By Kajal Desai
When asked if I would be open to providing some reflection on the devastation of Hurricane Harvey, I responded with an emotional “yes.” In that moment, over a week ago, I felt equipped to talk about my personal fears and anxieties and what I had seen online and heard through friends. But in the days that have passed, the guilt set in – I was safe, I was dry, my home was fine. Am I really the right person to share this story? However, as I sit here rewriting to include recent experiences, I’m reminded that all stories are worth sharing. If I can at least paint somewhat of a picture of what I’ve seen, it could help. Please do keep in mind that I am one of the fortunate ones and I know that.
I will not pretend that I experienced first-hand trauma and I encourage you to reach out to those who have.
You see, though I’m a resident of Houston, I happened to be in Florida on a family vacation and wasn’t here to experience much of the fear that others faced. There was of course fear and worry about our home and/or cars flooding and concern for all of our loved ones. What was to be a vacation quickly turned into 3 days of staring at the tv, my phone and computer, listening to the news and checking texts and Facebook posts from everyone I know. The water on my street was rising quickly and I had wonderful neighbors giving reports as best they could. I definitely didn’t sleep as I worried about my own home flooding and started hearing about evacuations. Sunday night was the worst because much of my neighborhood truly feared that the water would come in that night. I maybe slept 4 hours and I wasn’t even here – I have no idea how the people that were here got any rest at all.
Once reports of devastation started surfacing, I cried. A lot. Cried for people I know, cried for people I didn’t know, cried for the city as a whole. After living here for 3.5 years, I knew that Houston was starting to feel like home, and my reaction to what I was seeing there proved that I had become a true Houstonian. I wanted to be there even if it meant that we could be unsafe. My husband, whose roots run deeply in this city, and I both yearned to be back with our Houston family.
Once the storm passed, it still took days to return. With the airports not even opening up until Thursday, 8/31, our plan to come home on the 29th was impossible. We finally made it back on Saturday, 9/2. I felt so useless sitting so far away when we could be here helping, but reminded myself countless numbers of times that recovery is a LONG road. I knew there would be plenty of help to be given and that it’s important for all of us to seek out the need as time passes.
Houston is special..and Harvey has brought that to light. When you think about cities like New York or Los Angeles, you don’t question the diverse make-up and/or cultural awareness. But no one really associates that same diversity with Houston – most likely because of the general perception of Texas.
Recent articles have noted Houston as the most diverse city in America (to many people’s surprise), and what makes it so special is that it was allowed to grow into that title. It’s happened over time. There’s no one race that is a majority here. That’s amazing. And it hasn’t been that way for years so it’s actually been noticed and accepted along the way.
We went out to do some demo and clean out at a friend’s house. As we approached the neighbourhood, my jaw dropped and the rows and rows of volunteers’ cars lined up. There were 100s of volunteers from different church, school, and neighbourhood groups helping out wherever they saw the need. Complete strangers lending a hand, offering advice, food, supplies, and hugs, and sweating in the Houston heat without complaint. The assistance people have provided crosses all lines – racial, political, religious, socioeconomic. There have been no boundaries. Every community, including the South Asian community in Houston, has been extremely open and helpful — restaurants offering food to shelters and displaced residents, area doctors have offered e-medical consults, real estate and insurance agents have spread information on next steps to name a few.
Friends with boats and big trucks were out driving into neighbourhoods rescuing people from their homes as water creeped higher, friends immediately set up donation pages to collect money to buy supplies and deliver them to shelters around town, other friends have housed up to 20 people in their homes, and still others have taken gloves, cleaning supplies and tools to start gutting homes. Seeing South Asians support each other is of course inspiring and important, but seeing people helping people in general is what’s most beautiful.
There are times that can bring out the worst in us as humans, and we have seen an unfortunate amount of that this year. But, I will say, Hurricane Harvey brought out the best in our people. One of the best things I witnessed was prayers being exchanged between a Christian volunteer group and the Hindu owner of a house. All heads were bowed, all eyes were closed and all you could feel was genuine love and support.
The prayer ended with a resounding Amen and a huge hug between homeowner and the church leader. THIS is what we should be seeing every day. Houstonians have shown their true, beautiful colours and helped each other with full hearts. The people of Houston have reminded the country what it means to be human.
The road to recovery here is going to be long. Again, I know I am fortunate and I can’t give you the story of grief. I can tell you that I see a lot of hope. Things can and will only get better from here and here’s how you can help:
- At this time, cash is best instead of sending items and goods. Do your research! Here are some places to donate: www.nytimes.com/2017/08/28/us/donate-harvey-charities-scams.html?mcubz=0
- As I said above, check in again in a few weeks – donate again or get in touch with someone you know in Houston. If you live in the area, find volunteer opportunities later as well as now. It’s already going to be tough once people are back at work and in the swing of things. We all have to continue to do what we can.
Don’t let the strength, honor, love, and camaraderie Houstonians have shown this week just pass —let this be a reminder of what we need to carry forward daily.
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