Translation – In The Dark
Translated by: Patrick Moseley
[Daniel Alarcón, host]: Many of you have asked how you can support Radio Ambulante. There are a lot of ways. If you go to our web page —radioambulante.org — you can make a make a donation or buy t-shirts or tote bags. And for our listeners in the U.S., you should consider supporting your local public radio station. You can do that by going to donate.npr.org/radioambulante. Don’t forget to share your donation on social media with the hash tag #whypublicradio. Thank you.
Welcome to Radio Ambulante, I’m Daniel Alarcón. Before we get started, a warning: this episode contains some words that some would consider inappropriate. For others, they’re just a way of communicating. We believe they are important in the context of the story and for that reason we left them in. But if you want to listen to a “clean” version, you can find one on our web page radioambulante.org.
[Ramón López]: That house was mine, the one down there.
[Luis Trelles, producer]: Oh, there’s nothing left…
[Ramón]: Oh, I picked up everything. I picked it all up there, I have it there just it just in case, to see what happens, in case they help me or something…
[Luis]: But you lost the walls. You lost…
[Ramón]: Everything. No, all of it is gone. All of it. All I have left are the clothes on my back. Honestly.
[Daniel]: Today we’re starting off with what Ramón López went through on September 20th of this year, 2017, when Hurricane Maria went through Puerto Rico. Three weeks after the hurricane, our producer, Luis Trelles, arrived in the rural neighborhood where Ramón lives.
[Luis]: And when did you start feeling strong winds?
[Ramón]: Around…about 6 in the morning. And then at 12, that was when things got ugly.
[Luis]: [Laughs] Ugly how?
[Ramón]: Man. Really ugly: brutal, brutal, brutal, nobody could hold up against it.
[Daniel]: Ramón used to live in a small wooden house that his father had built. It had the same roof it always had, made of sheets of zinc. It was a typical small house in rural Puerto Rico, nestled into the base of mountain, surrounded by green hilltops where Ramón to grew yams and sweet potatoes, and raised hogs. But this wasn’t the first hurricane that Ramón had survived. There was also Irma, Irene and Hortense, 3 recent storms that had gone over the island. And the house had always held up.
Then Maria came. It was exactly 12 o’clock, noon, when a gust of wind tore the roof off of the house.
[Ramón]: Well, that was when I ran out.
[Luis]: You had to run outside in the middle of a hurricane?
[Ramón]: Yeah, I was running. That’s the thing. And from there I went toward the mountain to a little house that was there. I got down on…on all fours from there because you can’t stand in wind like that. It carries you away. It carries you away. It killed my animals and everything here. It killed my horse. It even killed my horse. It killed 3 hogs and 2 goats…
[Daniel]: Ramón had to take shelter there, in an abandoned cement house that was a little bit further up the hillside. Alone. There was no one else for kilometers.
For millions of Puerto Ricans like Ramón, Maria marked a before and an after in their lives. With more than $90 billion in estimated damages, this hurricane has now become one of the most costly natural disasters in U.S. history. But the consequences of the hurricane go far beyond the material losses. Our producer Luis Trelles was also on the island, along with his family, when Maria hit. Like so many other Puerto Ricans, he also realized the magnitude of the disaster very slowly.
Today Luis brings us the story of the catastrophe that came after the storm. A version of this story was presented in Brooklyn toward the end of October, when we held an event to raise funds for the recovery in Puerto Rico.
This is Luis.
[Luis]: When it hit, I was asleep. I may have been the only person who didn’t wake up during the hurricane, which came in the early morning. The house shook. The windows rattled uncontrollably from the wind. With torrential rain, it looked like the sky was on the verge of falling. And I… I was in a deep sleep.
My wife and daughter were by my side, terrified. The next morning, I interviewed Lucy, my wife, so she could tell me what happened while I was sleeping. And this is what she told me.
