In the aftermath of Hurricane María, a category five cyclone that hit Puerto Rico harder than any storm since 1928, 88% of the island was left without electricity. It’s been nearly two months since María, and whilst some areas of Puerto Rico have regained electricity, more than half of the population is still without, making this the worst power outage in US history.
Despite living in the capital city of San Juan, my street has been without electricity since 20 September, and there is no expectation that it will return anytime soon.
More than half of the population is still without electricity, making this the worst power outage in US history
Electricity is essential to our daily lives. We use it without a second thought, from the moment we wake up: to turn on the light in the bathroom and the kettle in the kitchen, to unplug our phones, to connect to Wi-Fi and scroll through Instagram. So why, deprived of such a necessity, have I not jumped on the first flight, away from the disaster zone?
To understand why, it’s important to understand the lifestyle here, which could never include despair or self-pity. I loathe to generalise an entire country, but everyone here is very easy-going. In the days after María, many were not only without electricity, but also without running water. Rather than feeling down, I overheard people laughing and telling stories about how they passed through the hurricane, playing cards and arguing if beer prices would rise. Therefore, I have no desire to complain, not because I want to fit in, but because their tranquillity and optimism are infectious.
I overheard people laughing and telling stories about how they passed through the hurricane, playing cards and arguing if beer prices would rise
In the two months since María, electricity is limited but not non-existent. Most businesses and some residences use diesel generators for power, and bars, restaurants, banks are all functioning. Puerto Rico is not a wasteland.
Like most places on the island, my flat doesn’t have a generator. I’ve quickly realised how easy it is to get by without electricity. When I wake up, I don’t need power on my phone to flick through social media, because I don’t have Wi-Fi. I no longer depend on the internet connection; I don’t really care about when it will finally return.
Puerto Rico is not a wasteland
I get ready relying on daylight to see, and whilst my cold showers cause my heart to stutter when I first get in, by the time I’m finished I’m more awake than after any cup of coffee. Since I can’t stay home and watch Netflix, I’m always cycling around the city, visiting beaches with my friends, or attending university. I’m not subjecting myself to a life without electricity, I’ve just adapted.
Don’t get me wrong, I do want the power grid back up and running. Cooking is a pain. I can’t even make myself a cup of tea at home because my stove is electric, and my microwave and kettle are now useless. Relying on cafés and restaurants for hot food is tiresome and expensive. Not to mention that in such a tropical country, having a working fridge or an air-con boosts your mood significantly. However, being able to experience life without electricity has been invaluable to me.
I’m not subjecting myself to a life without electricity, I’ve just adapted
Not having electricity has allowed me to spend two months with my friends without once feeling annoyed because they’re flicking through their phone during a conversation. It means I’ve not been able to waste days in bed on my laptop. It’s been two months of shouting out of windows to see if someone was free to go out, and stargazing at night. Spending my time with my friends was my favourite entertainment. This is not an indictment of technology, it is simply an explanation of how I’ve found immense pleasure in living without any other distraction than my friends.
Hurricane María and the lack of electricity has not been ideal. Although there is no need to look at me and my semester in a natural disaster area with pity, what I’ve lived through is the true definition of once in a lifetime.
Spending my time with my friends was my favourite entertainment
Author’s Note: My experience is extremely privileged and not representative of the whole population. This hurricane has been devastating, particularly for those in rural areas; many of whom still desperately need aid. Please consider donating to help the relief efforts.