Mahahual Struggles to Survive
Posted by Tony & Cheri on September 4, 2007
We’re back. Sorry there hasn’t been a new update on this blog for awhile, but we’ve been a little busy. We’ll try and cover as much of what’s going on in Mahahual as we can. We’ll also do a couple other blogs about some other things that have been happening. Believe it or not, we’re still trying to have a life.
Since our last blog entry about the Mahahual relief efforts, Playa Pals purchased another 150 construction kits as well as 100 hand saws from Manzanilla, a local hardware store. We had previously purchased other materials from them and, with the help of someone from the Red Cross, negotiated a 13% discount. This time, we went on our own and negotiated a 15% discount! It may have been that they, too, wanted to contribute to helping Mahahual. Or it may have been they were impressed with Cheri’s new Mexican flag bikini top which she wore, much photographed by the stock boys with their cell phones. Either way, we were glad to save the money. Our “Dutch Army” (friends Willem, Jessica, Alex & more) did their own shopping trip for boots (also negotiated at great discount), food and more. We don’t know what Jessica wore for the discount, but we’re happy she got it. 🙂
We actually had planned on not making the trip on Saturday to Mahahual. We were expecting a large group who is taking over the hotel for the week, and we needed to be there to settle them in and make sure everything went without problem. Unfortunately, Friday night we discovered there was some confusion as to who was driving what and when. We wanted to make sure the construction kits got there, so we loaded them all into our white Chevy Express van, affectionately known as the Big Bastard, and drove them down ourselves. We didn’t go with the convoy since, because of what was happening at the hotel, we needed to make the 8 hour round trip as early as possible. We rolled out around 6:30 am and zoomed down to Mahahual. If you can call a four hour drive “zooming.”
We hooked up with Kevin Graham, who was working with a team of other locals from Mahahual to make sure the goods are distributed. They have set up their operations center in the Costa Maya Inn, which withstood Dean’s winds, but unfortunately still has no plumbing or water. Kevin’s volunteers helped us unload the construction kits. He promised us they would be delivered to the outlying areas where they were needed most as soon as they could find a truck. Then we got a quick report on the status of things. It was pretty much the same. While the government has been working on restoring power and clearing roads, only private relief drives like our own Playa Pals have brought in food and water. We promised that we would return on Tuesday with as much food and water as we could carry. With that, we were back in the van racing back to Playa to get there for our incoming guests.
On the way back, we passed Jessica, Alex, Willem and another volunteer (sorry, we don’t know his name). They’re all from Holland, so we call them the “Dutch Army.” They have been relentless in their efforts to raise money and distribute goods to Mahahual. Willem, who we refer to as Wacky Willem, is a force of nature unto himself. He looks a little like Anthony Bourdain, the guy from the Food Channel network. When he’s not helping buy, convoy and distribute goods for Mahahual, he’s buttonholing people in Playacar, the wealthy suburb of Playa del Carmen, and demanding contributions. His home in the same area is now covered in signs alerting people to the crisis in Mahahual and pushing them to volunteer, donate or get involved. As far as we can tell, no one has the ability to say no to Willem. Like we say, he’s a force of nature. And Jessica and Alex are two of the most committed people we’ve ever had the pleasure to meet. The Dutch Army in and of itself have raised about $3,000, and every penny has gone directly to the Mahahual people. (BTW, the pictures on this blog entry were taken by Alex). They helped to organized a Mahahual fundraiser last Saturday night and have another event planned (with large raffle & lots of cool prizes, including a 5 night stay at the Luna Blue Hotel & Garden) for this coming Friday night, September 7, at Pinche Gringo’s in Playa del Carmen.
When our friends returned to Playa del Carmen, they gave us their report, and it was pretty discouraging. Kevin directed them to a couple of areas where relief just had not reached yet, which is pretty sad. It has been two weeks since the hurricane, and there are still people who do not have power, drinking water, food or help of any kind. These of course are the poorest neighborhoods which were tucked away among the mangrove swamps. Those mangrove swamps have now been tripled in size from the storm’s battering and rain. They are filled with crocodiles, harmful parasites and dank bacteria-ridden water and have become a breeding ground for millions of mosquitoes. It is an ecological and health disaster in the making.