[Lucy]: Around 4:30 in the morning I woke up to the roaring sound of the wind —frankly, I’ve been through a lot of hurricanes— and…I felt like I was ready, but I was pretty frightened. Our daughter woke up from the noise and I let her crawl into bed with us. I think you were asleep. I think you had taken too much melatonin. [Laughs]
[Luis]: That’s my nervous laugh. Since I’ve been with my wife for 10 years, I can easily detect her tone of resentment and disappointment.
But I don’t feel bad about having taken it. The truth is, if you don’t know what to do when the end of the world comes…melatonin. 5 milligrams. With a nice pull of Puerto Rican rum, if you have the bottle handy.
The next day, well, I don’t know if there were reports the next day in the rest of the world. Because there weren’t any in Puerto Rico. Zilch. No news.
No electricity. No phones. No TV. But the most troubling part of all of this is that the radio stations stayed off the air. That’s something that had never happened after a hurricane.
It felt very strange going through the stations, one after another, just hearing static. It was as if there was no one on the other side. It felt like an episode of a science fiction show. An apocalyptic storyline.
And well… What are you supposed to do after a hurricane like Maria?
The first step is to go out to the street. Go into a state of shock seeing how it left everything.
There were downed trees and powerlines strewn all over. One on top of the other. Obstacles that were 4 and 5 feet tall. It would have taken a tank to get through. From the hill where our house sits, the city looked like it never had before. Now, all of a sudden, we were surrounded by surprising landscapes: a neighborhood on a hill, the iconic tower of the University of Puerto Rico…You couldn’t see any of that before, but now you could because there weren’t any trees in the way anymore.
But were the lucky ones. Most of the houses on my block were flooded with an inch of water.
So we started doing what everyone was doing: clearing a path to be able to get out.
(SOUNDBITE CUTTING LOGS)
My neighbor loaned me a machete so I could hack at branches in front of my house. Fortunately, the effects of my sleeping-aide had worn off, because those who know me know I am a very clumsy guy. It’s miracle I didn’t lose a finger that day.
Two days after the hurricane, I finally decided that it was safe to get in the car and go see my parents. My wife and my 4 year old daughter, Jimena, got in the car with me. Usually it takes 10 minutes to get there, but the streets….
OK, we can’t go that way. It’s flooded.
[Jimena]: It’s flooded. Look, over there it’s flooded.
[Luis]: Very good, Jimena, that’s just what they want to tell them.
It took us 45 minutes, but finally we managed to make it to my parent’s house. They were fine but they looked exhausted. When I saw my dad, this was the first time he told me:
[Luis, father] Did you see the state everything’s in? The whole house is flooded.
[Luis]: It’s flooded!?!
[Luis, father] Yes. A tree fell on Amaral’s.
[Luis]: Amaral, their neighbor.
[Luis, father] He can’t get in or out.
[Luis]: And here’s the thing. 2 or 3 days after the hurricane, we still had no idea what was really going on. We didn’t know how terrible the situation had gotten.
I mean, I’ve lived through several hurricanes in my life. Almost all Puerto Ricans have lived through at least on.
I was 12 when Hurricane Hugo hit. I can remember perfectly my Cuban grandmother sitting in the kitchen with water up to her ankles, praying the rosary.
And frankly, I don’t know what was worse: the storm or my grandma making me pray with her.
And in ‘98 when Hurricane George hit, I was 20 years old and a total idiot.
I’ll never forget what happened the next day. I was in the car with my two punk roommates. We were on a mission to find drinkable water. I had smoked so much pot during the storm that I ended up crashing into a bus full of Red Cross volunteers.
In other words, yes. I know what hurricanes are like. Usually you have to deal with a week without lights. You have to clear the streets with axes and machetes. There’s no cell service. And once that’s over you recover and the bad parts turn into an anecdote.
Correction: I thought I knew what hurricanes were like.
The morning after Maria, we still hadn’t realized that this time was different. We didn’t know the whole island was without electricity. That thousands of homes had been destroyed. That people were going hungry. That there were hospitals without generators. And hundreds of other people were about die from a lack of clean water and oxygen. Or from a lack of basic medical services.
