|This is what they call Equal (the stuff you put in your coffee) in Puerto Rico|
|That metal thing up there is a Puerto Rican water heater. |
Let's have tape on the electrical wire there to help make it extra dangerous.
I was seriously looking forward to today because we were visiting my youngest cousin Diana. She’s only 22, her mother’s last child had 10 years after her closest sibling. My aunt Gesela was 45 when she had her. I was 16, and I knew Gesela was desperately poor. My mother and I discussed adopting this baby to help Gesela, who had three other children she had difficulty supporting. Bringing this baby to the mainland would have seriously increased her life prospects. My aunt Yamila put this plan to bed pretty quick. If anyone was going to have custody of that child it was her. She won custody of her twelve years later and raised her into adulthood.
|Another street scene|
I met her when she was a little girl 12 years ago. The ten year old was kind and adorable, and so amazed she had all these white relatives she never knew about. My brother had come with us on that visit and was enchanted by her. We all put a lot of hope into that little girl
When Diana’s older sister was murdered her mother had a breakdown and Yamila got custody, as she always wanted. Diana went from desperately poor to middle class. She prospered. I bought her a laptop when she graduated high school to assist her in Dental Hygienist school. The school didn’t work out, but Diana did.
|Diana's House. Her rent is $300/month!!|
I met my now 22 year old cousin who shares a house rental with Yamila’s husband’s granddaughter. They’re doing great! My little cousin speaks Internet, works at a good paying job, has her own beautiful home with her once removed step-cousin, and is extremely active in her church. She adopted the Jehova’s Witness faith with a vengeance when she lived with Yamila, who has been a devout JW for decades. Her roommate is also a JW who speaks perfect English.
Diana speaks English too!! For the first time I was able to have a clear conversation with one of my relatives. ;_; Diana is SO KIND! She’s thin and beautiful, an independent go-getter. I’m so proud of her!
Keep in mind, her older sister and mother were never capable of holding jobs. Her older brother is working, but still living at home. (He’s another story. From the gossip it doesn’t seem he’s helping his poor mother that much. I’m sad he doesn’t step up.)
Diana took us to a café in the mountains where coffee is grown. Coffee is one of the major industries of Puerto Rico…or it used to be. I’m not sure what the state of that industry is now, but at that café I had the best cup of coffee I ever had in my life. It was so smooth! My mother and I were both enraptured.
The views and antique coffee machines were neat, too, but the best thing was my cousin. Healthy. Thin. Beautiful. THRIVING! She broke the cycle of her family, and I’m so glad. I hope to have a lifelong friendship with her.
|Antique Coffee machine|
Diana, like most of the Abraham females, is not romantic. She’s not looking for a boyfriend or husband. This is so like us. We’re not man-chasers.
Yamila was feuding with Diana, and my cousin only agreed to the visit to see us. She didn’t want to fight with her aunt anymore. Her aunt, in turn, packed up all the stuff Diana had left at her house and loaded it into our SUV. It was a move done in anger, and she didn’t tell her she was doing it. Fortunately, Diana was overjoyed to have all her old stuff. And, also fortunately, her and Yamila made up during our visit. At first Yamila wouldn’t eat her food, but the talked and talked alone in the kitchen while her roommate conversed with me and my mom. When Yamila came out of the kitchen she asked for a plate. Then everyone spoke in happy boisterous tones. When we said goodbye Yamila hugged her and kissed her cheek. (They hadn’t hugged when they greeted each other).
Her roommate works at home as a translater. I thought that was so cool. Diana makes me want to move to Puerto Rico and see the life she lives first hand. I love her mountain city best out of all the places we’ve been so far.
Puerto Rico is an amazing place. Yamila wants us to live with her. We have rooms. Her husband considers us family. We would be great caretakers of them both, as they are both declining and Alejo may not be able to see well enough to drive very soon. We could also do so much with their fertile land. Sometimes I daydream about just giving up everything in the USA and staying here.
But paradise isn’t perfect. We were eaten by bugs when we walked around Yamila’s yard. One of the members of Diana’s church has Zika, and we hope we won’t catch it while we’re here. The crime is another concern. It’s not a matter of if we’ll be robbed, but when. Yamila’s house was broken into and their gold stolen. She’s had chickens and rabbits stolen from her yard so often she refuses to keep anymore. One day her and her husband returned home to find all of a certain kind of tuber dug up and stolen from their yard. Without any remaining plants the tuber no longer grows for them.
When I was in the mall I noticed all the women had their purse straps swung over their heads so a purse-snatcher can’t yank it off their shoulders. My uncle was robbed at gunpoint in broad daylight in a super market parking lot. Everywhere there are signs of high crime. I’ve yet to drive through a neighborhood that didn’t have decorative bars on the doors and windows. Every parking lot has ‘Not liable for stolen items’ signs. The news is filled with carjackings and murders in the towns we’d been visiting. And, as I said, we never go anywhere after dark.
The government is corrupt in an even more amplified way than the USA government. Every politician is the son or daughter of someone else in office, like little dynasties. We passed a windfarm when we were with Norma and commented on how nice it is that they’re using alternative energy. That’s when I was informed the giant wind turbines aren’t powering anything. The Electric company lobby shut the project down. The politicians claimed they had to stop it because wind turbines are bad for the environment. This is after they were already built!
Puerto Ricans are very politically active and virulently protest the corruption. The nightly news shames them, like saying a politician hired his friends as ‘consultants’ and gave them all $80k/year salaries. They gave his phone number and told people to call him and complain. They did the same 12 years ago. It isn’t working.
When I first visited the island there were ‘publicos’ or mini-buses run by people with vans that would pick people up and take them where they needed to go. I rode on one with my mom, and that’s how we first tracked down Yamila’s husband’s brother and were able to reconnect with the family after she hadn’t heard or seen from them for 20 years. Publicos were the main form of public transportation. So many poor people relied on them to get them where they needed to go. They were safe—as safe as any taxi. The taxi or bus lobby decided to shut this down, for their benefit. No Puerto Rican who wasn’t a taxi or bus employee could have possibly wanted this. Thousands of Puerto Ricans were devastated by them being shut down. But the politicians pushed it through all the same. They were beholden to who lined their pockets, not the people.
The police are useless from all I’ve heard. The murderer of my cousin was caught, but never charged, never investigated. The case just fizzled into nothing and nothing happened to him. One of my uncles was a homeless man who lived under a bridge for many years. Someone ran him down with their car. Not an accident. He told the police he hated homeless people. He was never charged. I don’t know what the hell the police do here. Do they need to be bribed or something?
All of this crap doesn’t mean this is a bad island. Puerto Rico is amazing, and if I didn’t have the RV I would truly consider just dropping everything and moving here. Even with the crime. Seriously. Crime is a concern, but not like bombing in Syria. You’re not in constant danger everywhere you go. You’re more likely to find kind friendly people than criminals. Every time we stood in line the person in front of us would turn around to smile and join in our conversations. If you ask anyone for help they drop everything and go help you above and beyond what you’d ever expect.
All the cars I’ve seen in PR look new. All the homes are well kept and the same cute little boxes. Diana pays $300/month to rent her sweet two bedroom house. How cool is that? And her neighbors all know her. The neighborhoods look out for each other. Woe unto any criminal who dares come to start shit.
I never felt in danger. I want to think that if I keep alert I may never be a victim, but frankly, that may not be the case. Despite the once in a life-time mugging or carjacking I might have to endure I would still live and visit here.
Puerto Rico is not declining. It’s not deteriorating. The people are thriving. This is just such a wonderful island!
But I'm really glad to be back...
|A view from the coffee mountain|