PUERTO RICO RISES
Three Generations of Women on Life Beyond Maria
MARCH 3, 2018
“I have four children. Three girls, one boy. They had their moments, but they’re all intelligent. My son and his cousin did break the front door once,” Teresa laughs, “but they were all good kids.”
She now has 10 nietos, grandchildren, and helps Luisa, who lives mere feet away. Her mother may be 87 years old, but Luisa rules the property. Her slow gate is aided by a walker and a resounding voice, both teasing and reprimanding anyone in her path. She leans over the balcony to scold a volunteer for continuing work instead of eating the traditional Puerto Rican lunch and sweet coffee she prepared for the team.
Teresa and Luisa are usually accompanied by Joleska, Teresa’s granddaughter, who’s been living with her since the storm as she goes to school for nursing. She’ll finish school this spring. Joleska is soft spoken with the same sharp commentary as her grandmother. She laughs quietly in the background as Teresa teases the volunteers. “The women work harder than the men,” she whispers to Team Leader Ashley, stifling a laugh before calling to the rest of the volunteers. “Careful on the roof. Don’t fall. I don’t have insurance,” she jokes.
The three women spoke at different times about Hurricane Maria, but the message was the same: Maria was not kind. “She was a beast,” Luisa said simply, shuffling from the porch to her living room to rest. Joleska couldn’t describe it. “I don’t have words for it. It wasn’t real.” Teresa, her husband and her mother took shelter in her basement for nearly 20 hours during the storm, hearing howls and crashes outside as Maria wreaked havoc on Puerto Rico. By the end of it, ninety percent of her roof had either flown off or was broken by the winds and heavy rains.
It’s this attitude that has driven the people of Puerto Rico past the tragedy of Maria. Teresa, like so many of her fellow homeowners, is determined not only to live authentically in the wake of the most devastating natural disaster in recent Puerto Rican history—she is also determined to remind others that there’s more life to her home than what Maria destroyed.
She and Joleska spend time showing the volunteers old photographs, teaching them about their small potted garden and counting baby chicks that follow her hens around the yard. Though much of her home is shrouded in blue tarps to prevent more water damage, she happily lifts them to show her stove and cabinets, the clothes in her closet and the heirloom chairs sitting in the front entrance.
Puerto Rico Se Levanta is posted on every wall, window, and boarded up door in Puerto Rico. “Puerto Rico Rises.” This is a common phrase amongst the people, and not one untrue. The Beinta’s laughter, their easy friendship with the volunteers and their continued life after what some would call “a nightmare” is a true testament to the nature of Puerto Rico.
Story & Photo Credit: Hannah Farajpanahi for All Hands and Hearts