An island veterinarian reflects on a moment of Carnival in the shadow of a difficult year

An island veterinarian reflects on a moment of Carnival in the shadow of a difficult year

One year after Hurricanes Irma and Maria, Dr. Mike Paul shows that the Caribbean has much to celebrate.
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Aug 31, 2018

(Photo: Shutterstock.com)Life here in the Caribbean is not so much a series of events as it is a continuum. This has been made clear with the passage of the last year here. A little over one year ago, Anguilla celebrated the annual Carnival Summer Festival, a high point of celebrations that began on Aug. 1 and lasted until Aug. 12. Annual celebrations get underway with J’ouvert, a five-hour-long, island-wide “walkabout” that recognizes and celebrates the emancipation of Caribbean slaves in 1833 over 30 years before the Emancipation Proclamation in the U.S.

The week is one long celebration of food, drink and music and a series of boat races. Last year, we went to the parade of costumed troupes that wound its way through the island on a bright clear day that gave no clue of what was to follow.

As I have shared before, at about this time a tropical disturbance was forming in the mid-Atlantic that unexpectedly developed into a hurricane, monikered Irma, which struck Anguilla with all her fury on Sept. 6 as a category 5 storm and caused catastrophic damage across the islands. Just 10 days later, Hurricane Maria, also a category 5 storm, struck, and whatever had not been damaged was laid to waste. This time, Dominica and Puerto Rico were decimated. Over 11 months later, Puerto Rico is still without power in some areas. I have visited St. Martin and Puerto Rico in the last few months and it’s apparent that it will take several years to recover.

As I write this column just a few days short of the anniversary of Hurricanes Irma and Maria, the islands are again entering peak hurricane season. Hurricane season begins in June and extends into December. The people who live here have experienced, survived and recovered from many hurricanes. My friends have spent their entire lives periodically doing battle with the god “Huracan”—the Carib Indian god of evil and the Mayan god of wind and storms.

But this season is different. We have much to celebrate. The people had never experienced a storm like Irma or Maria and aren’t so sure last year was a one-off. Early in this year’s predictions cycle it seemed likely we were looking at another bad season, but thanks to La Niña in the Pacific resulting in lower ocean temperatures, clouds of dust from the Sahara Desert that cover the eastern Atlantic, and the global changes in ocean conditions, recent predictions have greatly reduced the likelihood of a repeat season.

There’s much awareness of global climate change among people of the Caribbean but there is little known for certain. Right now, much of the region is baking under unprecedented heat and drought conditions. Water has always been a precious commodity in Anguilla, but this is different. Water tables are way below normal and cisterns are empty. A year ago, trees and bush were bare because of the winds; now they are just as bare because of drought.

But Anguilla still has much to celebrate. She and her people are special. We have come a long way in our recovery from hurricane damages, and the festival, boat races and sunshine go on as we walk across the global stage. Last year’s Miss Anguilla, Dee-Ann Rogers, held court during a year of recovery. As well as having a law degree from the University of Birmingham, she is an outstanding athlete, having represented Anguilla twice in the British Commonwealth games. Recently, she was named Miss Universe Great Britain.

At the same time, an Anguilla sprinter Zharnel Hughes competing for Great Britain set a European Championship record in the 100 meters, and Shara Proctor is a long jumper who has competed in the Olympics, World Championships, Commonwealth Games and European Championships.

Additionally, Anguilla singers demonstrated their talents on American Idol and on The X Factor. Recently, for an unprecedented second year in a row, Anguilla has been ranked No. 1 island in the Caribbean.

So we have a lot to celebrate as Carnival 2018 ends. The rains will return and, unfortunately, so will the storms. But “God spare life”—all will be well.

Dr. Mike Paul is the former executive director of the Companion Animal Parasite Council and a former president of the American Animal Hospital Association. He is currently the principal of MAGPIE Veterinary Consulting. He is retired from practice and lives in Anguilla, British West Indies.