No one knew how desperate life on the island could get. How desperate it already was for some.
And at that time it was impossible to know. There is a strange silence that sets in after a disaster like this one. We’re used to news moving fast. Being instantaneous.
But after Maria, the only thing you could be certain of was what was right in front of you.
(SOUNDBITE FROM NEWS REPORT)
[Reporter]: The Hurricane went through Puerto Rico from coast to coast, devastating the island.
[Luis]: What was happening on your street.
(SOUNDBITE FROM NEWS REPORT)
[Reporter]: There’s a lot of fallen fencing. A lot of fallen wire.
[Luis]: A few days later you would learn about what had happened in your neighborhood.
(SOUNDBITE FROM NEWS REPORT)
[Reporter]: You can’t enter Condado and Ocean Park. It’s an ocean out there.
[Luis]: A week later, in your city.
(SOUNDBITE FROM NEWS REPORT)
[Reporter]: What can you tell us about San Juan?
[Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz]: The horror you see in people’s eyes.
[Luis]: And finally, the island.
[Maga Lorenzo]: It’s a place with a lot of trees, a lot of vegetation.
[Luis]: This is Maga Lorenzo, and she lived in Ocean Park, a beautiful beachside neighborhood in San Juan. Maga waited out the hurricane at a friend’s house and she waited two days before going back to her apartment. And when she finally got close her neighborhood, this is what she found:
[Maga]: It was like somebody had taken a match to all the trees that were there. Houses with gates crumpled into piles. It’s like…it was a very sad sight. Neighbors in kayaks and on paddle boards, there were a few who had a “yolita”–a dinghy– trying to pull people and things out of the water. And…It made me very sad.
[Luis]: The water came up to her knees. The rescue workers around her told her that her street was fine, that it hadn’t been flooded like the others, but when she got there:
[Maga]: All of my things were floating in the water. Shoes floating. I had recycling bags that I hadn’t thrown out, all the bottles were floating. Dog food. The water was completely black. There were mosquitoes. You know? You opened the door and water would come rushing out. And you say, “wow,” you know? I never thought my apartment would flood like that, period. I mean, I hoped it wouldn’t.
[Luis]: What was becoming apparent to Maga —to everyone in Puerto Rico— was the level of devastation in the country. There were hundreds of neighborhoods like Maga’s. Thousands of houses like hers. And many facing an even worse situation.
[Maga]: I never thought the rest of the island could be how it was.
[Luis]: Maga spent the next few days trying to call her family in Aguada, a small town 2 hours away from San Juan. But there was no signal, it was impossible to get a hold of them.
On the fifth day, she was able to contact her sister.
[Maga]: She asks me if I can travel to Aguada, right then. And I’m asking her: “What’s going on? I’m about to make a 2 hour trip and I’m getting really nervous.”
[Luis]: Her biggest concern was her father, an older man. But her sister had called to tell her something else.
[Maga]: And she tells me: “No, Maga, dad’s fine.” And she tells me it’s my brother.
[Luis]: Maga’s brother was a police officer for the town of Aguada. During the hurricane, he was on duty for more than 30 hours at the town’s police station. Once Maria passed, he went to see his family. It was dark and it was still raining very heavily. The main roads were filled with debris, so he decided to take a backroad that took him to a bridge that crossed over a river.
What happened next was one of those stories that we all heard when one radio station finally started broadcasting.
Maga had heard it too.
[Maga]: And I had already heard the news on the radio that two police officers had…had drowned in a surge of water that had carried them away. And when she tells me that it’s my brother, I tell her: “No, don’t tell me… That Pito —that was what we called him—….don’t tell me that Pito…was one of the police officers who died.
And she tells me he was.
[Luis]: Pito tried to cross just when the river surged. The rush of water carried his car away completely, and he was missing for more than 48 hours.
Pito was 47 years old. His name was Ángel Luis Lorenzo. He was posthumously promoted to the rank of sergeant, in a ceremony that ended with his funeral.
