Costa Rica was hit by its first hurricane in recorded history (165 years) this past Thanksgiving Thursday. Otto – whose name, shared with the country’s noxious pseudo-Libertarian politician Otto Guevara, generated a rousing bout of internet memes before everyone got distracted by the business of survival – was a late season unwelcome surprise. He was upgraded from Tropical Storm not long before touching land and violently raking the border with southern Nicaragua, leaving floods, landslides and at least 10 people dead.
Otto was preceded and followed by heavy rains all throughout the region – up here in Belize, where I waited the storm out on a work trip, it’s been drenched – and as is often the case with hurricanes, it was the simple quantity of water that ended up causing most of the damage. Overflowing rivers swept peoples’ homes and belongings away, over-saturated slopes collapsed in muddy swaths of destruction.
In Osa the damage was mostly done in advance: in the week prior to Otto’s arrival, the Peninsula experienced the worst rain in recent memory. I have heard no reports of deaths, thankfully, but infrastructure and people’s livelihoods will be affected for a long time. And one of the villages to suffer the most was Dos Brazos del Rio Tigre, where as you know I’ve been working with the community association and Osa Birds to establish a native species nursery and garden.
Just as we were making progress! In the last few months, Karen and ACODOBRARTI had drawn up a simple budget and contract to allow all your generous donations to Osa Birds be put to use with a modicum of transparency and accountability. The community obtained permission to use what seemed like an ideal space behind their association’s office for a spacious nursery and beautiful germinator. They bought bamboo posts and had finished framing up both buildings as of just last week. We held an initial workshop to talk about species and workplans. We had even started to bag the first seedlings. Then came the deluge.
The community is so named because it’s nestled between two branches (arms) of the Tigre river…so you can imagine what that looked like after three days of incessant downpour in the headwater hills above. Photos and videos started to trickle down my Whatsapp feed: houses flooded; bridges underwater; main entrance road collapsed; potable water out. And then the news that was only one more of many minor tragedies, but one that was partly mine: our fledgling nursery was gone. All of it – the constructions, the materials, the first seedlings. The river had risen more than anyone had imagined possible and simply swept it all away.
(As for my finca: let’s just say there’s less grass to worry about now. Carlos reports that one of the steep slopes collapsed and funneled literally tons of organic matter and topsoil through my waterfallito, a cascading notch that drains into the Rio Barrigones. The landscape has been slightly rearranged, but it spared the areas where this year’s restoration efforts were focused.)
I’ve been watching and listening from afar, helpless and anxious first in San Jose and then western Belize. But it’s been beautiful to see the solidarity in Costa Rica. Literally every Tico I know is pitching in somehow to help the communities left in ruins by Otto, and down in Osa it seems like every other person is member of some Emergency Committee, helping to organize evacuations or get supplies for residents trapped by bulging rivers and broken bridges. So much compassion and spirit.
In Dos Brazos, community members and friends pooled enough money within 24 hours to pay for a bulldozer to repair the road that had washed out and left them isolated. There was no waiting for any agency to dig them out. But so much more will need to be done.
The community nursery, of course, is just one small part of the losses. I estimate that we’re out at least $1000 in materials and labor to get this project back on its feet in time for 2017 planting season. I’m committed to putting up at least $500 of this and am hoping I can raise matching funds to support rebuilding the nursery and repairing damage to the local association’s office. These funds will primarily support wages for community residents and some building materials.
The horizon has turned ominous since 11/9, and I know that for most of the folks reading, this year end’s donations will be rightly focused on expanding support to organizations that must now lead the resistance to Trump and the cynical minions riding his narcissistic coattails into power: defending basic civil rights, reversing voter suppression policies, fighting the ruinous logic of climate change denial, etc. I don’t want to divert a penny from that giving. Really. But if, when all that’s done, you find yourself inspired by the hopeful work of Dos Brazos, Osa Birds, Carlos and me on Finca Las Tijeretas (I have a name for the finca now!) and can support in some small way, here’s the link. (Tax deductible.) There will be a tree in your name, and great gratitude in my heart.