September - December, 2005
It was no tsunami. Only thirty-six people died. But the overwhelming sense of helplessness in the face of the raging elements, the bewilderment, the loss, the pain, were just as distressing.
Hurricane Ivan's rampage in Grenada. I have been fortunate enough to know it only from the distance of time. Three months after it blasted the island. And time does heal. Or maybe blunt the rawness of open wounds. Now the torn countryside is covered by a scab—a thick green one. But underneath, the decay, the rotting, the decomposition, go silently on.
The villagers describe the hurricane as a 'beast'.
As I trace my old haunts up the steep ridges surrounding my native village in the interior of the island, I am accosted by the evidence of Ivan's ferocious power all around me. The now green hillside is still littered with brown corpses of fallen nutmeg trees, their black upturned roots bleak and grim, looking up into an indifferent blue sky; beneath the brow of the ridges, stripped tree-trunks stand starkly white against a dark vine covered background, and the straggly growth on the crests testify to the newness of the foliage. It seems as if nature, ashamed of the broken nakedness of the landscape, is hurrying up to cover the devastation with a mantle of lush greenness. Hiding the tangled mass of stricken trees.
The villagers describe the hurricane as a beast. They tell me how they heard it roaring and bellowing as it came, crushing and tearing, lifting roofs and sending galvanized sheets hurtling like leaves into the air; how they ran from one battered house to another, as windows and walls came toppling down, only to be picked up again and tossed around like dried straw. How the world around them seemed to spin and swirl in a strange afternoon glare. For hours the beast raged, they said. It shrieked and screamed and crashed as they prayed. In the words of one little three-year old girl, 'when the big wind take the house top, me mother bawl out, “God help us!”'
Now that the memory of that terrible visitation is quietly etching itself into the history of the island, the clean-up has begun. The clearing, the rebuilding, the replanting are well under way. People are getting impatient to have their basic services—telephone, electricity—re-installed. They want to put their lives back together again.
Not far from me there is a broken tree with something pink stuck in the outspread prongs of its branches.
As I thread my way one rainy morning among the sharp loose stones that litter the road leading up the steep mountain ridges, I hear the chopping of axes, the whining of chain-saws, the swooshing of cutlasses in the now thick vines that cover the landscape. On both sides of the road, the broken trunks of trees stand dripping desolately beneath low dark clouds. From my elevated position, I can see way out into the horizon—a watery blue of sea, dark outlines of peaks of neighbouring islands, decapitated houses on the slopes of the lower ridges. As if someone opened a window, letting a flow of light through, where previously, only needles of sunlight could pierce the dense foliage.
Not far from me there is a broken tree with something pink stuck in the outspread prongs of its branches. I am curious. Is some wayward plant trying to find a niche in this new environment? Carefully, I climb up the bank, and make my way through the dead brambles on the ground, trying to maintain a foothold in the treacherous vine-covered labyrinth. As I approach the tree, I see what I think looks like little legs and arms sticking out from the forks of the brittle twigs. My heart misses a beat. A baby stuck on a tree? I move closer.
No, only a child's rubber doll. Lonely and
dirty and lost. How did it get there? I can only guess. One of
Ivan's cruel jokes. Smashing and tearing into the houses down in
the valley, heaving their contents into the swirling air, this
little doll must have been blown way up into the billowing wind.
It could have landed somewhere in the hills, and remained buried
for weeks in the mud and the fallen trees, mourned by some
little girl. A worker clearing the area must have found it, and
placed it gently up in the tree, a grim reminder of that mad
encounter with the beast.
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