How does one even begin to describe disaster response?
I have been puzzling on this for a month. Since landing here in Puerto Rico on New Year’s Eve- going gratefully to bed at 9 pm- describing all of this, to all of you, has been elusive. I am glad we have electricity for publishing!
Now it is February 8...and sunny. Ha. A long awaited day: today begins the first true farm brigade with Philly and Florida teams together! Four and a half months after we realized the scope of what happened and began to work for this every waking moment, we are climbing a mountain together and going all in. It really is a mountain: Aibonito is up, up, up.
Gear needs packed: solar chargers and lights, hand tools, tents, gloves, tarps, firestarters, and water filters. Berkey, and Sawyer, because only .01 micron truly filters viruses and other pathogens, let alone heavy metals, and who knows what other contaminants. Thanks to chemical-intensive agriculture and manufacturing, including pharmaceuticals and fertilizers, PR water has needed help for some time. The storm raised floods that mixed everything imaginable into one big soup. Municipal water runs in many places, but the wise use filters. These aren’t just mountain streams: Lifestraw won’t cut it. The WATER. Water is truly Life!
Many of my friends spend all their days just supplying folks with five-gallon bucket filters (and diapers, and food, and air mattresses, and medical supplies). We ask on Facebook: who knows where to find a solar- or gas-powered water pump? This community’s washed away, and we need to get a water line to the cistern. So we make introductions, between individuals working with their church, and worldwide organizations supplying communities with clean water and training.
Other friends will not have power for a year. Thanks to you all, though, they will have sprouting trays and organic black oil sunflower seeds. :)
We did not pick up a solar oven yet. Pre-made, they are expensive. Solar ovens are also fairly easily constructed with boxes and aluminum foil. When there is time to create one, we can cook “calabaza” while we work, and skip propane altogether. This week with La Guagua Solidaria we will be spoiled. The tour includes a skilled chef to prepare nourishing food from the farms. Of course, I am packing the all-important French press. Dawn in the tropics is most inspiring, but it is still dawn. :) Meeting with Saint, the best (and kindest) solar power rep on the island, I wanted to know: how many watts do I need to run an electric kettle?? The answer: enough to warrant a Yeti. Ha! Propane it is, for now. Saint also has off-grid kits at special pricing for PR folks. We will seek sponsorships for his quality setups for farmers and community aid centers.
Every day we witness the interdependence of land, and people. When the Matrix fails, it’s impossible to escape our need for one another. This wasn’t written sooner, in part because we share “haves” and “needs” All. Day. Long. Opening any screen can mean two hours of new connections, an important phone call, a pressing need met. Technology has its drawbacks, but gracious it has made mycelial organizing possible. This is unprecedented! It is very nearly a map of a living organism.
Witnessing the working together of so many makes a person humbly amazed to be part of the human family. Witnessing real rootedness - of a kind I rarely felt or saw in the Mid-Atlantic - fills in a huge gap in basic humanity for a person who grew up under DuPont’s shadow in the Megalopolis. Of course, there is fast food here - lots of it. That’s why we are trying to replant the kale. But you get what I mean. A friend whose farm we jungle-whacked in Utuado pointed out that the statistic of 80-90% of food being imported leaves out the culture of backyard growing so common to Puertorriqueñ@s. Witnessing this rootedness, and knowing that wealthy, outsider land-grabbing is happening as quickly and exploitatively as possible, is infuriating. This is the story of colonization. Were it my land, I would live up to the term Savage. We should all be angry about this...and let the white-hot anger transform something about which we have been complacent for centuries. It began here; it ends here. This is our chance to make reparation and restoration.
With September approaching at its usual pace, the stakes are high. We take a human pace...but rest can wait. As a grateful transplant who is in terms of the world a wealthy outsider, there is no other path.
So far, Land + Heart Project has been “soil building”: identifying, connecting, sharing, bringing awareness, forging relationships, gearing up, transporting, seeking counsel, visiting efforts all over the island, and happily, coordinating lots of volunteers. It look a village to get much of the camp and my library from PA. *Thank you.* Just heard the shipment was delayed; fingers crossed we can get our other tent and apothecary supplies before leaving La Guagua for two other farms with a team of seven! Logistics are always just a pain, aren’t they? Even for a super-mega-Capricorn/Virgo. Coming off the mountain into the land of industrial parks will be weird either way. It’s like passing a packed mall, fossil fuels blazing, while just a few miles off the highway, people have nada. Strange world.
