For more information on my travels (to be updated as
regularly as possible):
- my travel blog
BonaResponds in New Orleans
Spring Break Service Trip
The following is an excerpt from my blog
This version contains pictures from the trip. Take a look.
BonaResponds Recap - Please Read
My intention when I went to New Orleans was to
update my blog each day. However, when we
arrived at our location in St. Bernards Parish,
I was told we didn't have internet access.
Instead, I wrote my blog in a notebook and
promised to update it when I returned. It is
noted in this blog as entries Part I through
Part X - also noted below.
When I typed this in all at once, I was tempted
to edit entries. However, I thought better of
that and kept things as I had written them
because the emotions at their writing couldn't
be replicated with me sitting in my office at
home. Note that. As I was rereading the entries,
I noticed anger, sadness, and other emotions I
had experienced over the course of the week.
Please recognize that as you read. These were
written over the course of a week. Enjoy and
comment. I appreciate all comments.
Hurricane Devastation - Disbelief
The first time I recall seeing anything out of the ordinary was
Mississippi/Alabama. Trees were uprooted and cracked in half like little
toothpicks. Trees were also bare to the tops. The ground was as brown and dried
as Buffalo in July. But it was mildly warm and it wasn't July.
It reminded me of a trip through Yellowstone National
Park in the mid-1990's a year or so after the forest fires decimated the area.
The trees bore the same scars but MS/AL didn't have burns. One of our student
passengers in the van mentioned the movie Independence Day. It was quite a
contrast from anywhere else we had driven.
And then we arrived in New Orleans. I was going to leave
several blank lines here for effect - the effect being complete silence. I was
driving the van at this point and my primary job as a member of our esteemed
faculty is to make sure everyone remained safe on my tour as driver. But I
couldn't help but look around. Luckily...poor choice of words...few cars were on
I had been fortunate enough to have visited New Orleans
a few times in my storied past - once as a Bona student and once as a graduate
student for a conference. I recall partaking of a hurricane each time. One is
all it takes.
How chilling that statement. One is all it took to
destroy a city.
We did have a discussion as we read billboards on our
drive in. A vodka (I believe it was vodka - it was a distillery, at any rate)
had a billboard with the Mardi Gras masks with the slogan 'We're Back.' A second
read 'Welcome back.' Other billboards sold the usuals but others showed support
'We're here to help, We're here to stay,' read a potato chip billboard. Was it
good? Or was it taunting and in poor taste as we looked around and saw houses in
pieces. These colorful, flashy, shiny, new billboards amid the wreckage. (When I
first typed this I wrote Ralph and realized it was Ray and had to change it.
That's how memorable the guy is to me.) Ray Nagin even got in the mix with a
wonderful shot of himself lording over the city he is promising to rebuild in
his re-election campaign. That was also a pretty billboard.
We drove down Jackson to St. Charles. I remembered the
street car. I didn't see it today, but many of these houses were as I remember.
The distinct architecture. The cool streets. Many had signs of their Mardi Gras
revelry on the front porches. Decorations in purple, gold and green. Three
houses looked great, then one was missing a porch or part of a roof or siding.
We left some of our van crew in this area. Hands On is a
highly organized operation. We left behind bunk beds, internet access,
accessible showers, lighted loos, and so on.
To get to St. Bernards Parish - our location - we had to
drive through the worst of the damage in New Orleans. I apologized to my van
mates over and over because I couldn't help but drive slowly. It would be
impossible to drive through this area without staring. Traffic lights are
replaced with stop signs (one of which I drove through because I wasn't
expecting it) because there is no electricity. Strip malls are gutted or filled
with debris. Houses are entirely trashed or filled with debris or are shells of
themselves. I think we saw only a handful of FEMA trailers. That disturbed me.
We did pass Mardi Gras floats stored in some kind of a
stockyard. But how out of place - colorful floats stuck in such stark
surroundings. Beautiful floats with amazing colors sitting alone just across the
street from a house that looked as though it was stepped on by a giant. Alone.
We notice odd things - the shells of our favorite fast
food places. We see a McDonalds with the original 1950's style arches and
building. We collectively decide that it must be saved - it's historic after
Our hosts - Common Ground/HOPE - are working out of a
church. We must rely on generators. Our bathrooms are in a separate building
with no electricity and no doors or walls. Well, the doors and walls are
actually bedsheets strung up to afford us some privacy. I must rely on a candle
or flashlight to go. And I always have to go in the middle of the night. And I
didn't bring my flashlight because I must be a dumbass. So I rely on my cell
phone to get me out and back safely or relatively so. Fun. The picture
to the left shows our sink and bathrooms. The bathrooms may be difficult
to see. They are behind the sheets through the framing.
pictures to the right and left show our sleeping quarters. Notice the
missing drywall. Our hosts removed drywall just above the floodline in the
church hall. That's how much water was in this church hall.
