I met Kyle in Louisana, volunteering after Katrina. Since our first experience, we have both returned seperately. While I was there last, I was asked not to take pictures. So I appreciate seeing his, as well as hearing of his experience. I hope you will too...
So it's been over a month since I returned from my second term in the Hurricane Katrina region. I have had time to reflect now and am ready to share some of my thoughts. They follow:
We worked in an area called St. Bernard Parrish, a suburb of New Orleans, for ten days at an Emergency Communities site (www.emergencycommunities.org). Through this site we helped provide free organic meals for the nearly 2000 people who rely on this “Love Café” for food every day.
In St. Bernard Parrish, not a house was spared from 10 to 15 feet of water. There is still no electricity or grocery stores, and debris from houses cover sidewalks like a war zone. In addition, the soil is saturated with 1 million gallons of oil that was spilled during Hurricane Katrina. I didn't see a single military vehicle, and the only FEMA health facility in the area closed just after we left.
We spent our days chopping fruits and vegetables, stirring chili, slicing barbeque, cleaning dishes, and serving residents in the food lines. We also ventured into the surrounding communities, removing black mold-invested furniture and gutting drywall from damaged houses. The most rewarding experience was another aspect of service: that of listening to the stories of residents that we came to know so well like Catfish, John Wilks Booth, Lester and Lee, and Joe and Wilma.
We slept in tents located behind the kitchen and dinning dome; we cleaned our solar-powered showers and hand washing stations; we gathered with residents to listen to good Cajun music at lunch and dinner; we even enjoyed our first ever crawfish boil where you “break the tail and suck the head” to get those good Louisianan spices.
One Saturday particularly impacted us all. Lester, a resident from the 9th ward, asked that we help him with the cleanup of his house. For 4 hours we trampled in and out of his waterlogged brick home in our blue suits, goggles, and breathing masks. We pulled out furniture, clothes, drywall, and even a freezer that had sat with rotting meat for 6 months. Afterwards, Lester took us for a tour of the levee systems that had failed him and his community. He explained that contrary to how the media described the flooding, much of the water that rushed down his street occurred because the levees were not set deep enough into the ground, thus allowing water to come up from underneath like a garage door opening.
Later that week Lester and a local cook, Lee, prepared 25 pounds of crawfish with ham, potatoes, corn, and Louisianan spices to show their appreciation for our help. This example of gratitude was just one of the many ways we were humbled by the warm hearts of the residents we had the privilege of serving.
Here's a link with some pictures: http://www.flickr.com/photos