It’s helpful that PR is small. Even with the central North-South Route 10 closed due to a pile of concrete rubble, it takes only hours to get around. Since the first weekend of January, I have been to La Loma de la Nina Mariana, in Humacao, to meet Proyecto Apoyo Mutuo de Mariana and their fine leadership, 35-year-community, and Appalachian transplants who came with bike punks, and stayed, finding the local currency of the campesin@s much like it is in the Smokies; to San Juan and Utuado with some folks from the venerable Mutual Aid Disaster Relief; to Quebradillas and Las Marias with Rhino, a Water Protector who came with Black Flag Search and Rescue, and stayed, clearing mountainside for precious cacao survivors, and ferrying water filters from Arecibo to Lajas and Ponce; to Santurce and La Perla during Sanse, to sort seeds for seed banks with my heroes of El Departamento de la Comida, and attend a volunteer meet-and-greet with Organizacion Boricua de AgroEcologica. I missed a work trade week at the CasaBonuco Earthship building brigade, to allow my sinuses to handle too much dairy. Now to Aibonito, Utuado, Las Marias with our team, to bring real permaculture resources and support to all the farms we can in a short time...then back to San Juan for a second seed brigade before they fly out. The seed banks are in weather-proof containers and will help schools start gardens and preserve precious, precious biodiversity. Mara has big plans: her marker-drawn flow chart of projects is my favorite of those I have photographed.
In Aguadilla I found a Libreria named for Khalil Gibran. There I picked out my birthday present: a stack of Spanish kindergarten textbooks! I thought I would have a few years to become fluent. The graciousness of native Spanish-speakers toward those who learn to ask, “Puedo hablo Ingles, por favor? Estoy aprendiendo,” is again beyond kind. Google translate is my friend. I learn by memorizing pop songs; by listening, repeating, typing, reading, and shyly speaking, or privately singing. :) Here it is okay to properly pronounce “Puerto Rico.” Over there, it felt like cultural appropriation. Even Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz used an American pronunciation on her trip to DC: I guess when your beautiful trill has been made fun of by the most powerful stupid man in the world, you stoop to some level, to be effective.
Coordinating volunteers appears to be a niche for Land + Heart. People write through the website, or through Facebook, or email, or text, or all the above. What joy to help match folks with the same fire with a project and people they can serve! Just shared my first little volunteer guide with a few folks looking to travel soon. Eventually shaking the hands or hearing the voices of those who started as email addresses and typing is happy fruition. Hopefully this will turn into a modest income stream. The folks running projects and delivering supplies are out the door at dawn each day. Finding them help, and helping folks learn their way around, allows the farmers to focus on farming. *Thank you* again to every single person, act, word, call, letter, dollar, penny, and hug that has allowed these seeds to take root. No amount of exclamation points can capture the gratitude from me or the human family.
Come March, there is major development work to do. There are folks to get back to who gave their time and advice during the very early stages of this organization being created; next level outreach to do, introductions to many, many organizations doing similar work, who can help us with advice, or seeds, or structure, or awareness, or labor, or supplies, or tools, or funds; fiscal sponsorship or business incubation to seek; documents to populate, resources to gather and plumb, and a comprehensive needs assessment to publish. We will need a mountain-ready vehicle in the next few months; a small solar generator; an intensive language program; plus fuel, and food, and keeping the trusty iPhone on. (Thank you T-Mobile! Great service, affordable rates, and they specifically aim to provide an alternative to the awful, awful Verizon and AT&T.) I very much want to sponsor some folks with family connections to the island to come down and share their gifts: herbalists, permaculture folks, and more. Right now, our coalition is working together to bring almost a thousand gallons of Effective Microorganisms, donated by TeraGanix, from Arizona, to distribute among the many organizations in need of remediation and strong compost starter.
A major goal for development is to get farms and community centers set up before the next hurricane season with seeds, crops, tools, solar power, water catchment and filtration, and reliable income, eventually from expanding the opportunities for educational programming at the farms. Communications-wise, each center or farm should have a short wave radio set up, and/or a satellite phone, ideally both. The folks who were here for the aftermath all expressed what it was like to be cut off from one another, having no idea the scope of what had happened beyond their front door. One person said all they thought for days was, “WHAT IS GOING ON WITH MY PEOPLE??!” Imagine that for a moment…
That is still how many without power or water or food access feel today.
With that, it’s time to get to the mountain. I will have to post photos and links in a few weeks. We share a whole lot online: please join our Facebook group for connection and lots of work opportunities here on the island. It took just one other person in distress the Monday after Maria to create a community and start the mycelium running. (Thanks, Jonathan.) Also thankful to have a piece with similar sentiments published in this quarter’s AgroEcology issue of Permaculture Design Magazine. The magazine is nonprofit; please order or subscribe if you can support this type of publishing. :) We are, of course, crowdfunding, as are most around here. Infinite thanks to those who have given or are thinking of giving. We also accept Bitcoin through that link. We will be connecting with the cryptocurrency community here soon. More currencies available for donation soon. Blockchain technology is fascinating, and energy intensive. Please fight that ridiculous solar tax, armchair activists. Bitcoin is low right now; a great time to disburse some. :) It's bitcoin actually that gave us our start. Thanks, Reddit. :)
You may love this recording of the “Fossil Free, Fast” summit put on by 350.org that took place in DC a few weeks back. Tara, our de facto spokesperson, gives a powerful speech alongside Bernie Sanders! I sure can’t wait to watch it again.
Those in Philly and Jersey can make it this weekend to a talk in Highland, NJ on Empire vs Grassroots Disaster Relief. Meet the wonderful folks from Raices Cultural Center - they have much to share from their recent visit!
Do write to us at LandHeartProject@gmail.com or through the contact form on the website to connect with our work.
Bye for now...Abrazos.