[Maga]: It really was a very pretty ceremony, but too sad. Too sad. Because at the end of the ceremony they read off a list and they say the names of all of the sergeants, and when it got to his name, he didn’t say “present.” But the third time they said his name, all of his fellow officers shouted “present.”
[Luis]: When you live on an island you know that in a way you are always on your own.
In Puerto Rico we have been in an economic depression for more than a year. The result is that the government has gone broke and isn’t even in control of its own finances. Before Maria there had already been a mass exodus. More than 500 thousand Puerto Ricans had left for the United States since 2005.
So that we’re clear: the electrical system in Puerto Rico was dilapidated before Maria. The economy had been collapsing long before the hurricane hit.
That’s why we all knew there would be some kind of blackout. But no one thought we would be left in the dark for so long. And there is something else that sometimes seems to be forgotten: Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens. And what hit all of us very hard was realizing that neither the local nor federal governments were prepared for this.
(SOUNDBITE FROM NEWS REPORT)
[Reporter]: Today some people have already come here to the control center the government has put in place.
[Interviewee]: We’re here looking for direction, but right now the people who are in charge of the government center don’t even know where they’re going to provide services. We’re here on tenterhooks. We’re here with nothing.
[Luis]: And on top of that the U.S. Government took too long to respond to the emergency.
(SOUNDBITE FROM NEWS REPORT)
[Reporter]: On his part, Governor Ricardo Rosselló urged the department of defense to provide more support in order to be able to mitigate the emergency and also avoid a humanitarian crisis
[Luis]: And when they finally did arrive, the soldiers and rescue workers weren’t enough. They didn’t bring enough equipment. No priority was given to going to the most remote areas or helping the people who were most in need. It was as if the U.S. Federal Government didn’t want to help Puerto Rico…Or they just didn’t care about what was happening in their colony.
(SOUNDBITE FROM NEWS REPORT)
[Reporter]: President Trump arrived in Puerto Rico yesterday, accompanied by his wife Melania Trump. He is visiting almost 3 weeks after Hurricane Maria plowed through the island preceded by controversy….
[Luis]: And when he arrived…this is what he did.
(SOUNDBITE FROM NEWS REPORT)
[Reporter]: Trump also visited an aid distribution center and collaborated in his typical fashion: throwing rolls of paper towels at the attendants.
[Luis]: And I think that was a big revelation. We didn’t know how isolated we really were.
This reality was felt more starkly outside of San Juan. In the town of Orocovis, where country roads cross the mountain, the trouble intensified rapidly.
As soon as the lights went out, the emergency generators at the town’s only hospital also started to fail. Yadira Collazo, the assistant to the mayor, describes the challenge facing the patients:
[Yadira Collazo]: At first, that week, it was very hard because there was no way out of Orocovis. There was no way. The gasoline situation…
[Luis]: Gasoline. For the emergency generators that were keeping dozens of patients alive.
And on top of that, the generators are designed for short term emergencies. They aren’t made to be left on for days at a time.
[Yadira]: But the power plant collapsed, the generator collapsed and it closed its doors. The hospital closed.
[Luis]: And that was when people started to die. People who could have been saved if only the government had sent diesel or generators on time.
[Yadira]: Around 4 days ago a person on a bike was run over. The hospital was closed. And obviously they kept going to…to another hospital.
[Luis]: But here’s the thing: the nearest hospital is an hour and half away. And with the roads blocked after the hurricane and the difficulty getting gas, getting to the other hospital took them 4 hours.
[Yadira]: The person died on the way.
[Luis]: And of course, Orocovis and its hospital aren’t the only places that faced difficulties like this.
Two weeks after the hurricane, the government announced that more than half of the 71 hospitals on the island were functioning at partial capacity or closed completely.
For many patients in critical condition, the lack of aid after the hurricane turned into a matter of life and death.
[Luis]: The government of Puerto Rico says that the official number of deaths caused by the hurricane is 62. But in hospitals and retirement homes and even in funeral homes, people are saying that more people have died. Many more.