I am tired despite having stopped the van to sleep but I
am aging - I'm older than the undergrads. I haven't seen the other side of
midnight and enjoyed it in years.
Changing rooms don't really close but luckily I can get
in and out of my clothes quickly so I don't run too much risk of potential
students seeing me naked. That would likely scar most of them.
The picture to the left shows the entryway to our sleeping quarters or the
exit to the kitchen, depending on your perspective.
luck dinner - yummy! And that is one of the last times I will say that on our
trip. The night we arrive, many of those in the community who have been helped
by volunteers before us arrive with official New Orleans cuisine to share. We
are thrilled! This is a wonderful way for them to thank us. We find out later
that residents often do this because they don't have much else to spare and
sharing a meal is something they do well and often. They would love to give us
money or something else. But when a hurricane and subsequent flooding takes
everything you own, you do what you can.
We are all sleeping in a large church hall. All of us on cots - one large
collective. I don't know how well I am going to enjoy that, but hey, I've done
worse - I think....
As I am setting up my cot, I notice
drywall (they call it sheet rock down in these parts - perhaps they do at home
also, but I know it as drywall) missing up to about 15 feet in our church hall.
later tell us that the church hall suffered flood damage, as did the rest of the
Parish. They stripped the walls to just above the floodline. Just above the
floodline. Think about that much water in your home. Jesus.
The pictures to the left and right show our kitchen setup. You
guessed correctly if you guessed that it was a DOH nightmare.
Our showers for the week are to the right. I got one hot shower for
the week, the rest were cold. I think that may have been a record among
I go to sleep despite the fact that 60+ students are
carousing. I think they are excited from the bus ride and anxious to get
started. I don't quite know what to expect. And I am not quite sure I can even
do anything. The task seems so daunting. We are here for one week. What
difference can we possibly make?
57 Years of Marriage Sitting On My Front
Lawn (Part II)
I'm not quite used to the Bohemian atmosphere. I tripped
on a cot in the middle of the night coming back from the loo. Poor student. I hope he or she is okay.
First day of work. A hearty breakfast goes a long way
and our hosts/hostesses treat us quite well.
Walking down streets we notice homes boarded up, gutted,
ignored. Primarily ignored. Several FEMA trailers line
the street when we reach our house for the day. A mini
community in this wasteland.
The pictures above show views of the St. Bernards Parish neighborhood.
This is where our group worked. Notice the FEMA trailers in the top left
But the community is nice. It's a nice, small suburb -
not what you've heard on television. Not all of New
Orleans affected was the lower class. The middle/lower
middle class was also affected.
These pictures show the houses pre-gut and then our
team suited up and ready for hazardous materials. We were supposed to gut
houses down to the frames. Then a mold removal crew would come in and
spray for mold. Our group was asked to experiment with a microbial mold
remover as an alternative to bleach. After that, another coating is placed
on the frame (I think) and then residents wait for permits.
One woman in her FEMA trailer, which was smaller than
campers I'd been in - to camp, let us use her restroom.
I couldn't live in the trailer. And the problems we
don't hear about are many.
Trailers offer horribly tight quarters. The trailer I was in housed a
family of 4. There was one bed, small kitchen, small
bathroom, table with a couple chairs. The little
9-year-old girl was happy we were talking to her. None
of her friends had returned and she thought us very nice
for talking to her. That made us quite sad. She had no
one to play with. And a hell of a place to play.
Another trailer occupant mentioned that nothing
closed in her FEMA trailer. It took her months to get
the trailer, another couple months to have it hooked up,
and now nothing closes. She laughs as if it is the price
of doing business, which apparently it is.
Trailer residents feel horribly forgotten. Many who
are in the trailers have gutted houses and are waiting
for building permits to rebuild. The city is stalling
and it is noticed. Theories abound as to what the hold
up is. Regardless of whether any of the theories holds
water, perception is huge. If residents think these
things, the damage control required to change that
attitude may cost more than the cost to repair the
damaged levees! Many feel that the city is performing a
sort of ethnic/class cleansing. That if the city stalls
long enough, people will leave allowing the city to sell
the land to developers for more economic friendly
Another theory holds that the city hasn't decided
what it wants to do yet. They may turn the area into
green space or alternate housing. Meanwhile, people wait
in ill-equipped trailers ready to return to their homes
and rebuild their communities. Willing and able -
stalled by government.
