Sweating in the dark, charging in the car

Why my first-world problems pale in comparison to the issues of others

 My father woke up at about 12:30 a.m. on Sunday, July 26, 2020, to the taptaptaptap sound of rain dripping through a crack in the ceiling of my family’s computer room.

He and my mother rose out of bed to find a breach of water visible in the ceiling, pooling behind popcorn paint. The white pimple, about the size of a ripe watermelon, threatened to burst from above and drench our desktop and printer.

Progress Times Reporter Jamie Treviño

Hurricane Hanna managed to do what no other tropical depression or Category Three hurricane had ever accomplished – she seeped into our home. My mother was afraid the pimply breach would explode, but then a stream slowly poured out from its center, turning the taptaptaptap drips to a haunting tsssssss.

My parents had already gone to work at removing wires and important documents from the desk, replacing them with bowls to catch the water. The desktop appears to have been saved – but the same could not be said for the printer/scanner, which has proved vital for our household of educators, writers and students over the years.

Mom went to the laundry room – the only space in the house where the door outside doesn’t quite line up with the frame. There, she was met with our home’s first (and, thankfully, only) small flood.

A sizable puddle covered the entire span of the laundry room floor – and there went our washer and dryer units. Using every beach and pool towel we had, as well as several others from the closet, they covered the floor, praying no more water would enter the premises uninvited.

Our power had already gone out hours before at 9:30 p.m. the night Hanna hit – Saturday, June 25. We had hoped that issue would be resolved by Sunday afternoon.

As of Tuesday, the Magic Valley Electric Corporation had restored 74,000 people’s power. My family was part of the 10,000 still without power by that point, and even after several calls, messages and online reports, our street was never marked on their map of outages.

The food in our refrigerator was spoiled after a few hours – and our freezer after two days. My father emptied the fridge, and my siblings and I took photos of the empty food vessel. It has never been so bare.

Reflexes like reaching for the light switch when going to the bathroom are useless – even still, I try to flick them on when I walk in, a muscle memory that cannot be curbed.

I write all this not as a means for gaining sympathy, but as a way of highlighting just how privileged and fortunate we still are. We sweat in the darkness of our home, we charge our phones in our vehicles, while other families have been displaced entirely, their livelihoods ravaged by outdated drainage systems unequipped to handle a Category One hurricane. To be honest, I don’t know if Hidalgo County’s infrastructure ever fully recovered from the flooding of June 2018.

A fallen tree blocks my siblings’ vehicles from exiting the carport behind the house – just a few more feet and the cars may not have survived Hurricane Hanna at all. Progress Times photo by Jamie Treviño.

In the midst of a pandemic whole families were saved by diligent first responders, taken away from their homes, clinging to each other beneath towels as they sat in the beds of pickup trucks carrying them to the nearest shelter, where they were required to remain socially distant from others and wear masks. It’s stressful, having to navigate both a hurricane and pandemic at the same time – especially when the one safe space they had to be mask-free is lost.

Our food is gone, but my family is affluent enough to fill our fridge again. Our washer and dryer is out, but my parents have savings and decent enough jobs that they can afford to replace them.

The only debate my parents have really had to contemplate is whether to file a claim with our insurance provider for the ruined roof – our deductible is high enough as it is, and filing a claim may be even more expensive than biting the bullet and fixing it out-of-pocket.

Even still, not only are residents in the Rio Grande Valley struggling, but impoverished, underprivileged people all over the world face challenges I, we, cannot fathom. We are lucky to have even been born into a country where there is community support, where safety nets, charity and good will can still be found even in the darkest of times.

This is not to say we should downplay our own struggles and troubles because others have it worse – but it’s important and crucial to recognize one’s privilege. My family is employed and healthy even without electrical power – there are hundreds if not thousands of others in the Valley who struggle even on a clear day to get medicine to their elderly and disabled family members, to ensure they are fed, clothed and sheltered.

Reach out (safely, socially-distantly) to your extended families, to your neighbors, to the “others” who don’t fall in your immediate circle. Offer the help you’d like to receive in their position.

Others aren’t different from us just because we don’t know or understand their tribulations. One will find that inside, we are all the same – only we face vastly different levels of privilege, if we have been granted any at all. Stay safe.

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