Lè bab kanmawad ou pwi difé, pwan glo epi oozay ca ou. Or, in other words, when your friend’s beard catches fire, take water and wet yours. It may be not be the most apparent, but the creole proverb simply means: if something unfortunate happens to someone nearby, do not laugh. Rather, help or be prepared, as it can happen to you too.
After enduring the life-threatening forces of category 5 Hurricane Maria, huddled in bathrooms, closets or wherever felt safest at the time, praying for safety despite the flaying roofs overhead, it was hard to believe that the worst still had not yet come.
Dominicans are hungry, tired, and thirstily withstanding the stint of no electricity or running water. Soon after winds ceased, stores were being stripped of whatever was left in the towns. There were reports of readily armed locals at ports and wharfs, all waiting to get the earliest declaration of incoming donations of food and clothing. A plague of looting has taken over the city and residents
keep safe by staying indoors, alerted by the sounds of warning gunshots on the outside. Others who have no choice but to go out in the debris-filled streets in search of a satellite phone, generator or some form of food, get their belongings whisked away by individuals breezing past on stolen motorbikes. And people are trading expensive valuables for food and water.
Foreigners, specifically students of the All Saints University (Dominica) and Ross University Medical School, further claimed lack of safety and that some of the “angry Dominicans” snatch their passports because, “They want us to stay there with them,” one disclosed to the STAR. But medical schools hosting foreigners are periodically evacuating their students from Dominica. On Sunday Jade Express was originally meant to transport 200 students to the isle of Saint Vincent but due to unbearable seasickness of many, an impromptu decision was made to dock on Saint Lucian shores temporarily. However, it seems that authorities were not adequately prepared to handle this, despite knowing that our sister island, Dominica, had recently been faced with catastrophe.
According to the Principal of Castries Comprehensive Secondary School (CCSS), Miss Marva Daniel, “They were supposed to stay in the school’s auditorium.” Classes were supposed to be held the following day (Monday) so the auditorium was not an ideal sleeping spot for 50+ people. So she and others given the responsibility challenged the original plan: “I thought to myself, ‘St. Lucia is not in a state of emergency; why do they have to be in a camping sort of environment? We can be more humanitarian than that.’” She continued, “So I called up my staff and administration and every single one responded positively, so we were able to put them in actual homes.”
By 3 a.m. Monday 25 September, staff and friends of St Mary’s College, CCSS, and the Pastoral Centre housed all 200 individuals safely and comfortably. “We took it upon ourselves to be humanitarians!” Daniel reiterated.
I had given up my bedroom to one Nigerian girl who was on her way back home and her stories resounded with my family. She and many others who she travelled with were distraught and traumatized from both Maria and their trip. They hadn’t eaten, drank or slept properly from the Monday before. They were in oblivion about what would happen next with their schooling. Many of them told the STAR that they would refrain from going back to Dominica simply because of the memory of Maria. But still, every one of those medical students sympathized with the Dominicans they left behind.
The medical students I met were so grateful for the kindness shown by Saint Lucians that they didn’t even want to leave when it was time. Miss Daniel also felt it was important to note that members of the public were immensely forthcoming to host people that they did not know. Recently, our leaders have been reciting that the Caribbean is “resilient” in light of the natural disasters occurring and, just as Hermangild Francis noted in a pre-cabinet meeting this week, “All I can tell you is that Dominica is devastated and we, as Saint Lucians, as much help as we can give, we are supposed to give that help.”
We must be prepared to assist those whose beards are lit.