No one believes what government is telling them -
that there are too many homes to inspect and too few
inspectors. Particularly since no one has ever seen an
We are encouraged to talk to people - not just
Bonaventure people, but community members. This morning
while sipping my Bohemian coffee, a FEMA worker
installing FEMA trailers behind our church hall was
eager to talk and I was eager to listen and ask
questions. And share my compassion. (An irony I can't
escape. I find it funny that I attended a Catholic
University, worked in the Catholic Health System, teach
at my alma mater and sleep in churches - I'm Wiccan!).
He lived in his home for 30 years. He found out it
wasn't salvageable. He cried looking at his house. Now
he is not sure what he will do. This leads to an
explanation of the notation on the houses in the ravaged
areas. An 'X' was spray painted on each house. The
number at the top was the date of the search, the
notation to the left was the group who searched, to the
bottom was the number of dead bodies, to the right, the
number of dead pets. If your 'X' was circled or had a
square around it, it meant it would be demolished. There
was no gutting it and saving it. I can't imagine
traveling 'home' wondering where my home stood in this
macabre lottery. And knowing I could likely do not a
damn thing about it.
Volunteers are in the communities helping people to
clean up. What we heard was that if the house wasn't
gutted by May, the house would be demolished. People are
now frantic to gut their homes - and then sit in their
FEMA trailers waiting for permits that may never come.
The logic in this completely kicks my ass.
One woman let us take a look at her inground swimming
pool that had fish in it from the flood. She had been
shocking it with chlorine to no avail. The pool was so
polluted, several in my group almost walked on it
thinking it was cement. Thank God no one did. I didn't
want to have to explain that back at the Hippie Commune
(home for the week). This woman had paid people to clean
her house. She has been waiting at least a month for an
inspector. She did everything that is needed. She gutted
the house, hauled all the debris to the curb for pickup,
had the house de-molded (sprayed with bleach), and
sealed against future mold growths. She is afraid to
pump her pool because she is afraid it will crack and
fall inside itself since they are below sea level. No
one trusts anything since the levee break/breach.
I was amazed by the number of For Sale signs
on properties. My initial thought was, property values
must be so low, who the hell would buy. Someone told me
that it's the opposite. Values have risen because
developers are looking for large tracts of land to buy
and then sell or subdivide to their economic pleasure.
The debris in trees, on roofs, between houses was
amazing. Six months after the fact and there are still
sheds propped up between houses. There are still cars on
top of sheds or other cars or nestled in backyards and
People driving around all had new cars that were so
clean I envied them. It turns out that car insurance
companies are getting money to people quickly and even
giving more than bluebook value. Homeowners on the other
hand was a huge gripe. One owner talked about getting
$400 for his home. The assessor came in and looked at
the part of the house not affected by the flooding
(flood insurance wasn't part of the policy) and decided
that was the damage. This house was assessed from the
attic up - the only part that escaped flood waters. And
the only part without damage. The roof was intact, the
attic walls were intact. Who cares that all the
possessions and the living space wasn't inhabitable and
was destroyed. Not part of the hurricane. $400. Can you
imagine? And most of these people have lived in this
neighborhood for 30 or more years. And have no
mortgages. And have paid homeowners insurance for 30
years. $400. Kick me again, I'm still moving.
I was flattered by the cat calls of men working on
one of the neighboring houses. Normally I am offended by
such displays of testosterone, but I was sweaty and full
of dirt and God knows what else so I was flattered. I
smiled. Anything that makes you smile is appreciated,
however rude or crude. Funny how that happens.
My back hurts, my foot hurts, I will ache in the
morning, but I wouldn't trade this experience and I've
only been here one day. I am thrilled to be here. It's a
hell of a Spring Break. I have no energy and want to go
to bed. I'm such an old lady.
The story of the day was told by a gentleman who
lived in the house next to our gutting project. He has
gotten Tulane University students to help him gut his
house to sell. He and his wife lived there the 57 years
of their marriage. They are in Mississippi now. She
wasn't with him. I didn't ask why. He talked to us and
expressed his thanks for having us in his community. He,
like so many others, is so grateful for our presence.
It's a reminder that they are not forgotten. That people
are thinking of them outside of the levees. They
couldn't hold the water back and they certainly can't
hold the compassion back. He said, "57 years of marriage
is sitting on my front lawn" as he looked at the debris
stacked haphazardly on his curb. Then he shook his head.
And I wanted to hug him and then I wanted to cry.
