Two years ago, I wrote an article on the impact of Hurricane Irma on the loss of cultural material and the devastation of the landscape, lamenting the single death we sustained here, how we “lost two cultures that day”. I spoke about how many of us, in light of the nature of our dotted, disparate geography, felt the smallest sigh of relief that the more inhabited islands of New Providence and Grand Bahama were not hit, though it did little to soothe the loss of life and property in the southern Bahamas.
This year, I write about another Category 5 storm. This year, I write about such heart-piercing loss of life that it’s hard to contemplate how much material loss there is. This year, I write about what happened to one of those “more inhabited” islands, the island I have called home for most of my life, and how the culture and people I grew up with in Grand Bahama are underwater, and Abaco all but washed away.
There was a sad irony in 2017 hearing about Ragged Island, the name feeling like the sting of some poorly-made cosmic joke in looking at the devastation they have had to, and continue to, endure. Inagua was left without its one school. That pair of islands in the southern part of our archipelago have a population who are still largely displaced, and largely left without hope of rebuilding – despite the stories of how Ragged Island could have been The Bahamas’ first “green island”. Another sad irony there, because in my experience growing up in one of the hardest-hit islands in the hurricane belt, storms turn everything that once thought of being green, into a salty and unbearable brown.
Words, at times like this, feel clumsy for some, forced, or lacking the eloquence to do the horrors and pains of situations like ours justice. Sometimes, for some of us anyway, visualizations help us to parse through the muddled and complicated feelings – feelings of being so grateful for life whilst simultaneously utterly devastated at the loss of your home and livelihood. Artwork is part of our cultural material; when all else gets lost it is what endures and gives context to civilizations long gone, and it is what the culture survives on in so many ways. It also has a knack of gaining meaning as time goes on, through the ever-shifting tide of events and social contexts and changing histories.
What has happened to us on September 1, 2019 is a moment in Bahamian history, Caribbean history and world history, that will forever change the way we look at our lives and our place within it. Maybe, in the middle of such undeniable loss and despair, we can use this opportunity to try and make change for the better, because we can truly never go back to what was before, in more ways than one. After the time of mourning,