By Donor Development Officer and Disaster Services Volunteer, Selina Vazquez
I had just received the call I had been waiting for, hoping for, ever since Maria made landfall a week before. My grandmother, who lives near Ponce, Puerto Rico, was okay. Their phone wasn’t working and the lack of power was annoying; but, they had plenty of food and water so we were not to worry. The call was good news, and yet, as soon as my mom said the words I started crying, balling really. I ran from friend to friend sharing the news, sobbing all the way and I couldn’t figure out why. I was one-week into my deployment to Beaumont, TX and it was as if every emotion I hadn’t let myself feel since arriving came crashing in at once. Person after person hugged me, some even joining me in tears as they shared my joy and relief at the news that my grandmother was okay. They told me they had been hoping and praying for her, that they had been up worrying the night before. They seemed as relieved as I was, and yet, I had only known these people for a matter of days.
People who have deployed often talk about the great people they meet on deployment, about the bonds that form. But, it wasn’t until that moment that I realized just how deep these bonds could be. From the day I arrived in Texas it had felt as if I was living in an alternate reality from my loved ones back home. And, while they were eager to hear about my experiences, for me, it felt too big to talk about. I didn’t think words could possibly explain it in a way that would fully encapsulate the reality of life in Beaumont— for us as volunteers and for the residents whose lives were forever changed by Hurricane Harvey.
The joy I felt seeing a woman who had visited my food truck the last three days smile for the first time, the anxiety I felt when a regular client missed a meal: these were things that my ERV partner was there feeling right along with me. The hilarity of the utter chaos, albeit momentary, that a simple garden snake could cause by sneaking into the staff shelter was refreshing, even if only funny to those who saw or could picture the very people who scrambled away. Perhaps it was less an alternate reality and more a secret world that only those who were there with me could see and understand. Regardless, I now know that those of us who were there will be forever connected.
I’ve been back in Los Angeles about three weeks, and my comrades from Beaumont are still checking in to see how my grandmother in Puerto Rico is doing. Fortunately, while she still has no power or cell service, she has plenty of food and water and is already beginning to replant some of the fruit and vegetable trees she lost to Hurricane Maria.