Thursday, February 08, 2007

Florida, tornadoes, and the annual family visit.

We arrived in Florida ten days ago, extremely late at night, or early in the morning depending on which way you look at 2am.

My parents are what we call snowbirds, Canadians who leave the cold north and seek the sunny comforts of the Floridian retirement community. They join their different clubs, play golf with friends, drive their battery operated golf cart for short trips, and their Honda minivan for longer excursions. They play bridge, swim, watch television, walk the dog, play games on the internet and fill in Sudokus.

Five days into Siham and my stay, last Friday night to be exact, rain soaked the neatly trimmed lawns, thunder crashed and lightning lit up the sky. The dog, normally docile and sleepy-calm even during rain storms, whined and was awake and restless.
I was sound asleep when the weather alarm went off a little after 1am. Apparantly everyone else in the house woke up, including my mom who went to check the bleeping alarm they'd bought at a local electronics store. An announcer came on after the bleeping and said there was severe weather and tornado warnings for Daytona Beach.

Since it was miles away, she went back to sleep and ignored the subsequent alarms.

In the morning the storm was all over the news, it came as close as two or three kilometres away and killed fifteen people in a nearby community.

You'll have to excuse the photos, I was using someone else's camera and it was clunky with low batteries.

As you can see, the one picture is of the damaged neighbourhood. If I could have taken a bigger picture, you would see that, at the centre, there was a smashed house with lesser damaged houses on either side. The damage decreased quickly, with the second, third, and fourth houses down suffering mostly cosmetic damage of shingles and aluminum siding. By the sixth or seventh house, there was no damage at all.

The storm seemed to have made a path of devastation, with blue-plastic tarps covering houses as far as I could see and snaking through the neighbourhood downhill into a valley. I should have taken some more time to check out the tornado's wake and taken more photos, but was in a rush to get to the driving range.
The other photo shows the forest on the opposite side of the neighbourhood, flecked with aluminum siding, shingles, screens, awnings, and more, all hanging from snapped trees.

I felt surprisingly distanced from the newsmaking tragedy so nearby. I was more disturbed by the market explosions that rocked Baghdad shortly after and killed a record hundred and something people.

Terrorism is something more in my face now that I'm in the US. I get a similar shock when visiting England, reading the sensational headlines. I don't watch television in Morocco and rely on the BBC news website for most of my information. But there's something about TV showing carnage and blood and crying devestation that really hits home - and its something you don't really see with the tornado, just pictures of wind-swept damage like a giant garbage dump and a few sad stories.

Florida is a slower world where retirees either drive their luxury cars, pick up trucks and carts, or work at the local shops and golf courses in order to subsidise their dream retirements.
Here in America, I worry about Zack getting sick and getting nailed with a massive doctor's bill. As opposed to Morocco, where I'm less worried about money and more worried about bad service and misdiagnosis by doctors trying to get rich off unnecessary surgeries.

Having a child handcuffs my ability to enjoy Florida's delights. I'd love to take Siham and head to Bush Gardens, Disney Land, and Universal Studios. But I'm at the mercy of my parent's schedule, which seems to alternate with daily golf or other events.
I'm also tentative to head to theme parks, even with my parents to keep watch over Zack. A helpless baby in a crowd scares the crap out of me. Perhaps I've been watching too much American TV, or Moroccan TV, and am terrified of the recent stories of families reunited after children were kidnapped decades prior. It could happen so easily, one turn of the head, someone grabbing your arm to create a distraction, and bang, the babies been snatched.

I'll wrap up my Florida vacation with a piece later.

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