News reports of Hurricane Irma’s Caribbean exploits often construct a familiar 'paradise lost' narrative frame. But excuse me, what paradise? As if Caribbean societies were not already struggling with deep-rooted issues stemming from colonial histories, systemic economic exploitation, structural social constraint and deliberate infrastructural under-development. Over centuries.
Too often, tallying Irma’s devastation, reporters chalk it up as the loss of so many romantic getaway destinations. GETAWAY? Hello? What about the people who live there? It feels like Caribbean PEOPLE remain invisible in these narrative constructs.
I mean, is the destruction of a historic Cuban building, or a famous Sint Maarten airport, or a some remote white-sand beach really more important than the suffering of the ordinary Caribbean people left to live out countless days in uninhabitable neighbourhoods without power, food and water? What is the actual story that we need to be telling here?
I won’t say anything about the stranded pets. These are domesticated animals left on-island after their owners were rescued from the 'nightmare'. Pets I like, people I prefer. What about the people ‘left behind’, many braving the tough road to recovery in forced silence, overlooked by lenses that pan reflexively to forsaken Yorkshire terriers? Or incoming metropolitan rulers?
I reject both constructs—paradise and nightmare—as false. Hurricanes happen. We are ordinary people with ordinary problems. And we have extraordinary stories to tell.
We just happen to live in the Caribbean.