretty much the same plot line for every single one of us that lives here: adjustment and recalibration is part of the new normal.

Life post-Irma has been an equally strange and amazing time, living in what some might describe as a "disaster area" that, in many ways, has not quite found it's footing is...interesting. From a global perspective, this situation is not unique. Every day there are a whole host of geographical areas effected by natural disasters, wars, and extreme poverty. These are polarizing predicaments, to be sure. But coming from the relatively bubble-wrapped perspective of a privileged "first worlder", this is very unique. Despite the "different-ness" (life will for a long time be discussed in a pre vs. post Irma vernacular), however, the beauty shines through. My heart continues to swell with gratitude every single day that we can live here, our girls continue to thrive in their wild and carefree childhood, and the tourists who have chosen not to cancel their travel plans all echo the same sentiment: "This place is amazing!" Because it is. Sure, you will see a whole host of cars driving around with only plastic for windows with mangled bodies and, yep, you will probably turn to gawk at some buildings who's second floor is no more, and - true - there are some areas where the destruction and damage will be shocking and possibly depressing, but if you can get past that - you will see that so much beauty remains unchanged. And to be able to see beyond the destruction is, I am learning, a gift.

Those of us that live here, we have to see beyond it. We have no other choice. And so we do.

When I lived in Tanzania my best girlfriend from college came to visit. I picked her up from the 8:30pm KLM flight that arrived from Amsterdam in my old beater of a Land Cruiser and we made the long, dark drive back to my house. We chatted and caught up as we passed a flicker of a roadside oil lantern here and there, and I was giddy with excitement to have a visiting fried. The drive to my house was an hour and to get there we passed through a little roadside shanty town to get up the hill to where I lived. I walked or drove through this little neighborhood every day. Ramshackle dirt-floor homes made of propped up corrugated roof bits and sticks, cardboard mats, and whatever was available. Stray dogs, mamas collecting firewood, and barefoot little kids kept a regular buzz of activity along the was all very normal to me. "Oh my gosh Brittany!" my friend gasped when the askari (armed guard) closed the car gate behind us. "How could you not warn me about that?" I was confused..."About what?" I asked, perplexed. "That poverty down there" she said with wide, sad eyes. And suddenly it dawned on me: this was NOT normal to her. It was shocking to her. She had never seen anything like it before. To me, however, those were the kids I hugged and high-fived on the way down the hill. Those were the mamas that sold me my daily maize and welcomed me home with a smile. To me, it was normal. My brain had adjusted.

And it's kind of like that here.

This lesson that I learned so long ago and am re-learning again is the amazing ability of the human brain to adapt. I have always wondered how people in war torn areas were able to live day to day, marveled at the horrors of history such as concentration camps and how people persevered, and my heart breaks daily at the thought of losing a child and how parents (like my own mother) go on after such utter devastation ... while our situation absolutely pales in comparison to those above, what I have learned is that people are often stronger than we think. And when you don't have a choice, your brain does this amazing thing: it adapts. "If you don't bend you break" is a mantra that has resonated with me for a long time - and as a very "type A" person it's not always an easy one for me to embody - but life post-Irma has taught me that more than anything. You need to be flexible. You need to be patient. You need to bend. Choices are a gift, for sure. But when they go away, you learn to work with - and appreciate - what you have. And you go on.

Do not get me wrong, our family is by no means "choice-less" in the literal sense, we are still very much in the top percent of the world's population, but leaving this place would mean abandoning a dream, a life we love, and it would set us back financially in a very significant way. We, in our thought process, had no choice but to stay and try to salvage what we could of our life and business. Irma took us out at our knees; we were at the top of our game, making more money that we had even predicted and growing our business in leaps and bounds. Last season was a record breaker for Aristocat Charters and this season was on track to break that by a LOT...we were doing so well and excited about future plans and goals, dreaming big travel dreams and plotting some exciting getaways. Irma changed all that over the course of a few hours but focusing on the past and how good we had it is easiest way to sink into an anxiety ridden depression. The only way to look now is forward. And one fact remains: we still have it very good. We still have a wonderful life. We are healthy and have our kids. We live in a beautiful and inspiring (albeit imperfect) place.

Perspective is everything.

"What's it like there now?" people ask me. I tell them that it's different, yes, but there are what I describe as "pockets of normalcy" where things feel okay and even like they were before. The main grocery store is unchanged and fully stocked, the roads are clear and free again, Isla's darling school is a haven of happiness and joy (and looks just as it did pre-Irma), our beloved Nanny Cay Marina - while very different - still feels very much the same and the community here is stronger than ever. These are just a few examples... Every day things get a little bit better.  These are still some of the most beautiful islands on the planet and one of the best places for a water-based vacation. Despite what is a very uncertain future in regards to tourism - not to mention the very real (almost palpable) terror that is inside all of us about future hurricane seasons - I am grateful. Our family - no doubt about it - are some of the lucky ones.

So yes, this past month was a big one for us. Our new boat is here meaning we finally have a place to call our own again (stay tuned for a tour and pics!), our beautiful new (to us) daysail boat for Aristocat Charters is up and running (and arguably better than our other boats!), and life is beginning to feel more "normal". Things are coming together and it feels so, so good. As the islands build themselves back up and nature restores itself, so does the human spirit. We are all of us changed from the hurricanes, but I also believe most of us have a new layer of empathy, understanding and an inner strength that has grown. We have nowhere to look but forward.

Our new home and boat, s/v Sonder

These islands still need help! The best way to show support is to come and visit us! People who have been here since the storm are RAVING about their amazing times on charters...this place is still amazing, awe-inspiring and beautiful - ESPECIALLY from the water. Check out my post for Marinemax about what to expect on your trip. See you soon!

Also, if pictures are your thing and you want to see more - please follow us over on Facebook or Instagram where I post pictures of our life and adventures every day. Thank you!


Jen @ Drinking the Whole Bottle said...

I loved your analogy to Tanzania. I think that often that most people would see what we see and be horrified, scared but one you let yourself adapt - it can be beautiful.

Unknown said...

Great piece!

horizonstar said...

Hi Scott & Brittany,
Great to hear that you are getting your business up and running again and your feet back on the ground in Nanny Key. I delivered a HR 47 down the coast from Anacortes to SF. Great boat--- you'll love her.

How about Paul Exter--- (we both built Cape George boats). Sails half way around the world from Nanny Key to permanently get out of hurricane alley, only to arrive on Hawaii on the very day a volcano erupts!

Just read your "arguments for choosing the BVI" from 2016. I've always preferred places with a bit more of an edge like St. Lucia or Providencia and looked down my nose at the Drake Lake, but as I think about it the sense of community you discovered there is the most important thing. Even without a family to raise, I might well make the same choice.


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