I write this in our barracks after a long day and
have to pause to look around at my fellow gutters who
are sitting on their cots. Somehow seeing my
compatriots' reactions and interactions brings a sense
of normalcy. But I have to remember I'm a professor.
That gives me power and clout or a reasonable enough
facsimile that I get to charge my cell phone ahead of
the students! Big flipping deal. I don't feel like a
professor here. I am as big of a person as each of the
students. And I can't help but call them my
students even though I will likely never teach most of
them. We are all on the same page and all hold the same
status - volunteer. Perhaps even savior, at least for
this week. Those are pretty big shoes.
I'm listening to Coldplay's Fix You on my IPod and I
want to cry. This isn't my reality. I have a home with
four walls, floors not covered in a 6" layer of muck and
ooze, electricity, heat, water. My home isn't the
cleanest, but it's a home and it's habitable and I think
I will hug my furniture and kiss my floor when I return.
Perhaps I'll also sweep!
Burning of the Books (Part III)
People are more subdued, I think. Definitely tired. The
work is back-breaking. Solemn because people have seen
and experienced much. There is a bonfire now. What I
wouldn't give for a nice glass of wine or a Smirnoff Ice
or Mike's Hard Lemonade. I don't drink beer, and I think
wine is a bit pretentious for a campfire, so give me
something I can suck out of a bottle. Although, if I
sucked wine from the bottle, that would be sucking the
pretentious right out of it!
What Does Appreciation Look Like (Part
Some of the Hippie Leaders are burning retired algebra
and geometry textbooks. They served as kindling and many
of my students are getting a bit too much pleasure out
of it. If kills me, as a professor, to see a text being
mistreat, but I can't sway the masses. Perhaps a part of
me - the small portion that isn't a geek (my big toe?) -
is a bit titilated that parabolic equations and others
of their ilk are burning. I don't know.
The fire sure feels nice.
It looks, smells and tastes like BBQ ribs provided by
grateful homeowners. People happy and relieved and
thankful for the help. Laughter is a great healer and
food is a wonderful thank you gift. The only thing
missing - a nice red wine. Hell at this point, I'd take
a shitty red wine in a bottle with a straw.
Clusterfuck (Part V)
Mad Dog, grrrrrrr.
Clusterfuck is the first word that came to mind
regarding today. In fact, it could be two words but I
don't have a dictionary and I don't think it's in the AP
Stylebook, although I don't have that either. The
best laid plans also works to sum up today.
Are You Going To Try Sobriety Again
Today? (Part VI)
It was hot and things were starting to get to me. I have
a sunburned neck which is no one's fault but my own. I
don't know if I can continue to do this work. Manual
labor is difficult, but this is also toxic. I think I
also wonder what we can do and if we make a difference.
But I have to be confident I am making a difference to
at least one family. I don't know.
I also think someone told me there is a dimebag in the
First Aid Kit.
What the fuck?!
"Are you going to try sobriety again today? " was the
question asked of one of the perpetually stoned members
of our host party. Part of me wonders how much of it is
an act - or an exaggerated personality for the benefit
of the 'Catholic University Students.' Or how much is a
result of one too many train jumps gone awry?
Today was a much better day and I'm not sure why.
Perhaps because our house was next to our barracks?
Perhaps because I felt pretty good ripping shit down and
tossing it away? I also think some of the original sting
of seeing the devastation has worn off and our senses of
humor have returned. They were sorely missed and needed.
I still can't help but think I wouldn't rebuild if I
were in this situation but I don't have as much
attachment to things. Easily said considering my house
has been standing since 1836.
Our house today was in worse shape, structurally, or so
it seemed. Half of the roof and attic are missing. About
1/8 of the brickwork is missing. It did afford us nice
breezes throughout the day - as callous as that may
While going through the closets in the bedroom, I was haphazardly tossing
clothes onto the debris pile out front. I started to think that I was going
through the most intimate part of anyone's home. What would I do if people were
going through my personal belongings in my bedroom? Is there something there I
wouldn't want to see tossed to the curb? Or something I wouldn't want anyone to
find? I mentioned this to my group of students while we were taking a break. No
one elaborated likely because they didn't want to think about what a professor
might have in her bedroom. Not that I would have shared....
On the top shelf of the closet was a box full of the little wedding favor bubble
things people blow at weddings instead of throwing rice. I wondered if there was
an upcoming wedding interrupted by the storm. We blew some of the bubbles then
thought they might be toxic so we stopped. But it did offer a bit of a reprieve.
Relaxing at lunch I let fly that I read tarot cards and
brought a deck with me - my voodoo inspired, trance deck
- quite fitting for New Orleans. Several girls want
readings after dinner. it should provide much
New Orleans Tours drive through the 9th Ward and St.
