My husband and I have a habit of going on holiday just before some major world crisis occurs — after which we have no choice but to spend several days holed up in our hotel room watching the events unfold on CNN. Twice it was a crisis involving water: the deadly Hurricane Katrina and the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami.
But for Hurricane Sandy, we were very much on the scene — ensconced in our apartment in NYC’s East Village, and with no television to watch, not even a radio to listen to! As those who read my post of earlier this month are aware, we were deprived not only of power but also water, communications and public transportation for several days, and displaced from our home for one night — an inconvenience that, while somewhat traumatic, turned out to be minor compared to what others had suffered in harder-hit areas.
As I mentioned then, the experience gave me a chance to test this blog’s basic premise: that forcible displacement at some level compares with the kind of displacement one has when living in a country that is not your home. And if so, can a former expat like me draw on the strengths gained from living overseas to keep calm and carry on?
While pondering these fundamental questions, I came across three posts by expats on Hurricane Sandy that gave me some fresh insights — not only on Sandy but on the down-the-rabbit hole nature of international travel and the expat life.
Thus I’d like to hand out three “Alices” today to (in reverse chronological order):
1) PETE LAWLER
Awarded for: Clouds from the Past: My Reflections on Sandy, Gloria and the Jersey Shore, in his personal blog: The American Londoner
Posted on: 3 November 2012
But here and now, when things are raw, when my cousins have been without power for a week and my parents are cooking with a propane tank and a Coleman portable grill even high up in the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania, I mourn. My heart goes out to those suffering and I mourn for that place of childhood sunshine and wish it a good and steady recovery in the coming months.
All the best, Jersey. I am thinking of you.
Citation: Pete, before Sandy, you probably weren’t thinking that much about “that place of childhood sunshine,” the Jersey shore — because, after eight years in London, you try not to think too much about sunshine any more. But then Sandy plunged you into mourning for all the good times you had as an all-American kid — the “long sunny days spent lazily frolicking through waves, collecting shells, and cautiously avoiding jellyfish.” It even made you think with some nostalgia of Hurricane Gloria, which you rather enjoyed as a seven-year-old. Absence, plus tragedy, can indeed make the heart grow fonder… What’s more, I sense how bad you must have felt about being powerless, from a distance, to help your parents and your cousin in their time of need — a guilt that’s at the hard core of the expat life. Just ask Linda Janssen — I’m thinking of her aptly titled “Down the Rabbit Hole” post of last summer, about her father’s illness.
2) MADELINE GRESSEL
Awarded for: Hurricane Sandy and the unspoken attraction of disaster, in Matador Abroad
Posted on: 1 November 2012
Now, as New York City is sloshed by a record-breaking 13ft wall of water, it is I sitting comfortably in a café in Hong Kong watching the light October rain outside. … My friends post photos on Facebook of candlelit dinners, submerged cars, and the powerless, darkened skyline.
And I wish I were there with them. Not because I’m afraid for their safety (I’m not), but because I’m missing a moment of New York history. I’ll never be able to say, “Remember the flood of 2012? That was insane.” I feel jealous at the pictures, like I’ve seen a photo of an ex-lover with his new flame.
Citation: Maddie, I wonder why it is, as we also learned on this blog this month, so few American expats feel the need to connect with their homeland during a presidential election — which, too, provides a chance to be “part of history,” especially if the race is closely contested? I think the answer may lie in your rather astute observation: people love a disaster. Come to think of it, a friend of mine has confessed that during Sandy, she had the overwhelming urge to go outside — in the storm! (Even though it was expressly forbidden by Mayor Bloomberg.) In addition, your post reminded me of another old expat adage: out of sight, (afraid of being) out of mind…
3) RUTH MARGOLIS
Awarded for: “I wasn’t afraid of Superstorm Sandy — until the lights went out,” in Telegraph Expat
Posted on: 31 October 2012
Forty-eight hours ago, I was relishing my role as stoic, cynical Brit, refusing to bow down to an impending crisis. I bashed out jokey emails to friends and family noting that it was “a bit blustery”…
…my husband and I — plus my visiting younger sister — spent much of Sunday and Monday quite enjoying the commotion. Like kids playing an imaginary game, we stocked up on all the (un)necessaries: crisps mainly, and garish American junk foods…
Then, something strange happened: the lights went out in Manhattan. … “Ah,” we thought, followed by a shaky: “Hmm”. … Eventually, we went to bed, with the radio on. No one got much sleep.
When the next storm hits, I expect I’ll ditch the cockiness sooner.
Citation: Ruth, there I was, trying to conjure up the “keep calm and carry on” ethos that I’d learned (rather begrudgingly) from nearly a decade of living in Britain, when, had I known you were down in Brooklyn, I could have asked for a refresher course (ah, yes, the junk foods and the jokey emails!). Still and all, I’m glad to know that even for a native-born Brit, there are limits, one of which is seeing the lights go out in lower Manhattan… (From now on, I won’t be too hard on myself!) I can also relate to what you said about these disasters having a cumulative effect (made worse by the fact that you’re living far away from your homeland and already feeling somewhat displaced). As you point out in your post, Sandy was the second time since emigrating that you’ve “had to assume the brace position,” the first being Irene. I can recall feeling something similar when living in Tokyo — first there was the Aum Shinrikyo attack on the subway and then the massive earthquake in Kobe, after which I decided that the stoicism required for this situation hadn’t yet been invented! (Bloomin’ heck, why was it I’d told everyone at “home” that Japan was so much safer?)
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So, readers, do you have a favorite from the above, any comments on these bloggers’ ruminations, or any further posts to suggest? I’d love to hear your suggestions!
STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s post, some comforting advice and (hopefully) words of wisdom from The Displaced Nation’s resident agony aunt, Mary-Sue Wallace.
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Images: All from Morguefiles.