[Carlos Malavé]: Man, no, no that…it’s a sham. I think that in all of Puerto Rico, in my opinion, to me, there are many many more.
[Luis]: This is Carlos Malavé, the director of a funeral home in Añasco, a very small town on the western part of the island. He told me that he normally prepares 12 funerals a month. In the five days after Maria he had 9. Almost all of them were for the elderly and patients in critical condition.
[Carlos]: I think it’s more than….Man, it’s not more than…I has to be more than 500 people, around there. Because there are just 9 people in this tiny town: no it can’t be, it can’t be. No, no, no.
[Luis]: One week after the hurricane, rumors started sprouting up about the airport. They said it was about to close, and once it closed there would be no way to leave Puerto Rico.
There was no power there either. Outgoing flights had been reduced to a minimum, but that didn’t stop the thousands and thousands of people who were showing up there every day from leaving for the U.S. Some of them were abandoning their cars in the airport parking lot. There was no need to say it: everyone knew that many of them were leaving Puerto Rico never to return.
Inside, at the terminals, the lines were full of elderly people in wheel chairs. Many of them had oxygen tanks. Children and the elderly were the first people to be evacuated from the island. It was an improvised effort to take the most vulnerable members of the family out of the situation.
It’s impossible to know how many people have left Puerto Rico since the hurricane, 100 thousand, 200 thousand…we won’t know for sure until the next census. I wouldn’t be surprised if it ends up being a lot more.
My wife and I also talked about leaving. It’s the same thing that was being talked about all over the island, a constant buzz of voices talking whether now was the time to leave. It’s a conversation brought about by fear, which sometimes turns to anger and always ends in sadness.
When we spoke for the first time, in the days after the hurricane, my wife Lucy wasn’t ready to think about leaving. This is how we remembered it about two weeks after the hurricane…
[Lucy]: I think the hurricane had just happened. I didn’t know how [laughs]. I thought: in a week the lights will turn back on and I’m going to be at the theater working. I’m not going to leave… I’m not going to abandon my island.
[Luis]: But things have changed. Two weeks after the hurricane the island was practically unrecognizable. Now it was a place that felt very unsafe. We were terrified at the idea of Jimena getting sick and having to take her to one of the run-down hospitals. That’s why this time Lucy was the one who brought up the conversation we didn’t want to have. Neither of us knew if the time had come to pack our bags for New York.
So, what did you want to talk to me about?
[Lucy]: Well, about what our options are because [laugh] I am still considering taking Jimena with me to go away, because I’m not doing anything.
[Luis]: And how does that make you feel?
[Lucy]: Ah, really bad. If I’m here without… I’m powerless. I didn’t think. The first day we were all clearing paths, moving sticks…and now we’re all at this point like: What are we going to do?
[Luis]: We still don’t know how to answer that question. I don’t think anyone knows what’s going to happen in Puerto Rico, what kind of country this is going to be.
That’s why everyone was asking if it’s better to stay or go. It was the same question I asked my dad, who’s 87. He’s Cuban and he had already had to live through a revolution that led him into exile. At his age, I’m worried he has to live through another chaotic moment. So I asked him:
And haven’t you thought about leaving Puerto Rico?
[Luis, father] No, for now, I’m not leaving. It doesn’t seem right in a situation like this. I’ve had some good times. Oh, since I have money I’m leaving in 2 weeks, and the rest que se chaven.
[Luis]: Que se chaven. In other words, screw ‘em.
[Luis, father] I’m going to wait. Now, if I get sick, then before I need to be hospitalized, yes, I…I would try to leave. Because they say that the hospitals are a mess too. Sot that’s it. We’re in this. And have you thought about going to New York or no?
[Luis]: I don’t know. I don’t know. Yes, we’ve thought about it. But I don’t know.
[Luis, father] I bring it up because of Jimena.
[Luis]: Yeah. I don’t know what we’re going to do.