Bernards Parish. A sort of macabre hurricane devastation
tour. I tried to process that one. Paying money to tour
the devastation. It seemed so fucked up and as a
communication scholar, there isn't a better way to
phrase that. I have looked at houses but I have also
gutted them. I have taken the time to talk to those
affected both at the worksites and in the distribution
center on site. The shelter of your bus is nice. I hope
you bastards enjoy the view through your "aquarium." Get
out and sweat and cry. I don't know why that bothered me
so much. Tourist money is coming back into the city but
at what cost?
I did pay to get here. But I don't think of myself as a
tourist. And in defense of the tours, perhaps a portion
of it goes to relief efforts. I don't know. I found it
disturbing. Although I would like to talk to the
sightseers and perhaps after cooling down I can
empathize. Each of us can process as only we know how. I
need to jump into it. Some may need shelter. Some may
need the newspaper. It's all about perspective.
Some memorable signs I saw or heard about:
- FEMA (Fix Everything My Ass)
- George Bush, Where are you sleeping tonight?
- Thanks for the Levees
- Goodbye Mom and Dad
- For Sale
- Polluted by Murphy Oil
Some require some explanation. There were many houses
that had signs or had paint sprayed directly on the
houses that expressed condolences for lost loved ones.
Goodbye mom and dad I could only surmise meant mom and
dad didn't make it. And that sign was painted on the
grave nature appointed for them.
Murphy Oil is a huge refinery in St. Bernards Parish
- or close enough that it may as well be in the Parish.
Rumor has it that Murphy Oil had been illegally dumping
or storing oil for years and, in truth, with the levee
breach, one of the large oil containers leaked oil all
over the Parish. In fact, one of the Hippie volunteers
told me that when cleanup first started they could run a
finger along the car or along the house and get a layer
of oil off. Murphy, of course, denies anything illegal
and states that the tank overflowed.
A story that doesn't surprise me. It does surprise me
that it didn't occur to me. Several residents mentioned
having to climb on their roofs to weather the storm. No
surprise, it was on the news. What wasn't mentioned was
that the fauna of the area needed someplace to roost as
well. Residents found themselves fighting off snakes and
alligators. With what, I can only imagine. Imagine
sitting on your roof waiting to be rescued while you
fight off a gator? Or try to wrestle a snake? The idea
seems unfathomable. I don't know how to put myself in
Also, many of those who were piloting boats were
residents. Many residents had boats and most kept their
keys in the boats. When the boats floated by, residents
would swim to them, start them up, and rescue people off
roofs. In fact, in once instance, residents returned and
spray painted (the only way to leave a message for your
neighbor) on the garage door an apology for taking the
boat, but left their phone number to call to get it
A garage with a sign noting the stolen boat. A phone number was left
to arrange for its return.
Neighborly, compassionate, understanding, and
friendly in spite of such hardship. Why wouldn't you
want communities like this?
Day 4 (Part VII)
Today the toilets are betraying us which is great news
since all they feed us are beans.
Today I have also started my list of things I can't wait
to do/have when I return:
- A bathroom with a real door and walls and toilet
paper that isn't soggy in the morning from the dew
(or I hope it's dew and not a late night crap shoot,
so to speak).
- Hot showers - which I will take until my hot
water tank runs dry! I have had only one hot shower
while here. What is sad is that I am starting to
- Pizza and wings.
- Clean dishes - or dishes I have cleaned that I
know were not found in a toxic waste home - at this
point we aren't sure. There is some speculation...
- Kiss my house, hug my furniture, hump my bed,
cook dinner. Not in any particular order.
- Drink a glass of wine to prove I am civilized
then abandon the glass and drink the rest of the
bottle with a straw.
- Only my dogs and me in my bedroom. Anyone else,
invite only. No offense, but that invite won't
include 60+ people. I have been know to do some racy
things, but that wouldn't be one of them.
- Run naked in my house because I can.
- Go to sleep without distractions and without
three layers of clothes (it gets cold at night when
there is no heat).
- Burn incense to remember our hippie hosts.
I read this list and feel rather selfish, but it's
what's keeping me normal and grounded. It's also keeping
a part of me removed from the situation because I have
to keep one foot outside.
Good news! The
Wild Mountain Organics insect repellent works in the
bayou of New Orleans! Woo hoo! Perhaps a portion of the
sales of our insect repellent will go to Common Ground
to continue their good work! Perhaps I should send them
some. Perhaps I will just try to remember to use it!
