What will be the story of 2019? 2017 brought destruction by storm and by looting, but also the story of neighbors and communities coming together to survive. 2018 was a year of recovery, with daily progress in the face of enormous tasks, but nothing coming fast or easy.
Every year brings a new start. It’s not because there’s something magical about a change on the calendar, but because we are optimistic. The island didn’t change one day to the next, but we take the moment to imagine a better future. How could we survive without doing this?
Beneath our cheer, there is fatigue. Is there anyone on the island that isn’t tired? Is there anyone that doesn’t wish, after all this work, that things were better than they are today? Is there anyone who isn’t frustrated after months of major problems and countless tiny inconveniences?
As we begin 2019, we start to have a clearer idea of what St. Martin is today. After Irma, thousands of people living under tarps was an emergency. That people are still living this way today is a failure. Any place can be destroyed by a natural disaster. The recovery is a measure of the government and the community. In good and bad, the recovery is a reflection of us.
Leaving the most desperate times behind, we also look to the future. It is a future where other islands are stronger competitors for tourists, and rebuilding what was here before may not be enough to bring them back. It’s a future where the unique culture of the island continues to disappear. Traditional architecture crumbles and decays. Museums and libraries shut their doors in neglect with no plans to reopen. The last generation of St. Martiners who lived through the pre-tourism era pass on with their stories unrecorded.
This dark future is already upon us in many ways. Cultural institutions have already collapsed. Children already grow up without learning about their island in school. Destruction has already claimed heritage sites. But this isn’t the only future.
You could change this. You and your family and friends and co-workers. Spend an hour or a day doing something to preserve and share culture. There are groups doing this on the island, and they need your help. Getting involved is inspiring and rejuvenating. It could be the thing that brings meaning and joy to your 2019.
At some point, government needs to be involved. But governments—all of them, not just here—are followers. They aren’t leaders, they aren’t visionaries, they aren’t brave. But if something is working, they will eventually join in. People need to step up first, and on this small island that means everyone. Is 2019 the year people come together to save the culture of St. Martin? That’s up to you.
Do you need help saving or sharing a part of St. Martin culture? Tell us what you’re doing and how we can help by writing in to The Daily Herald or to [email protected].