The Puerto Rican term babote defines the dirty, smelly, slimy residue left after a flood. It’s hard to clean up. It clings to everything and leaves marks showing how high the water rose.
I had the privilege recently of visiting with some beautiful women in Puerto Rico at the Caribbean Synodical Women’s Organization (CSWO) as a representative of the Women of the ELCA. I was there about nine months after Hurricane Maria devastated the region in late 2017.
Abandoned and unrepairable
Every fifth home we saw was abandoned and unrepairable. Downed trees and debris filled gated courtyards. Neighbors gutted the deserted domiciles to get rid of mold and prevent rodents.
We learned from our sisters in the Caribbean SWO thousands of Puerto Ricans fled to the states following the hurricane for access to reliable food and water and employment. Many of them are middle class with children, people who could not keep waiting for necessities, like electricity and income. Many of those who stayed are still without power, stable employment and adequate schooling.
Robbed of normalcy
We cried with several women who shared how their lives have been robbed of normalcy.
Babote covers their souls. You can see the apprehension in their eyes. They might no longer be wading through muddy waters and weaving through abandoned vehicles or gathering and distributing water and food every two days to their less-able neighbors. They might not still be watching people they love die because they can’t get essential services.
But they remain in survival mode. They are hurting. They are just starting to put their lives back together. If they’re lucky and have funding, they might be able to get a contractor to fix their roof. If not, they have to wait and pray another storm doesn’t shred their temporary, blue-tarp roof.
Hurricane Maria has stolen their comfort and certainty. Residents are taking care of extended families, working extra hours, grieving their losses and just trying to get through each day.
The women I talked to while in Puerto Rico share how their hearts race and their hands shake when they hear the weather reporting tropical storms in the area. They say they have difficulty sleeping at night when they hear the wind blow.
Hungry to talk about the horror
They need to heal. The babote covers their lives; it shows the damage. These women are hungry to tell their stories and to get the horror they feel off their chests.
In April, the executive board of Women of the ELCA voted to extend “a time of grace” to the Caribbean Synodical Women’s Organization (CSWO) as it recovers from the 2017 hurricane season. The grace period relieves CSWO of its responsibilities and gives the churchwide organization leadership until the grace period ends. Along with our good wishes and emotional support, the executive board took up an offering and gave $800 of it to Lutheran Disaster Response to be designated for relief in the Caribbean Synod.
Please pray for healing for the Puerto Rican people. Pray for compassion and grace, rebirth and energy.
The country’s mantra is “We will rise again.” And they will, even as they remain humble.
Sara Larson, a member of First Lutheran Church, Marshall, Minn., is serving her first term on the Women of the ELCA executive board. Feature photo by Kristina Diaz Rivera. From left, Jen DeLeon, Women of the ELCA’s director for justice, Maribel Lorenza of Iglesia Evangélica Luterana Getsemaní, Sara Larson, executive board member, and Pastor Alicia Centeno Carazo.