[Luis]: It’s been 3 months since the hurricane. The recovery is barely moving forward. More than half of Puerto Ricans still don’t have electricity, and every day the lack of electricity is depressing an already agonizing economy.
My conversation with my dad was weeks ago at this point, but it feels like it was yesterday. I still don’t know what we’re going to do. No one knows –and that’s the real catastrophe.
[Daniel]: We’ll be back after the break.
Many of you have asked how you can support Radio Ambulante. There are a lot of ways. If you go to our web page —radioambulante.org — you can make a make a donation or buy t-shirts or tote bags. And for our listeners in the U.S., you should consider supporting your local public radio station. You can do that by going to donate.npr.org/radioambulante. Don’t forget to share your donation on social media with the hash tag #whypublicradio. Thank you.
We already mentioned the live show we presented in October of this year. Luis came to New York with his family. Honestly, it was incredible. Not just because of the atmosphere and the show, but also because we finally got to see Luis. We’ve worked together for years and it was hard not hearing from him for months after Maria.
One thing he told when he saw me left an impact on me. Apparently when they got to the apartment where they were staying in New York —while he and Lucy were getting settled in and unpacking their bags, etc.— they found their 4 year old daughter in the living room turning the lights on and off. Again and again, amazed.
We’re so accustomed —many, not all of us— to living plugged in. With all of the comforts and options for entertainment that that implies.
But then, how do you survive a 3 month black out? Do you get used to it?
[Mike Oliveros]: Good evening, everyone. Thanks for being here.
[Daniel]: This is comedian Mike Oliveros.
[Mike]: My lights turned on.
[Daniel]: It’s possible he explains it better than anyone.
What we’re going to listen to is a stand-up comedy act that Mike has been presenting in San Juan since November. Luis recorded it live a few weeks ago.
[Mike]: Having electricity is beautiful. For those of you who still don’t have it, it’s really great. I treasure it. I imagine that when people get married, you know, the priest is marrying the couple and he’s listing off all of the circumstances they have to stay by their spouse in. Til death do you part. I don’t know what he’s talking about. He says: “For richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health.” And I’m sure the priest didn’t have a Category 5 hurricane in mind.
At no point was he thinking of something that could test the love in a relationship as much as spending 2 months in an infrastructure without electricity with another human being.
I don’t even want to think about the number of couples that split up during this hurricane. I mean, I don’t even want to start imagining the figures. OK? I mean, I imagine that after so much time like that, stuck in the house, one with another, there comes a moment when one’s like: “You know what?, You know what?”… And you tell them things you’ve never told them. “I don’t love you! I don’t love you! I’ve wanted to tell you that for 10 years, dear. I’m getting out of this house.” “But where will you go?” “My grandma has lights! I’m going to my grandma’s.”
I got to know my partner very well during these two months without electricity. One of the things I learned is that I live with a pyromaniac. That woman isn’t capable of lighting one candle to light her way around the room. She would light every candle in the house. I came home one night and it was like I was walking into a temple. It was so solemn in that house I practically heard Gregorian chants walking into living room. I go in my house and it’s like [sings chant]: “Ah ah ah ah ah.”
The solemnity was so palpable I couldn’t even get up the nerve to yell at her. I was all soft-spoken like: “Dear, where are you?” [Sing chant]: “Ah ah ah ah ah ah ah.” “Love, are you there?” [Sing chant]: “Ah ah ah ah ah ah ah.” I thought I was going to go in one of those rooms and open one of those doors and find her with huge dagger killing a goat, like: “They told me it’s a ceremony for good luck. At least we’ll get electricity this week. Here, put some blood on your face. Sheep’s blood. Babe. Eat some of this kidney.” There were candles in just impossible to reach spots. Like I’m sure she had to get a chair or a ladder to put that damn candle up there. Every time we had to go to bed, to go to sleep, you’d have to blow out 177 candles. [Blows]
Sometimes I got so bored in my house I would stand in line. Stand in line just because. I didn’t need anything. Entertainment. Talking to people. I’m just going to stand in line. Sometimes I would go out in my car and see a line and I would stop and I would park, I would pull over, and get out to stand in line. I wouldn’t even know what the line was for. I would go up to the line and ask, “Hey man, what’s this line for?”, “Dry ice.” “Oh look, dry ice. Let’s get in line.” No one told me it cost like $15 dollars a pound.
