Becoming a Beaconite
If it weren’t for Irma, one Beaconite would not be a Beaconite. Three days after the storm, desperate not to have to go back to her home country and start all over again, she walked into the temporary Beacon office, empty for all but two insanely dedicated people who had lived through the worst Irma had to offer and were somehow still here putting out a paper, and essentially offered to work for (initially) no pay. Soon, the terrific three became the fantastic four, and there it stayed for the next year. That was the beginning of her story at the Beacon. Along the way, she discovered and shared the stories of countless others. If Irma hadn’t happened, she would not have watched salvage crews haul wrecks from the deep or hopped on a garbage barge or driven the main roads with linesmen. She would not have interviewed the premier, or any head of state. She would not have spoken to rum distillers in Cane Garden Bay; organic farmers in Spring Ghut; or sailors at Nanny Cay. She would not have witnessed the triumphant flip of the catamaran Catsy. She would not have, except from afar, met Charles, Prince of Wales. She would not have learned about the nature of heroism from the heroes themselves, and the people they helped. She would not have laughed as much or as long. In the past year, the Beaconite has done more, seen more, and experienced more than she did in the previous five years of her life, combined. People ask her why she stayed in the VI when so many others fled, and the answer is simple. At home, she had nothing she wanted to flee to. She came here to remake herself, and, by accident, she chronicled an entire territory remaking itself. When Irma arrived, she, like so many others, thought it was all over. She was amazed to find the story had just begun.
If you say a word over and over again, it starts to lose its meaning altogether. Not a day — likely not an hour — has gone by in the past 12 months when the word “Irma” has not been spoken in some way or referenced in some form. But for as much as a Beaconite talks about Irma and its lasting effects, to others and in articles, she doesn’t think about it. Not really. Maybe it’s easier to forget some aspects of the hurricane. Those life-or-death instincts that kicked in when the winds got particularly loud, ripping off the roof overhead. The primal days that followed, featuring the drone of military helicopters overhead and sleeping on musty church pews and learning to love little cans of flavoured tuna. And wondering if The BVI Beacon, an institution of almost 35 years, would still exist a year from now, and if she would be a part of it. Granted, it would be exhausting to rehash those details every day. But on Sept. 6, it’s good to remember.
Throughout this edition, readers will find many stories and features underpinned by a sense of cautious optimism. However, one Beaconite thinks the recovery is all too often lacking one key ingredient necessary for implementing actual forward progress: a sense of personal accountability. Buildings can be reconstructed, schools can go back in session. The lights can come back on. But unless people here look inward at themselves and the VI’s flaws, the territory will not build back stronger than before. The Beaconite’s talking about a society where women sometimes can’t walk a block in Road Town without getting sexually harassed. Where religious figures blame hurricane destruction on homosexuality and are cheered for it. Where dogs sit chained up and emaciated in visible lots across the territory or are kept in mass kennels to be bred and fought. Where people toss trash out of moving cars or burn it carelessly on the beach. Where landlords try to intimidate renters and unashamedly price gouge. And where few people — outside of the occasional toothless screed on social media — seem to say or do much about it. How can recovery happen in a society that rebuilds with those design flaws? The Beaconite doesn’t know, but he does know that in the past year he’s interviewed talented, driven young people — in fields ranging from entrepreneurship to art — who seem ready to change the territory for the better. Maybe they will.