The hurricane spirit

The good life

One of the fascinating things about observing mankind is to notice that people in groups can sometimes display a surprising exuberance in the middle of seemingly tense circumstances.

To be in Cayman, for example, as hurricanes threaten is to be struck by the degree of light-hearted, even jocular, behaviour that takes over most of residents of the island.

I have been here for several of these threats, and every time I’m surprised again by the almost festive air that the place takes on. Ironically, driving around town in the 48 hours prior to Dean, it struck me how similar things were to Christmas.

The stores were jammed; there was a noticeable increase in traffic on the move; the hustle and energy level was up; there was a lot of good-natured shouting and horn-blowing and waving as people wished each other well; and the supermarkets, in particular, were wall-to-wall mankind.

Instead of decorations, people were very busy putting up shutters, or buying up plywood and bolts to do boarding up. Also, as at Christmas, while there was the occasional grouch, people were definitely more pleasant to one another and one noticed a surprising amount of laughter and humour among close friends, but even sometimes between perfect strangers.

Some of it may be attributed to nervousness, but there was a noticeable increase in camaraderie almost everywhere you went.

There were apparently some hairy moments at the airport in the jam to get out, but even there people were generally putting up with the crush, as at Christmas, and trying to be considerate of each other.

Christmas generosity was about, too, so that, for example, Cayman Airways led the way among the airlines in waiving penalties for ticket changes and there were the late night flights put on by CAL – akin to the stores staying open for last-minute shoppers.

In a time when you expect people to be jumpy as hell (OK, some visitors do understandably get that way), the general mood was relaxed bordering on jovial. Just as in Christmas, there was a good feeling being communicated by most.

Part of this undoubtedly stems from the old hands around here who have been through these storms umpteen times over the years and, Ivan aside, have come out relatively unscathed.

I remember in my first serious hurricane (Gilbert) being calmed by the attitude of my wife’s aunt, Alice Bryan. The fact that this lady who had seen them all, including ’32, was sitting completely relaxed in her house on North Church Street, 100 yards from the sea, with a smile on her face, did a lot to settle my tremors. Talking to some senior folks in Bodden Town, you got the same reassurance – there was no tension or anxiety.

Part of this I believe is what I’ve said before: a lot of the indigenous people in Cayman are essentially country people. When the big-city folks are getting rattled by nature acting up, these old hands just go about their cooking, or planting, or whatever they’re about, with a kind of calm that conveys, as one woman told me, ‘No sense fretting yourself over something you can’t control. Board up your house and say some prayers.’

Whatever the reason, in a time when you figure folks would be panicking and snarling at one another, there is this general jovial mood in the air, and, just as in late December, you hear from people you haven’t heard from in a while, making connections, reaching out – many from overseas, too.

The parallels even continue after the storm. Just as in Christmas, people call each other to check on how things went, share stories, and commiserate about this and that, but again, the spirit here too is joyful and jokey. Even after Ivan, when there was rampant loss, people were still generally upbeat and sharing and concerned for one another – just as in the spiritual side of Christmas – and making you laugh with this comment or that.

As I’m saying this, it occurs to me that there is the unfortunate potential here for some enterprising marketer to capitalise on this condition by coming out with original hurricane foods, in the vein of Christmas cake and roast turkey, or even hurricane email cards.

Think of it: there would be scope for two versions: a ‘wishing you well’ one prior to, and a ‘glad you’re OK’ one after the storm. If that sounds far-fetched, remember that we now have foods, drink, decorations and cards for everything from Clean Air Day to the Gay Parade, so let’s hope it doesn’t happen.

In any event, this positive attitude, probably learned over time, is a blessing. It does a lot to calm the trepidation you feel about looming 150mph winds when people are being so high-spirited and Christmassy everywhere you turn; whatever the source, let’s be grateful we have it.

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