NPR-Valentines

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Limited availability of gas has been a problem across Puerto Rico ever since Hurricane Maria hit last week. This station in Rio Grande, about 15 miles east of San Juan, doesn’t have any gasoline at all right now. But it did have gas on Sunday night — until it ran out early Monday morning.

By the afternoon, about a hundred cars, along with scores of people with hand-held gas cans, were waiting for a new tanker to arrive.

“The problem is communication,” says the manager of the Gulf Route 65 gas station, Carlos de Armas. “We don’t know where the truck is.”

Like nearly everywhere on the island, Rio Grande lacks cellphone service. There is no way to get word from the truck driver, and so it’s anyone’s guess when the tanker might arrive.

At A Gas Station With No Gas, Puerto Ricans Settle In For An Interminable Wait

Photos: Angel Valentin for NPR

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Over a San Juan freeway overpass, near the low-income Playita community, there’s a sign that reads, “SOS Playita Needs Water and Food.”

It was a cry for help put up by residents who say they waited more than a week after the storm without receiving any outside aid.

There was a feeling, says 21-year-old Edison Rodriguez, that his community was “running out of time. That you can only have so much water, so much food [between] each other. That’s why they put out those signs outside.”

Now, like many other parts of the country ravaged by Hurricane Maria, there are small signs that the situation here is improving — but for the residents living through it, the progress is painfully slow.

Just five percent of the island has working electricity from the hurricane-devastated grid, and cellular service is slowly getting better but is still at about a third of capacity, according to Puerto Rico’s governor, Ricardo Rosselló Nevares.

Infrastructure problems that predated the hurricane dramatically worsened the situation in Playita. There’s a small lake right behind the neighborhood, where pumps usually prevent the water level from reaching flood levels.

Slowly, Painfully, A San Juan Neighborhood Sees Small Signs Of Improvement

Photos: Angel Valentin for NPR

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Since Hurricane Maria, people in Puerto Rico have been without easy access to electricity, clean drinking water, or food. Many are still staying in shelters; some are living in the ruins of their homes. The once-lush green trees were stripped bare and uprooted.

But all is not lost.

There are two quintessential Puerto Rican sounds that survived:

One is the plaintive song of the tiny coqui frog.

The other is the improvised Afro-Puerto Rican call-and-response musical tradition known as Plena.

Puerto Rico’s ‘Singing Newspapers’ Tell A Story Of Resilience

Photos: Angel Valentin for NPR

Drawn From The Heart: Your Most Memorable Valentine's Day Cards

No snark or anti-commercialism rantings here, just a dose of simple sweetness. We asked readers to share their most memorable Valentine’s Day cards; here are a few of our favorites, edited for length and clarity. And we asked NPR illustrator Chelsea Beck to re-create two valentines that live on only in their recipients’ memories.

Renae Quinn, Rancho Cucamonga, Calif.

My favorite valentine ever was from my late husband on the Valentine’s Day before we married. He gave me a box and lined up in the box were a drawing of an eye, a paper heart on a spring that popped up when I opened the box, a pink foam letter U, a chocolate-covered strawberry, and a baggie full of dirt from the garden in front of our apartment.

I was mystified. I mean I got the “I love you so very” part clearly enough, but the dirt? I said, “You love me so very dirty?” I didn’t care for that! He kept saying, “No, think about it.”

But all I could come up with was, “I love you so very dirt.”

He finally told me, “MULCH! It’s mulch!”

So it said, “I love you so very much.” Duh.

It’s still my favorite ever.

Christine Hull, Springvale, Maine

Three years ago, when my son was 7, he made a collection of small valentines that he distributed throughout our house. Each valentine was unique, and each involved a heart shape.

One was a simple red heart taped to the inside of a spoon. I found it while I was making my morning coffee and, of course, it brightened my day. Another was a pink bunny, who was especially cute because he was lopsided. Yet another was a series of yellow hearts arranged like petals of a sunflower. It was carefully taped to appear as if it were growing out from under my desk.

I was impressed by his creativity, but more so by the fact that he woke up early to hide each valentine for my husband and me to discover as we went through our day. He didn’t simply give us one valentine, he gave us a day full of discovering valentines.

Francha Menhard, Tel Aviv, Israel

I was teaching second-graders how to speak English. I was teaching them similes to describe things. “You are as quiet as a mouse,” “You are tall as the ceiling,” etc.

When Valentine’s Day came, wild and crazy J.R. gave me a heart cut out of plain white paper. On the heart, he wrote: “You are as beautiful as Wonder Woman. You are as fun as clowns. You are as smart as God. Love JR.”

I kept that valentine on my fridge until the sun bleached it out completely, some 14 years later. Thereafter, my sweet husband would remind me at bedtime that I was as beautiful as Wonder Woman. As fun as clowns. As smart as God. Just in case I forgot.

