By Nicholas Hamburger
In the aftermath of Hurricane Dorian, a group of New Orleanians with Bahamian roots has organized a donation drive to provide aid to the Bahamas. The local association, which calls itself the Bahamian-New Orleans Connection (BNOC), plans to direct the money it raises to the Ranfurly Homes for Children and the Bahamas Crisis Centre, two organizations dedicated, respectively, to supporting children and families displaced by the Category 5 storm, which devastated the northernmost islands of the Bahamas in early September.
In addition to monetary donations, BNOC is collecting supplies such as non-perishable food, clothes and toiletries at Solid Rock Missionary Baptist Church, located at 2120 North Roman St., in the hopes of filling a large container and shipping it to the Bahamas at the end of the month. Solid Rock will be open to receive donations from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on October 15, October 17 and October 19.
As an archipelagic country positioned on the fringe of the West Indies, the Bahamas is no stranger to hurricanes, but it has never confronted a natural disaster of Dorian’s scale. Indeed, after making landfall with record-tying winds, Dorian stalled over the Abaco Islands and Grand Bahama Island, inundating the northern part of the country for days. Sixty-one people have been confirmed dead and hundreds are missing; meanwhile, roughly half the population of Great Abaco Island remains displaced, and approximately 45 percent of the homes on Grand Bahama have been severely damaged or rendered uninhabitable.
According to members of BNOC, New Orleans could serve as a model of reconstruction for the Bahamas.
“As Bahamians who lived through the experience of Katrina, we have a vast knowledge to pass on to the Bahamian people,” said Dario Carey, the pastor of Solid Rock who came to New Orleans from the Bahamas in 1998. “It’s our job to provide Bahamians a map to navigate through these turbulent times.”
Formed last winter, BNOC consists of over a dozen Bahamians, all of whom immigrated to New Orleans within the past forty years. Before Dorian battered part of the archipelago, the primary purpose of the group was to unite the small number of people who live in New Orleans and hail from the Bahamas, a dual geography bridged by a notable cultural kinship.
“We look at New Orleans as an extension of the islands because the culture is very similar,” explained Alexina Medley, the former principal of Warren Easton High School and a native of Nassau, the capital of the Bahamas. “For example, New Orleanians call it gumbo, we call it soup. They say jambalaya, we say peas and rice. They do couvillion, we do steamed fish on the stove.” Carey chimed in: “They call it Mardi Gras; we call it junkanoo.”
Economically, New Orleans and the Bahamas resemble each other as well, with tourism functioning as a crucial industry in both places. While Dorian has damaged the tourist capital of the country, Grand Bahama, Medley issued a piece of advice to holiday-makers reconsidering their upcoming visit to the country: “The Bahamas is not one big island; it’s a chain of islands. Don’t disregard the Bahamas because you feel as though it has been completely affected, when, in fact, the storm only hit two islands.”
Still, Dorian has left thousands of Bahamians without homes or jobs, the type of circumstances that often prompt migration. Given its proximity to the Bahamas, and its status as the country with the second-largest Bahamian population, the United States would be a fitting destination for Bahamian evacuees, but President Trump recently denied Temporary Protected Status to Bahamians seeking refuge in the U.S., breaking from American precedent.
Carey, however, does not envision a mass exodus from Grand Bahama or the Abacos.
“They’ll come to Florida to do some shopping,” he said, “and then they’ll be back in the Bahamas.” Medley concurred: “Bahamians are very proud, and they don’t travel far from home. If they come, I don’t see them staying, not in large numbers.”
In this way, Medley pointed out, Bahamians will likely also approximate New Orleanians, who largely returned to the city after being uprooted by Katrina in 2005. That year, and in the years that followed, Bahamians in Nassau raised a noteworthy amount of funds to assist recovery efforts in New Orleans. With the northern part of the Bahamas currently in need of aid, BNOC intends to reciprocate the generosity, nearly fifteen years later.
To donate directly to the Ranfurly Homes, visit www.ranfurlyhome.org, click “Support Ranfurly,” then click “Donate.” To donate directly to the Bahamas Crisis Centre, visit www.bahamascrisiscentre.org and click “Donate.” For more information on the Bahamian-New Orleans Connection relief effort, contact Dario Carey at (504) 342-8373.
This article originally published in the October 14, 2019 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.
This article originally appeared in The Louisiana Weekly.