Dorian: one year on

Dear Editor,

As I ran this morning, the new coronavirus lockdowns and the slow opening of life meant that people were unusually packed on a usually popular morning soakers’ beach as children and older folks muddled through their morning rituals, completely out of place and time with each other. This, I thought, is what happens when you squash people into an unreasonable two hours of beach time — 7 a.m. to 9a.m.

Most people will not hit the water when the sky is still dark. They know the beasties come out at dusk and dawn.

The intention may have been good, but the unthought-through impact was completely different from anything anyone could possibly want.

Much like the failure of all aspects of government and its agencies after Hurricane Dorian, this shows how far the country has (not) come.

As my run ended, I encountered a large agitated group of Chinese laborers marching east along East Bay Street, as Chinese people can do. They had had enough. Yet no Bahamians marched!

Bahamians don’t protest, we are told.

Yet, one year after Dorian, people vex! Fed up. Boiling over. Protests are online.

Government constantly muddies the waters with intentional misinformation and long-winded reasons for why things are not what they need to be, and how hard they are working.

One bank cannot meet the needs of its clients and is silent about how it leaves elderly people standing out in the heat, little shade, for hours. Government, too, dysfunctions.

After Dorian left Abaco, government was gone from the scene.

Many voices will come out and defend the government’s actions or inaction, but the fact remains that they were largely gone.

Private players were imported to protect life and limb in a kind of wild, wild west Bahamas style, where culprits and law officers are the same people; they don’t even bother to change their clothes.

(Yet, there are good people on all sides).

In a country where many people earn $210 a week, $840 a month; where inequality is the second highest in the region; where rent is around $800 a month; where milk costs $8 a gallon and more on Family Islands; where gas can be as much as $7 a gallon, we are told that we are irresponsible when we are unable to pay our insurance premiums.

The land grab is on: it’s just being conducted more quietly now.

Sure, there are big players coming online and trying to openly grab land; there are more who are trying to quiet land; and there are those who are offering to help people out in their hour of need.

Poor families are being ‘encouraged’ to sell through slow violence. “You know you can’t afford to rebuild, just sell it to me and I will build something worthwhile.”

The price being offered does not match the real value, but in a world where spatial and environmental injustice and slow violence through structural and cultural violence and inequality are real, there is little hope that working-class, Black bodies will be treated equally. This is reminiscent of the oil spill in Marathon, where families were told nothing about the poison seeping through their yards, until it was leaked.

This is slow violence. Slow violence is the buildup of levels of contamination that kill over time.

Nothing dramatic! Nothing spectacular!

Dorian’s violence was spectacular! Now, the aftermath is just slow, steady violence.

The way the government has ignored many people, if not most people, on Abaco and in East End, Grand Bahama, is violence, slow and steady.

Support has been poor.

When people had to pay for their own evacuation, nothing was said. This is the structural violence that has been brought to light under this government.

Why expect anything different!?

One year on from Dorian, we now have COVID-19. The $300 test one is required to take and usually pay for oneself, has to come out of that $840 a month.

These are interesting demands that are silently put on the same people government claims to be helping heal after Dorian’s violence.

When our family woke up this morning, Dorian was on our minds.

Exactly one year ago today (September 1, 2019), we were on WhatsApp calls, text chats, Facebook and Snapchat messages as people said who they had lost as Dorian sat on top of them.

People (victims) were torn from their loved ones’ hands, arms, embraces, yet their numbers cannot be determined. It pains that they are gone. But what stings is the attitude that clouds their loss.

Did they exist?

The waters have been sufficiently muddied by the state media machine to render everything unclear.

Meanwhile, the pain of trauma and grief do not go away overnight. They do not go away in a year; even for those who were not there in body, their souls have been wracked with the pain of loss and the nightmares of drowning where land once was.

Today, one year after Dorian, this horror is less of a news story because we realize the media is missing much of what is afoot under the covers of corruption and government failure.

This is about the pain, about much work that has been done by people, perhaps not those whose time it is, not government.

The state has failed.

Dorian revealed the need for a serious and robust plan; today, one year later, that plan remains largely unwritten.

What is worse, the public remains largely ignorant of any plan. Government and its agencies continue to talk, talk, talk about what they have done, are doing and  will do.

Actions are more important than words.

As old folks say, the fishmonger will never say his fish stinks.

One year after Dorian, the pain is real. And so is the stink.

The anger is “surface” deep and hitting bone. The trauma is off the scale.

And yet, we can probably count on one hand how many times this crew has talked about climate change, climate preparedness, environmental disaster.

We know that they are stuck between Dorian and pandemic, but acknowledge that the people are really the ones who are doing the work.

Aid programs are all held in trust by the powerful as government swans around. There are some who work, but given the overwhelming dysfunction and failure of many, their actions are all but obliterated.

Lack of preparedness has pushed away much assistance. The pandemic lost other support.

Where do we go from here as government claims all victories, and ignores all their failures?

The slow violence of death after natural disasters like Dorian, the consequences of environmental hazards and coverups, the massive impact of depression and other mental illnesses due to untreated trauma (be it man-made trauma from situations like rape, torture or hostage-taking after the storm), speak to a plain and simple lack of humanity shown to people by essential workers, be they police or social service workers.

One year after Dorian, we are in pain! Yet, we remain determined to survive, not because of government’s help; rather, because of its deep and wide-reaching failure.

When banks hold on to people’s rebuild money, and government says nothing, something stinks.

We hear demands from Lebanese people in Beirut, a month after the explosion that destroyed their port as they demonstrate against endemic corruption; we hear and see protests in Mauritius because of the government’s poor response to an oil tanker running aground and destroying the reef with its thick, toxic cargo.

Somehow many of us Bahamians see all of this slow violence as outside of the Bahamian Dorian situation.

One year on, the pain is real. And where is the government? They are waving fingers. We must behave better, be more responsible.

When the $840 many people earn is gone without them even buying food, we, the people, are scolded to pay for insurance because it can earn someone money.

Pain is real! Pain is raw! Pain is traumatic! Just like in Beirut, Mauritius and other places far from and near to here that suffer from similar engineered plights arising out of natural disasters handled badly. The people are pulling it together with their brawn.

— Dr. Ian A. Bethell-Bennett 

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