Ten months after one of the most powerful storms of the century hit the Caribbean islands, I’m on a flight to one of them. I’m headed to St. Thomas, in the U.S. Virgin Islands, and it’s jammed full. I look around to see a plane packed with tourist attire, wide-brimmed sun hats and neon-colored cover-ups. These are people happily going on a vacation. Maybe that’s a good sign?
At this point, I don’t know what to expect. The last time I went to a place post-natural disaster was New York City, just a few days after Hurricane Sandy. I volunteered to cook for relief workers in the Rockaways. That situation was so much more precarious than anyone could imagine. I ended up getting stuck there. It wasn’t ideal, but those were days I will never forget — days where I was shaken awake. An era of my life when I became more aware of my own humanity, and everyone else’s. It didn’t matter that my trip was longer than expected or that I had to put other things in my life on hold because of it. Sometimes you just need to stop whatever it is you are doing and put other people first.
As I land in St Thomas, I look out my window. The islands look like perfect green dots on a turquoise canvas. We get closer and I see the beaches have been cleared from debris, leaves are growing back on trees and houses have roofs; some temporary, others brand new. It’s a place in the midst of healing and it’s beautiful.