We had a chance to get out during the hurricane, to have a little break, a nice break from the hurricane. We went to Chicago to do a show. [Applause] It was really cool. Mostly feeling the support, you know? The solidarity when we would tell people we were from Puerto Rico. I mean, you could be in the middle of anything and everyone would come by like: “Hey, where you guys from?” “Puerto Rico.” “Oh shit… Some real shit going on down there, boy. You guys all right? You need anything? You need money? You need anything?”
We’re in the Uber, listening to reggaeton. And it’s like: “Yeah, where are you guys from?” “Puerto Rico.” “Whoa! Hey, you know what guys? Ride’s on me.” Bam! And he turned off the app to give up a free ride. And then we start getting pumped, like: “Shit! Wherever we go we’re telling them we’re from Puerto Rico”.
We go to a bar: “Hey, where you guys from?” “Puerto Rico.” The guy looks us over. He gives a look. And then my friend says: “Hey, in 3 seconds some shots are going to come this way.” 3,2,1… “Hey guys, these shots are on me. You know guys, there’s so much going on down there in your island…” [Makes the sound of glasses clinking]
But it’s a hell of a thing, I mean, people who…who…who were here that whole time, I mean, they took it all in, they didn’t take a break…[Applause] I thought that leaving was going to be like “ah, now I’m reenergized, now I’m going back”. It was worse. Since I left, I forgot. I mean, I immediately forgot what was going on. I got back and it was like coming face-to-face with it all over again. Like: “What is this shit!?! It’s so fucking hot here, damn!” I started grabbing mosquitoes like this, pushing them out of my house, they were that big. “Come on, let’s go, get outta here! Get out, dammit! What is this shit? Jumanji!”
So I didn’t feel good leaving. I arrived…I arrived more pissed off than when I left. And I used to think I was a strong person. Strong of spirit and mind. Sturdy. I didn’t know I would completely unravel at an entirely unexpected moment. I was mopping my house, early in the morning. After getting up at my new time, which is 5:45 in the morning. And when I get up at 5:45 in the morning, I don’t get up like any other day like, “Ah, it’s 5:45 in the morning, let’s get this beautiful day started!” No. I went to sleep at 7 at night, when I was fed up with being awake. Fed up!
I self-induce sleepiness. I put myself to bed like you would a small child. “Go to sleep! Go to sleep! Go to sleep!” [snores]. And I wake up the way I normally wake up. This is normal now. I wake up in a panic [agitated breathing]. When I look at the clock, it’s 1:30 in the morning. Then I would wake up every 20 minutes after that. 12:30. 1 am; 1:15. My God. I was so desperate that I would go out on the balcony to cheer on the sun as it rose. “Come on! Come on! It’s 5:40! You can do it! Come on! A little beam! What’s the hold up?! That’s it. That’s it! You did it! Now let’s make some coffee!” Horrible desperation. The night is so long!
I got up in a good mood. I said: “I’m going to mop. I’m going to clean the house.” I mop. I’m cleaning when all of a sudden I hear my girlfriend step on an area I just mopped. I, honestly, to this day, can’t explain the fury, that negative emotion that was coursing throughout my body. I was taken over by the spirit of my mother. I was so offended. It was the most personal thing anyone had ever done to me in my life. “But you’re going to wa…” I couldn’t believe it. “This woman doesn’t love me! Who did I marry? What is this? How could you disrespect me like this?” I didn’t know. I was having a nervous breakdown.
At that moment, I knew I had to stop myself. This is going nowhere. We’re going to end up fighting at 5:30 in the morning. There’s a shitload of time left before it’s seven in the evening. But there was another voice, a much more powerful voice, telling me: “Fuck it!”
