We have a big decision to make. In July of this year I’m officially starting my “year off” from the grind. As a family we’ve been researching different ways to make these 8 to 11 months count. How can we enhance our lives and others’? How can we grow closer to our children, build resilience, and hone new skills in a year without traditional work?
We tested the RV life (not for a year, no way) and considered California when my husband was offered a job there. But, so far, we keep coming back to our favorite little island, my husband’s homeland:
Where the rents are low and the weather is perfect. Where life isn’t easy, but it’s SO MUCH SIMPLER than the busy life we’ve built in our DC suburb. Where my children can learn Spanish, fluently, and I can focus on three little lives instead of 120 and help la Isla de Encanto at the same time.
Far from Perfection
However, I won’t paint a perfect picture. There are MAJOR issues with island life, notably: sporadic power and water outages, higher prices on foods and other goods as farming has yet to take hold anew, and a mass exodus of “the middle class,” along with many doctors and businesses.
But, among the beaches half-devoured by Maria’s wrath, the boarded-up buildings, abandoned stores and schools with 15 students PER GRADE, there is something in full-bloom: community. People who have stayed through Maria’s devastation, have done so with a spirit I can only describe as grit and fight. There’s an inner belief that things will be alright; a powerful faith that this place is sacred, and it will rise again. There are visionaries left who know it will take more than re-marketing tourism to get Puerto Rico where it deserves to be.
College Life: Island Style
In 2000, Spanish study brought me to Puerto Rico, but Puerto Rico brought me much more than the Spanish language. It stretched my perspective and provided a glimpse into a life where grades and status weren’t that important. A life where girls got together in dorms to cook REAL mofongo dinners and pay each other a couple dollars para “hacer blower” en each other’s hair.
Where the sun was always shining. And someone’s mamá would be happy to take you in over the weekend for the most delicious comida criolla and café con leche una gringa como yo could imagine. The poetry of Julia de Burgos, the short stories of Magalia Garcia Ramis, the journalism and art culture in San Juan had me at, “Hola.” This place was truly enchanted. It was intellectual and gritty, beautiful and falling apart. It was deep yet plagued by consumerism. Quite frankly, Puerto Rico stole my heart. I cried the entire plane ride home from SJU to DCA.
So, when I look back at my life in Puerto Rico, and how it changed me forever, I realize it makes all the sense in the world to bring our family there. Especially at a time when there is a true need for tourism, families, and business to return. Especially when it’s most likely the “worst” time. For me, that means there’s an opportunity. An opportunity to give back to the place that showed me how to savor life in refreshing ways: by slowing down, relaxing in the shade and listening to the gallo’s crow.
It’s our turn to roll up our sleeves up and get to meaningful work in Puerto Rico!
Ways You Can Help
Puerto Rico One
If you’re interested in helping Puerto Rico, Jose Ortiz-Gaud and his founding board members are working to build an innovative education system: University Cities and ignite other systemic entrepreneurial growth on the island. The name of the program is PuertoRicoOne.net. You may remember Jose because he spoke at my school to kick off our charity campaign with the social studies department last March. We raised almost $3,000.00 for Friends of Puerto Rico.
Friends of Puerto Rico
If you’d like to donate to help Puerto Rican life get back to “normal,” Friends of Puerto Rico is headquartered in DC. Monetary donations are funneled directly to the 13 Boys and Girls Clubs operating on the island.