Bad news. I may kill or severely injure or maim
people by the end of the trip. I think a week in close,
rather uncomfortable, quarters/situations is testing the
patience of people. It's testing mine and I have a great
deal of patience. I'm a professor, god dammit!
Our Visit to the Other Sites (Part VIII)
Today is a treat, if you can call it that. One of my
fellows profs., Mike, is coming to pick me up and take
me on a tour of the other sites. I am going with my
brother-in-barracks, Father Bob. I joked with one of my
fellow profs at home, Brother Basil, about going on the
trip with his Brothers. I told him he better warn them
about me. He apparently didn't because Father Bob hung
out with me. I expect if he knew about me, he'd be
praying. In fact, now that he does know me, he may be
doing just that!
One of the things that struck us
was the contrast between debris and brand new casinos. The pictures below
show this contrast in detail.
St. Bonaventure had close to 300 alumni, faculty,
friends, and students at five different sites (I think
five, although it could have been six). Those are pretty
impressive numbers. We had wanted to see other sites to
see what else the hurricane did. Father Bob and I were
familiar with St. Bernards Parish and its devastation
but wanted perspective.
Near the casinos, a statue
had been hauled off its base. Picture below. Also, the infamous
bridge that is no more.
Immediately, Mike mentioned that St. Bernards Parish and
the 9th Ward were worse than he expected and certainly
worse than their location in New Orleans. Their biggest
concern was of security. People didn't wander at night.
Our biggest concern was the flood aftermath. The mold
and other toxins that were contained in flood waters for
2 weeks and likely seeped into everything.
It was also nice to get out knowing we would eat
something other than beans and rice. I loved beans and
rice. Loved - past tense. If I see beans and rice I will
toss them at the chef. Really. And we ate a burger and
fried at Dairy Queen and I got a cone. Yummy!
Our first stop was Bay St. Louis, MS. I had no idea what
to expect. Let me say this, their facilities were the
Hilton compared to our camp. The damage was also much
less intense. But I have to constantly remind myself
that the damage is six months after the fact. St.
Bernards Parish has barely been touched, while MS has
repaired much. Much, but not all.
Houses were being gutted but were not in nearly the
shape our homes were in. And I am thankful of that for
all the residents having to suffer. Thankful that their
cleanup job is relatively easy, although they would
likely not feel that way. And this town was historic.
Its charm was so cozy and quaint.
We then headed to the shore. People had told us that
most of the damage occurred to homes on the shore. And
the homes on the shore are as you would expect. Million
dollar plus homes directly on the beach. Homes that had
front stairs to nothing. The home itself was completely
gone. Vanished as if someone just took it brick by brick
or piece by piece. Stairs to nowhere, I kept saying.
Stairs to nowhere. Coastal homes in need of .... homes.
We saw one particular home that made us pull over. A
woman was working on her home with some student
volunteers from Atlanta. She talked to us and during the
conversation a couple friends pulled up. The spirit of
the victims is contagious. It is inspiring. The couple
told of grabbing valuables that were within reach -
pictures off the mantle, underwear (not the good ones,
the ones that were more holy than righteous, as she
said), her slip (she is a good Southern girl who wears a
slip under dresses), jewelry (mostly costume) and
whatever else she could think of. In fact, she put her
jewelry in a safe deposit box. When she was looking for
her slip, she couldn't find it, but managed to find it
in the safe deposit box. Hey, valuables are valuables
and it's all relative. Her husband had a heart attached
as a result of the storm and then suffered 4 bouts of
pneumonia. He was on oxygen as we spoke. Mike retrieved
another oxygen tank from the trunk as we talked and she
joked that he's the only one allowed to take a bottle to
It is this spirit that I envy. I am not sure I would
have my sense of humor in this case. I hope that I would
maintain my humor, but who can say? The human spirit is
a funny thing. You don't really find out who you are or
what you are about until tragedy strikes. And even
Another resident was showing off her two new knees. She
had knee replacement surgery before the storm and was
proud of her two new knees. These people were obviously
wealthy and were living in FEMA trailers. They were also
disgusted with FEMA and government. Ironic since
everyone we had spoken with expressed concern that the
wealthy were benifiting while the poor had to suffer and
wait for FEMA. Turns out FEMA does not discriminate its
incompetence. There is plenty for everyone of all
classes and races!
All we spoke with were concerned about their communities
more than themselves. All expressed that their
communities were their lifeblood. Condo developers had
long coveted the shore. Now they had a chance with
increased taxes and the increased likelihood that people
wouldn't rebuild. What a shame in this historic town. We
can only imagine what the houses and the shoreline must
have looked like pre-Katrina. To be replaced by condos
because government is more concerned with money than
ethics. I'm not surprised but it disturbs me no matter
how often I hear about it.
