It feels sort of like an entire island is suffering from the Stockholm Syndrome. OK—cancel that, maybe it’s just that everybody is too stunned to react.
Take yesterday, for example: a weak tropical wave passed over the island. So there were periodic blasts of lightening, a few showers, and…
…the light went out.
Not for me, thank God, but for my neighbor, and for the café, and for the pharmacy. In fact, half of Old San Juan had no electricity.
“It was a transformer on San Francisco Street,” said Taí, and maybe it was. So that makes sense, right? Obviously, if a transformer blows, well, you should expect to be without electricity for most of the day—anybody can see that!
But wait—it was just a tropical wave. It wasn’t even a storm, much less a hurricane! So what happened?
The morning paper has the answer: today, the cost of electricity is going up, and power outages have increased by 449% over the last three years. In fact, the average customer is without power for an hour every month.
Lady comes by, and put a more human and terrifying spin on the thing.
“I was talking to an electrician,” she said, “and he told me: imagine a giant spider web covering the island.”
“OK—that’s what we should have. But what do we have? Just a single thread. So if a major hurricane hits, Old San Juan will be 4 or 5 months without electricity….”
That’s how fragile the system is….
It’s just one thing of many to worry about, since it now appears that the president has addressed the entire island, and told us that we need to take Zika seriously. So I decide to go back to Lady, and inquire….
“Of course I’m not wearing insect repellent,” said Lady. “I’m not going to get pregnant, so who cares?”
“Well, Barack Obama….”
“There goes our high season,” said Lady. “Do you know, they cancelled an entire convention? I had an order for 130 casitas and now, poof! It’s gone! That was our mortgage payment!”
“Well,” said Jack, “I think this has something to do with the fiscal control board…”
He’s gringo, but he’s picked up the island knack for paranoia.
Or is it paranoia? Because the news is unremittingly bad. Last week, for example, we had to worry about the doctor situation, since we’re losing a doctor a day—and remember, this is a small island. OK—that’s bad, but more worrisome are the doctors who are leaving, since many of them are specialists.
So now the president wants us to wear insect repellent, but it has to be said: why? I know—do it for other people, if not for yourself. Unfortunately, this hits us in our weakest spot, since Puerto Ricans will do anything for their friends. We do friendship great down here.
What don’t we do?
Curiously, we have a word for it, this thing that tends to go by the wayside. It’s called el prójimo and it means the person you don’t know, but have an obligation to. So that means that you don’t park in handicapped parking if you’re hale, you don’t litter the beach that someone will visit after you’re gone, you take off the door of the refrigerator because while no one has a child, well, suppose someone did?
So am I wearing insect repellent?
Of course not. Because there is a little secret that nobody wants to talk about: I can drain flower pots, dispose of tires properly, and do absolutely everything that the president wants me to do. But what am I supposed to do about my roof, which like every other roof in Puerto Rico is flat?
“That’s one problem,” said my friend Manolo. “But what are you going to do about all the swimming pools in abandoned properties?”
Yes, it appears that people are abandoning properties: packing up their stuff, locking the door, and moving away.
How bad is the problem? Who knows, since there’s no register for such things, but here’s El Nuevo Día on the subject:
“Las casas abandonadas van en aumento en Puerto Rico. Es como una enfermedad, un cáncer dentro de la comunidad”, expresó Rolando Ortiz, alcalde de Cayey y presidentede la Asociación de Alcaldes.
So the abandoned houses, says the president of the mayors’ association, are a disease, a cancer in the communities. And now, they are perfect breeding grounds for mosquitoes.
Of course, it doesn’t have to be that way: Cuba, every bit as tropical as we, in late June reported that they had had no Zika cases since March. So what have they done? All the sensible things: screening people from Zika-infected areas at the airport, organizing neighborhood groups to go house by house to eliminate breeding grounds, fumigation where necessary. Oh, and they also got the military out to help as well.
We, on the other hand, have over 7,000 cases, and 788 pregnant women who have been infected with the disease. Oh—and 80% of the island is Catholic, and what are we getting told? Put off having children until we get the situation under control. So that spurred New York City to send one million condoms to the island in early May. So then we got a little fight between the health department—which had received the condoms—and the Archbishop of San Juan, who has, in fact, a sure-fire solution to the problem!
So that’s a problem, since I live just a few blocks from the archbishop, and it really that somebody should tell him: if we can’t do anything about flat roof and abandoned houses and swimming pools….
…do we really have a shot at abstinence?