The folks from Holland, who didn’t get home until late that evening, told us that once again they encountered nothing but smiles and polite thank yous. Nobody rushed for goods; nobody took more than they needed. People did make requests, and the number one request was to help them get away from the overwhelming swarms of insects. Insect spray, mosquito netting and sunscreen were on the top of their wish lists. This is the same story that we heard from friends and people in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. In our last visit to New Orleans, one woman told us that even after the flood waters receded she had to sleep under wool blankets in 90 degree heat to avoid the mosquitoes. This seems as bad, if not worse.
Of course, at this point Playa Pals are simply trying to meet the emergency needs of the people: food, water, clothing and simple tools to build some shelter. This does not address the long-term economic loss of the region. People in the central or beach area had begun to develop an economy based on tourism. The cruise ships, day trippers up north and people looking for a little slice of paradise had discovered Mahahual. Now that is destroyed. The cruise ship dock is gone, the beachfront shattered, and most of the little stores are in pieces. And of course, there are no tourists. However, the damage goes deeper and is much larger than that. Many outlying Mayan communities had eked out a living by carving farms out of the jungle. Growing various crops and fruits for their own support and to sell at market had been a way of life for many generations. Those crops are now gone, as we said before, the mangrove swamps seem to be everywhere. For a report on this, go to Hurricane Dean Damages Mayan Crops.
We have no explanation or understanding of why there has been no organized help. We understand that Mexico has had a series of blows recently with Hurricanes Dean and Henriette. However, we’re stunned that international aid has not arrived here. Where is the Red Cross, the UN, Habitat for Humanity….anyone? Perhaps it’s too small. Perhaps the media just hasn’t made it a large enough focus. Maybe, as someone else said, people are “Deaned out.” We just don’t know. We continue to hope, along with the people of Mahahual, that some organization with much more resources than local private fundraisers could ever have will step in to help.
Of course, now there is the threat of Hurricane Felix. As we type this, Felix is projected to make landfall considerably south of this area. That’s the good news. The potential bad news is that Felix, depending on where it makes landfall, could still send massive amounts of rain, storm surge and wind to poor little Mahahual. In anticipation of this, the government has evacuated the area. We had planned on taking down another truckload of food and water today but have been instructed by Kevin to wait until Saturday when people have returned to see what is left of their homes after this second storm.
Now, the good news. People have continued to contribute. As of this morning, the paypal account contributions (and personal donations delivered to the hotel) stand at just over $21,000. So far we have spent a little over $14,000, leaving us in the neighborhood of $6,700 still to spend. As always, and if you’re a regular reader of this blog you know this already, every single penny/peso contributed to the Playa Pals for Mahahual fund (e.g., our paypal account) is being used exclusively to purchase relief supplies which are then immediately driven to Mahahual and the surrounding areas. No volunteer has received a penny of these contributions, not even for gas or to reimburse for personal expenses. None of this money has been directed to any third party or person. We want this money to be used for immediate relief, and we promise you that is the case. So please, continue to contribute. Our donations at this point have slowed to a trickle. Please help us to help Mahahual until somebody with more power and money than we have comes forward. To find out how to contribute, go to How to Donate to Playa Pals for Mahahual.
If you’ve already contributed, thank you very much. If you can’t contribute any more or at all, you can help by getting the word out. Link to the Hurricane Dean section of this blog (Playa Pals for Mahahual) on your personal websites or in emails to everyone you know.
Here are the items currently most needed in Mahahual:
Diapers – all sizes
Nan 1st 2nd and 3rd Stage baby milk
Underwear mens and women
Wood strips to attach the lamina and nails
And for whoever stands in the way of oncoming Hurricane Felix, say a prayer and keep a thought.