The most horrific story we heard was of the couple's
son. He decided to brave the storm. As I recall, the
wall of water came off the gulf (20 feet high) and wiped
out houses. Just wiped them out. That wasn't just a 20
foot wall of water, it was a 20 foot wall of water and
debris. His house was lifted from the foundation and
carried him while it filled with water. He swam to the
ceiling by following the light on his smoke detector.
Then he tried to find his way to the roof. He made it
out of the storm by jumping from debris to debris to
safety much as I would expect someone jumped from rock
to rock in a stream to cross, or ice piece to ice piece
to cross a near frozen river/stream/ocean/other body of
water. He is alive by the grace of God, they said. And
they are so thankful that we are there to help them.
They have had no support from anyone but volunteers.
In past days I had been thinking that I wasn't making a
difference. I had helped to gut two homes. To two
families, that is the world. To the survivors on the
coast, the idea that we are there helping is the world.
We didn't help them directly, but we are helping their
community. That means everything to them. Words cannot
express how humbled I was. And how grateful I was I
decided to take this trip. It has been life-altering.
Stella and Paul LaViolette (we initially stopped and
talked to Stella) have a website. He is a retired
oceanographer which makes him really cool to me. He
writes books and she writes cookbooks. They write not to
make money but to "stay out of trouble." He is writing a
book about the experience of Katrina. Firsthand account.
Their website is
here. Check it out and support them.
We also heard stories about prisoners in cells. Many
died because the guards couldn't get to them. Also,
there was trouble keeping prisoners. Those with minor
infractions were let go while those with major felonies
were held - or at least guards tried to hold them. But
records are lost so many are let go because of that.
Driving to other sites we saw metal billboards on the
highway (I didn't get pictures because we were driving)
were bent in half. The top half containing the
advertisement was bent in half at the pole.
Many in New Orleans also believe that the barge ran into
the levee which damaged it and caused the flooding. So
many theories abound it's hard to keep track. Suffice to
say it was a disaster.
Not a barge, but a shrimp
boat. Imagine this on your house and in your front yard.
But Biloxi was different. Biloxi was odd. Casinos used
to have to be contained on barges. Now they can be
housed on land. You will see devastated areas right next
to a brand new casino. Several of them. And you can also
see the barges that were cast up on land. One barge, in
fact, landed on a small hotel killing 5 people. Imagine
sitting in your hotel room weathering the storm and
having a barge land on you. And these barges are
It was an interesting trip because the devastation was
so different. We see flood damage and much destruction.
They see nothing. Houses and buildings were completely
wiped out. Devastating no matter how you look at it, but
The day we were making our pilgrimage to other sites,
G.W. Bush was visiting New Orleans. I said, did someone
tell him there was a hurricane and he thought he would
check it out? Or was he hoping to get drunk in the
French Quarter. I have never been a fan of G.W. but this
had exacerbated my disdain for his administration and
him. It would be impossible to experience the spirit of
these people and see the destruction and not be moved to
some sort of action and right now that action is I want
to beat the president with a brick or let a barge land
on his Texas Ranch.
At this point, many students see me as one of them - I
think. At least that's what they let me believe. We talk
about anything and say anything. I wouldn't even think
of reprimanding them in this situation. I want to hear
their thoughts and have them express their opinions. One
student, who argued on the van ride down that mass media
may have been to blame for much of the hype and then
realized his error when he remembered I teach in the
J/MC school and quickly backtracked, had much to say. He
thought the federal government was getting too much
heat. He thought more responsibility fell to the local
and state governments. I told him I agree that local and
state need to take responsibility (Ray Nagin is likely
to not get reelected according to my informal poll of
residents, by the way) but that government at all levels
needs to take some responsibility. Levees fall under the
federal jurisdiction, I believe. At least in terms of
monetary support. I could be mistaken. I often am. But
it shouldn't be a matter of placing blame. That won't
solve the problem. Communities and people working
together is going to solve this and help.
I enjoyed conversations with students. I think to give
up your spring break for this undertaking is more than
admirable. The students will forever have my gratitude
and admiration. Kudos to St. Bonaventure. And kudos to
the leaders particularly Jim Mahar (finance professor
and head hurricane relief dude). His leadership was
exemplary. This is an incredible testament to the
Driving to New Orleans we stopped at a rest area and ran
into alumni making the trip themselves. It was
inspiring. I am so proud to be a member of this
Tarot Will Send You Straight to Hell!