And I started to fight. I starting fighting about everything. Everything that had happened in Maria, Irma, before the year started. I started pulling out things I had in my head since I was a little boy. She didn’t understand what was going on. It’s like: “But how dare you walk over where I mopped!?! You hate me! What the hell! You can’t wait 5 minutes —5 minutes!— for it to dry?”
And she gives the worst possible answer: “I’ll mop it again.” “Oh no, we’ll be mopping all day…There’s no water! There’s no water! We can’t just spend all day mopping! You all come in here just after I mopped. You walk on the spot I just mopped!” And I kept going: “There’s no coffee. There’s nothing in this damn house! We’re living like animals!” She looks at me with a tenderness in her eyes and says: “Sweetie, is this about the hurricane?” “You know what? I’m going to go stand in line.”
I was going to go stand in a line at 5:30 in the morning. I was waiting for something to open so I could stand in line for something other than gas. I got in line at a supermarket. That was one of the most horrible experiences of the hurricane. Because while we were in line under the sun, for hours, people would come out of the store announcing what items they were out of. “They’re out of spam.” And then things started heating up. “What do you mean they’re out of spam?”. “Look man, they’re out of spam…” “If there’s no spam there’s no corned beef.” “Hey man, we’re screwed. Let’s get out of here. I’m telling you.” Another person comes out: “They’re out of water.” “They’re out of water!” and then the drama begins.
There were mothers explaining the situation to their children. “Papito, listen, we’re in line, and when we’re done with this line we’re going to another one, and do you know know what we’re doing after that?” “What mommy?” “Another line!”
All of sudden someone else comes out, “They’re out of Coke.” Listen, it was like the First of May all over again. People started taking off their shirts and wearing them like masks. Throwing molotovs: “What do you mean they’re out of Coke!?! What do you mean they’re out of Coke!?! What country are we living in!?! How can there not be any Coke! How will we eat!? What kind of shit country are we living in!?” We’ve been living in the same shit country for 500 years, this didn’t start because we ran out of Coke.
That’s all the time I have today. My name is Mike, I hope you enjoy the rest of the show…
[Daniel]: Mike Oliveros is the creative director at Teatro Breve. This monologue is part of a special show he’s been doing live with his group, which is called Teatro Breve DM –after María.
Three months after Hurricane Maria, the government of Puerto Rico still doesn’t know how many people are without electricity. By December 4th, the country was only producing 68% of the electricity it normally consumes.
Meanwhile, the massive emigration of Puerto Ricans to the United States continues. The Florida Division of Disaster Management estimates that more than 200 thousand Puerto Ricans have arrived in the state in the months following the hurricane.
Luis Trelles is a reporter and producer with Radio Ambulante. He lives in San Juan.
This story was edited by Camila Segura, Silvia Viñas and me. Mixing and sound design by Andrés Azpiri.
The rest of the Radio Ambulante team includes Jorge Caraballo, Patrick Moseley, Laura Pérez, Ana Prieto, Barbara Sawhill, Ryan Sweikert, David Trujillo and Elsa Liliana Ulloa. Andrea Betanzos is the programming coordinator. Carolina Guerrero is our CEO
With this episode we’re saying goodbye to our editorial intern Maytik Avirama, who is ending her editorial internship with Radio Ambulante. Thanks, Maytik. We wish you luck.
Radio Ambulante is produced and mixed on Hindenburg PRO.
A few episodes back we asked you to send us questions about your city or country. Questions that Radio Ambulante can help you answer. We made a preselection and now we want you to help us pick the winning questions. On our website there are 5 options. The winning question will become an episode we’ll produce in collaboration with the listener who sent it in. Vote until Friday, December 22, at radioambulante.org/pregunta
Learn more about Radio Ambulante and this story on our website: radioambulante.org. Be on the lookout… We’ll be back in a we weeks with new episodes starting January, 9th. Happy Holidays and Happy New Year from the whole team. Radio Ambulante tells the stories of Latin American
I’m Daniel Alarcón. Thanks for listening.