When I was a little girl, landing in San Juan, Puerto Rico was always a joyous experience. My big sister Becky and I sometimes flew alone (on standby!) on Eastern Airlines. Our Abuela, Tia Mery or one of our many Tios would be waiting at the airport to receive us. The moment the plane’s wheels touched the ground all the passengers would break into a round of cheers and applause. They were as happy to arrive on the Isla del Encanto as we were.
Yesterday’s flight into San Juan, 3 weeks after Hurricane Maria, was a very different story. At first, as the seemingly endless blue ocean gave way to the first hint of the north shoreline people started to get excited as they looked out their windows.
But as the plane descended closer to the ground so that the damage started to come into view, an eerie silence fell over the passengers. It was as bad as all the news reports had said. But it was worse seeing it with our own eyes for the first time.
By the time the plane rolled to a stop in the pouring rain, right in front of a crumpled, mangled hangar the collective mood matched the weather.
Stepping off the plane we were greeted by a wall of people trying to leave the devastated island. More than a dozen elderly people sat lined up in wheelchairs at our gate, many with masks covering their faces to avoid life-threatening exposure. Personally, fears started kicking in. We have 3 children we need to get home to when our work here is done. What have I gotten us into?
Then, right at that moment when these fears tried to set up camp in my heart, something caught my eye and snapped me out of it. My heart skipped a beat. Could it really be? Oh my gosh it was! Walking toward me was my cousin and his beautiful family. My cousin, like a light in this sea of strangers. My cousin, who came to Puerto Rico for vacation one week before the Hurricane and couldn’t get back home to Chicago for 3 weeks.
Like divine intervention to erase those fears from my mind, there was my cousin about to finally board his flight. Fittingly, my cousin’s name is Angel.
Getting our luggage and departing the San Juan airport was gratefully uneventful.
Not only were our bags intact and accounted for, we had not one, but two cars waiting to receive us. One was Felix Castro from Puerto Rico Relief Committee, whom I had already met at a warehouse full of generous donations in Miami. The other was Daphne Bechara from Fundacíon Bechara.
Because Nathan and Daphne needed to discuss medical logistics for this trip we opted to drive with her. There were lots of important conversations going on in the front seat about how to best help Puerto Rico, but I honestly couldn’t tell you a thing that was discussed as I stared out the window in disbelief.
We moved at a snail’s pace, in the pouring rain, along Highway 2/22 from San Juan to Aguadilla. The traffic was a complete nightmare. Bumper, to bumper for hours. The drive should’ve taken about an hour and a half. It took us four hours.
Everywhere I looked there was utter devastation. Everywhere. Although the main road itself was mostly free of debris the shoulders were piled high with downed power lines and mangled trees. Every other house was missing a roof or windows or walls. Mudslides had taken out mountainsides. Trees stood naked, stripped of leaves and even their bark. That four hour drive brought wave after wave of sadness and shock. But it was nothing compared to what the days ahead would bring.
I will write more when I can.
Love and Light to you all,
-Rosa Linda Román
**If you would like to help here is the fundraiser I created for Puerto Rico. All funds will go to direct relief to people in Puerto Rico (our own trip and supplies are personally funded). Thank you for your love and support!