Officially, our crew was there to learn lessons from Hurricane Maria to bring back to Oahu and inform our own recovery and resiliency strategies. Truthfully, I think I was in Puerto Rico looking for some sort of post-Maria zeitgeist. Some understanding of the remaining spirit of the people and communities on the island. A series of conversations, perhaps, or some experience that would trigger a visceral connection to what happened in September of last year. What could easily happen to Oahu or any other island community.
My eyes locked with the sun-bleached doll. Half of its body dangled from the rust encrusted roof of the long-abandoned car, just a stone's throw away from the coast. It was impossible to look away. The child's gaze burned into my mind with the intensity of the high-noon tropical sun. I have developed an obsession with this stoic doll, looking back at the photo countless times since my return to Honolulu. Each time, it tells me a new story. Abandonment. Isolation. Anger. Power. Hope. Determination. Resilience. Rebirth.
We asked how people knew when their community had recovered. For some it was when the lights came back on. For others, it was when music filled the streets.
People rebuild cities. Cities don't rebuild people. If we want to be truly resilient, we have to empower individuals and communities. Give them the knowledge, tools, and skills to take care of themselves even when the city streets go dark and the communication lines are silent.