The Most Important Story I’ve Ever Told

This story is without question the most important story I have ever told. It is the story of Hurricane Dorian in The Bahamas. But even more so, it is the story of the Bahamian people—my people.

I am a storyteller. I probably got it honest—in part, from my great-grandfather, the legendary Biminite and musician Nathaniel “Piccalo Pete” Saunders, who was more than a century old at the time of his death.

The remaining parts of my inspiration are probably an admixture of my deGregory DNA and my maternal grandmother. The latter was less a storyteller than she was a story-keeper. Among the fondest memories of my childhood is me sitting on her carpeted bedroom floor looking through her powder blue Samsonite curler bag browsing through her collection of family obituaries.

“Who was this, Mama,” I’d ask. “How am I related to them,” I’d press.

Watered by my grandmother’s responses, my childhood curiosity only grew over time. It likely came as no surprise that once I got to college and realized history could be both a passion and profession, it became not only what I do but who I am too.

I have been fortunate enough to learn how to professionally, contextually, and compassionately tell stories. For nearly two decades, the primary beneficiaries of my professional storytelling efforts have been the American educational and cultural jewels, Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU).

And even though I loved virtually every minute of it, there remained a burning desire to tell the stories of my Bahamian people.

Little did I know, the sufferings, strivings, and collective soul of Hurricane Dorian survivors would grant me this most precious opportunity to conceptualize, design, and build what I proudly introduce to you today: Dorian and Beyond, a digital storytelling and story-keeping project of Hurricane Dorian in The Bahamas.

In many ways, I conceived this project in the proverbial “eye of the storm.” Sitting on my mother’s couch, in her living room, amid Hurricane Dorian’s raging winds and torrential rains, I penned the words to “Here in the Bahamas, Every Generation Has Its Storm Stories” for TIME.

Even then, I wondered what the future held for the remembrance of Hurricane Dorian and its terrible ensuing trauma and losses.

Having been away at college, grad school, or for work during every hurricane season since 1999, I had never faced a hurricane’s wrath before Dorian.

Truth be told, I only experienced Dorian because I was at home on a visit when the storm system approached. I could have left. But I stayed because of my mother, who would have otherwise been alone. And also because I, like so many others, didn’t imagine how terrible Dorian would be.

When the howling winds and the torrential rain stopped, I remember the sun shining so brightly. It was almost as though Dorian had never happened. But it did.

And I had to figure out a way to give back beyond borrowing my mother’s car to serve food or distribute clothes. So I began taking interviews. Media from all across the world needed to hear—and even more, to know our story.

Not only am I familiar with the press, but I also had ties to the United States and am an experienced interviewer. That helped to open doors for me. CBC, BBC, CNN, The New York Times, and many came calling to tell our storm story. And I accepted those opportunities with not only the strength of my training, but also with the support of my family, and the determination of the entire Bahamian nation.

Someone needed to tell the story of Dorian’s unprecedented destruction. Someone needed to capture the pain of Dorian survivors on The Abacos and Grand Bahama. But how could we, when in the days after its wake, many Dorian survivors couldn’t even tell you the day of the week?

Many were wrestling with the actuality of the death of loved ones. Many more struggled with the loss of their life’s work.

Most of us were searching to find at least one loved one, but probably more, who had been separated from us during the storm and with whom we’d yet to make contact. Because in The Bahamas no one is more than one, maybe two degrees removed from everyone else.

Virtually all of us struggled to eke out an existence devoid of the usual creature comforts, including electricity or running water.

We stood in unimaginably long lines for potable water and sat in lines just as long for gas for our cars.

In the absence of working stoplights, we obeyed hurricane-imposed four-way stops and yielded to new right-of-ways.

We did it all orderly, without policing.

While thousands found themselves jobless, carless, homeless, or all three, we were not hopeless.

The generosity of family, friends, and strangers alike sustained us. Single-family homes became intergenerational and multi-family dwellings.

Pots poured out hot meals of breakfast, lunch, or dinner. Whether we broke our night-long fasts with plates of grits to ground us against the challenges of the day or relished the nourishment of cold sandwiches prepared by warm hearts, the goodness of gifts of new or gently used clothes and shoes renewed our hope.

Even to this day, no one has told the story of Dorian survivors’ seeming patience with less than fair to middling bureaucracy. No one has fully captured their kindness—the taking in of others, the sharing out of what little remained, the long hugs, surviving smiles, and car horn toots “hailing” passersby.

No one has conveyed the full extent of their courage—those who “manned” backhoes, dump trucks, boats, and jet-skis to save their fellow countrywomen and men. No one has learned from the ingenuity of ordinary Bahamians—at home and abroad—who erected makeshift reclamation centers in their homes using cellphones, spreadsheets, and social media.

And no one person can.

That is why Dorian and Beyond is styled after the United States-based Story Corps. Anyone can add their Dorian story to our database. That includes you.

Our initial videos—with persons in digital and print media, real estate, child welfare, water conservation, nonprofits, fire and rescue, the arts as well reconstruction efforts—are intended to present a broad cross-section of sectors and roles not extensively covered to date.

We hope that by recording, collecting, and preserving the many stories of Hurricane Dorian survivors—as well as Bahamians abroad during Hurricane Dorian, international first responders, and NGO workers and volunteers—the story of Hurricane Dorian in The Bahamas will never be forgotten.

Because for most of the world, the story of Hurricane Dorian is merely a story of a natural disaster. But for the people of The Bahamas, it is the story of that and so much more.

It is not only the story of destruction and loss, but also of ordinary heroes, of courage, of kindness, and of resilience.

Here is our storm story—of how we survived and how we endure. Together, our stories are Dorian—and Beyond.

We are battered, but not broken.

Crystal deGregory is pictured at her makeshift office in her mother’s living room from where she interviewed with international media outlets.
Crystal deGregory is pictured at her makeshift office in her mother’s living room from where she interviewed with international media outlets.

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