Sayed Kashua |

Harvey Is Too Nice a Name for a Devastating Hurricane

The weather forecasters must have picked 'Harvey' only because they were certain it would be a mild hurricane, professional and caring

Sayed Kashua
Sayed Kashua
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Illustration: Sayed Kashua is caught in the eye of a hurricane.
Illustration.Credit: Amos Biderman
Sayed Kashua
Sayed Kashua

“How was your summer?” asked the surgeon, whom I met for the first time half an hour before a smiling nurse took me to a small treatment room in the center of which was a chair. “It’s an operation with a local anesthetic,” the nurse said, repeating what I already knew, as she pressed buttons, lowered my back, raised my legs and elevated the chair, which reclined and became a bed.

“Dr. Harvey is very tall,” she laughed. He really was tall, and looked like a doctor should, with a doctor’s beard and eyeglasses. Would I have thought Dr. Harvey was a physician if, say, I’d collided with his shopping cart in the supermarket?

Harvey – sounds familiar, I thought. The penny dropped: It’s the name of the hurricane. And I recalled that guest on the “Top Gear” show, an actor or maybe a singer, in the part where a “star in a car” is timed driving around a test track. The guest related that before becoming an actor or singer he worked for the weather bureau, and his job was to come up with names for storms. I don’t remember how fast he did the lap but the guest said they tried to give names that match the character of the storm that was on the way. So, what character does the name “Harvey” have – that is, what character does the doctor have?

The names of storms here are typically Western, but among the names posted at the entrance to the clinic was “Dr. Mohammed.” Is it a matter of discrimination that no storm has been named Mohammed? Do Muslims in America feel deprived for not having been awarded their own storms? Is this one more example of white supremacy?

What would happen if, in the name of equal opportunity, the storm raging in Texas had been called “Mohammed”? It would definitely have been considered one of the heights of racism – a storm that’s inflicting destruction and ruin being named for the Prophet. It would have fanned the flames, ratcheted up the incitement. But Harvey isn’t a name that connotes destruction, I thought. Anyway, I’m no expert on the meanings of Western names.

Horrible Harvey has been the main item on the news for over a week, with images of the devastation it’s causing opening every newscast. The pardon Trump granted to Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio – who’s been accused of racism and persecution of illegal immigrants – was instantly washed away with the surging waves as Harvey hit the shore. The political commentators deferred to the weather reporters, who broadcast from the eye of the storm, wearing rain slickers and fighting powerful winds and rain.

In fact, the reporters, who are risking their lives, are part of the story in the weather news here. During the early days of Harvey, I watched the news to see whether a disaster would happen in real-time to one of the weathermen. After all, it’s not as if you actually hear their reports, with the winds whipping into the microphones. The more risks a weatherman takes – Wow, look how the wind is tossing him around, he’s totally out of his mind! – the more uptight the studio anchor gets: “Be careful out there, guys! Do us a favor and move to a safer place.” There’s an expression of pain on the anchor’s face, and admiration for the hero who was sent to do battle with the forces of Nature in the name of his country.

Shots of the destruction started coming only two days after Harvey made landfall. “It’s always the poor and the weak,” I remember my father saying. “Somehow, even the natural disasters hit them the worst.” Now, old-age homes were flooding, helpless tenants in apartment buildings were mired up to their necks, mothers were holding babies wrapped in plastic bags above the surface of the water, thousands of families were being sent to shelters, and the kids – those poor kids! You can see from the looks on their faces that they have discovered life’s cruelty for the first time.

I know, by heaven I know, that the images from East Asia are even harsher, that the number of victims claimed by floods there runs into the many thousands. But I’m not sitting in front of a screen in India or Bangladesh, I’m watching American screens. My heart goes out to the people of Texas and my admiration goes to all the citizens who volunteered to help out and rescue trapped people using motorboats, rubber dinghies, canoes.

At times I wonder whether the newscasts in India are broadcasting images from Texas and not of the victims of the monsoons in Mumbai. I wonder how it is that there are people who’ve become accustomed to their disasters, whose suffering is considered natural, and at times I scold myself for being glued to the TV during disasters, as though I lack heartaches of my own.

The nurse asked me to make myself comfortable. The operation, which isn’t actually an operation but a medical procedure, as the referral stated, would take 45 minutes, and she explained every step to me in advance. As she covered my head with a kind of plastic sheet, she explained that the most difficult part would actually be the anesthetic. “You’ll feel a small prick and after that it will burn a little,” she announced, adding that Dr. Harvey is one of the most skilled physicians she’s worked with. “Oh, here, he’s just coming in.”

“Hello,” I could barely hear Dr. Harvey’s voice, without seeing him. Afterward I heard him washing his hands for a long time, and probably also putting on medical gloves.

Harvey is a nice name, I thought, and anyway, the weather forecasters must not really have expected such huge devastation, otherwise they would have chosen a more terrifying name. They picked “Harvey” only because they were certain it was a mild hurricane, professional and caring.

“I’m just going to mark the place of the incision,” Dr. Harvey said. “You’ll feel a small prick, and then a slight burning, and that will be the most painful part of the whole procedure.”

I closed my eyes and saw a young father, his head bent over, holding his little son in a plastic boat, the boy gazing straight into the camera, straight into our eyes with a wondering look: What’s going to be?

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