Wednesday was a rather trying day. We returned from our
trip to the other sites to find a group meeting that got
out of control. I became quite upset with leadership and
had to remove myself from the situation. That night a
student decided to get rip roaring wasted and pissed on
a cot. Or on the floor. He pissed on something that
wasn't the bathroom. Earlier in the week we had a dumbass try to buy beer in MS with a fake ID. He was
promptly sent home per the rules and regulations signed
Our pisser's punishment can be debated, and was. I put
my two cents in which never seemed to matter and doesn't
need to be discussed further in this blog. Suffice to
say that my experience with certain things got in the
way of my experience in New Orleans and I don't like
that it did. I wasn't here to suffer through internal
politics and bullshit, but I did. And survived - I
Today we went into New Orleans and the French Quarter. I
was responsible for a group of students. I had to walk
with them to make sure they didn't do anything against
the vows they took to come on the trip. I would have
loved to have taken them to get hurricanes (the drink)
but knew better. They may read this and come and beat me
in my office at Bonas, but that's the way it goes.
Perhaps another time.
I worked with this group on the first day when we gutted
houses. I continue to be amazed at the students. They
are awesome! I told them that I had been to New Orleans
before and have seen what I need so they can do whatever
they want. I would just make sure they stayed out of
trouble. One guy joked that he wanted to go to a nudie
girlie bar. I said, fine. I would prefer not to, but if
that's what they want, okay. No drinking though.
We didn't do that. We found a wonderful little
diner/hole-in-the-wall to eat in. We also discussed all
kinds of things that will stay in New Orleans - it is
spring break after all. So shut up group of mine!
Actually, we were so tired, we sat in the lobby of the
Sheraton in these wonderfully plush and comfy chairs
watching people walk by. Most of the group - or perhaps
all - had been to New Orleans before and just wanted to
relax - or drink. That narrowed the choices.
When we returned to camp, the wind had picked up and
there were reports that thunderstorms, hail and perhaps
tornados were headed our way. I thought this would
nicely cap our week in New Orleans. Luckily that was not
I read tarot cards for students for about 3 hours that
night. I creeped many of them out which is always a
bonus. I find that I am eerily accurate. They thought so
too. I got tired, because I'm old and need to go to bed
before 11 p.m. so I told them to stop at my office and I
would remember to bring a deck to work. I am not sure
how the dean will feel about this. Perhaps I should ask
first! Actually, I will ask first. I would hate to get
reprimanded for this. In fact, one student that is
actually mine told me he wanted to schedule a meeting to
discuss his Capstone and wanted a reading at the same
time. Whatever works, I guess.
We are Leaving (Part X)
Friday is bittersweet. We are excited to leave to return to some
degree of normalcy. But also upset that we are leaving the area. There
is so much that needs to be done that cannot possibly be accomplished in
one week by 60+ people. What we did was admirable. And what we did was
appreciated. I was excited to board the van to leave. But I knew I would
After some delay we were on the road. After many, many,
many hours, I arrived home. My first order of business was to get some
chicken fingers and milk! When I pulled into my driveway I cried. I
cried because I had my choice for dinner. I could walk to dinner if I
wanted. My house is standing and is as cute as I left it. My dogs were
barking inside and were alive to greet me. I didn't have a giant "X" on
my house. It was a gorgeous day and kids were biking, skateboarding and
running. My community was whole. And I was whole. My family and friends
were a convenient phone call away. And I was grateful.
I loved my dogs when I opened the door. I loved my
house, I ate my dinner, I drank my wine, I showered (a long shower). I
greeted my boyfriend who disappointed me, but he was around. We had
dinner and I fell asleep for hours. I woke up and read the Sunday paper
and drank my coffee. It seemed as if the past week was a dream because I
was clean and had gotten sleep and was home.
I am so very grateful for my experience. I am excited
that the students who joined us are members of the Bonaventure community
and will make an exceptional mark on the world. I am so proud of
everyone involved and I am proud of me for going.
I saw the front page of the Saturday Buffalo News with
an article about alternative spring breaks and a picture of some of our
group. I smiled.
Sense Of Humor
the devastation and the tragedy, humor seemed inevitable. We did notice
signs of it throughout the affected areas and even found ourselves partaking.
My favorite sign had to be in the shop window to the left. It is difficult
to see in this photo, but reads "Katrina, you bitch, don't even talk to me."
My group in New Orleans had some fun with statues along the waterfront. My
glasses are on the youth to the
left in the picture above.
One of the sites in Mississippi had a totem pole
type directional. I tried to find St. Bonaventure or Olean on the pole but
surmised that our group hadn't gotten that far yet. I enjoyed this piece