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Illustrations by Chelsea Beck/NPR

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Outside of his little business on the side of the road in a small town in Loiza, Puerto Rico, Santiago Quiñones adjusts a small solar panel.

It’s charging a floodlight, to illuminate the cramped space at night. He takes it down and demonstrates how it works. “You can’t see right now because it’s daylight, but it’s already charged,” he says in Spanish.

Like everyone else in Puerto Rico, 73-year-old Quiñones has lost access to the power grid. His house was also badly damaged by floodwaters when Hurricane Maria swept over the island.

So he and his wife are living across the street, using a bed set up in his shop, which survived the storm with relatively minor damage. They have a generator powering, among other things, a TV in their makeshift bedroom. And to help see at night there’s the solar panel and some rechargeable battery-powered lights.

They bought the light three months ago “for the storms,” Quiñones says. They’d heard it could be a dangerous hurricane season this year.

All over the island, people are facing the challenging task of recovering from the damage wrought by Maria — and simultaneously grappling with a power outage that won’t be over for weeks at the least.

‘You Have To Try’: Puerto Ricans, Without Power, Find Ways Forward

Photos: Angel Valentin for NPR

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Need Help In Puerto Rico? Here’s $100

The extra money could make a significant dent for a family of four or five. The idea is to let people decide what they need, right now, be it food, water, a tarp for the roof or diesel fuel for their generator.

Cash helps give people back dignity and choice for determining their most basic needs.
Jill Morehead, Mercy Corps
“Just a little something to address immediate needs,” says Jill Morehead, the head of Mercy Corps’ relief efforts on the island. “Cash helps give people back dignity and choice for determining their most basic needs, in addition to supporting local markets and small businesses.”

That’s one of the main reasons cash distribution is a growing trend in disaster settings. Since 2014, Mercy Corps has implemented cash programs in 31 countries. But this is the first time the group is trying it out in Puerto Rico, a U.S. territory.

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Photos: Angel Valentin for NPR

Millions of people in Puerto Rico need fuel, water, food and medicine. More than a week after Hurricane Maria devastated the island, major infrastructure is still down. Stores have trouble filling their shelves. Families are running low on the supplies they stockpiled before the storm, and across the island, many residents say they haven’t seen any aid deliveries.

Meanwhile, at the port in San Juan, row after row of refrigerated shipping containers sit humming. They’ve been there for days, goods locked away inside.

It’s one thing to get supplies to Puerto Rico. But officials at the Department of Homeland Security, which administers FEMA, say moving goods around the island is the bigger challenge.

Diesel is short. Drivers are scarce. And authorities say some roads are still impassable, although local officials dispute that explanation.

These containers were brought to the island by Crowley, a maritime shipping company. The company started unloading shipments on Saturday. By Friday, it will have received more than 4,000 loaded crates.

Most of the containers coming in have never left. Crowley says it has more than 3,400 commercial containers at its terminal now. That’s just one shipping company, at one port. Several other ports are accepting shipments, and stranded crates total an estimated 10,000.

In Puerto Rico, Containers Full Of Goods Sit Undistributed At Ports

Photo: Angel Valentin for NPR

A heart-shaped box of chocolate is a sign of love, a symbol — and often tool — of romance, and an intrinsic part of Valentine’s Day.

From at least the time of the Aztecs, chocolate has been seen as an aphrodisiac. So it’s reasonable to assume that it has been connected to love’s dedicated day of celebration for many centuries. But, that isn’t the case.

The roots of Valentine’s Day are ancient but far from clear, and likely originated in the pagan Roman fertility festival of Lupercalia. Those Romans, though, exchanged not candies but whippings — part of a complicated fertility ritual that began with sacrificing a goat and dog.

This morphed into a tamer Christian feast day in A.D. 496, when Pope Gelasius I commemorated a martyred saint, Valentine. Or saints. In the third century, the Roman emperor Claudius II executed two men named Valentine on Feb. 14th, albeit in different years.

How Chocolate Became A Sweet (But Not So Innocent) Consort To Valentine’s Day

Illustration: Alex Reynold/NPR

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Residents point with pride to the street corner where Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee sang in the “Despacito” video, surrounded by neighborhood kids. Over here they danced and played dominoes. And over there, sultry former Miss Universe Zuleyka Rivera sauntered around the neighborhood.

‘We Feel Forgotten’: In Storm-Battered Home Of Musical Hit, Help Comes 'Despacito’

Photos: Angel Valentin for NPR

Ich am Geoffrey Chaucer, and my litel poeme the Parliament of Foweles was the first to combyne the peanut buttir of Februarye the XIVth wyth the milk chocolate of wooing. And so Ich feel responsible to helpe wyth sum advyce on thys daye. Ich am heere wyth my bookes of lore and romaunce to answer yower questions, the which NPR hath pluckid from the great churninge ocean of sense and nonsense that on mappes of old ys called "The Twytter."

Love advice from Chaucer, via NPR.