Monday, November 27, 2006

An Odd but Fun Measure of Progress

A month or so ago, the Times Picayune ran a rather interesting OpEd. Unfortunately, I can't find it online, but it's just as well: I can still tell you about it. I believe it was written by a photographer. He said ever since the storm, he has read the entire front page of the paper each day, looking for the word "Katrina." In October - well over a year after the storm - he finally saw the day where the K-word did NOT appear on the paper's front page. There were days where it only appeared once, or showed up only in the story teasers at the top of the page, but it was always there. He was so excited to finally see the day the word was not on the front page - although the phrase "since the flood" did show up once. It's an odd measure of progress, but a fun one.

Also, this article from a Kentucky newspaper does a pretty good job listing much of the progress that still needs to be made in New Orleans. It's a quick read, and is sort of a laundry list. Please click and check it out, thanks!

NPR's John Burnett, Common Ground Relief

I’m in a good mood – I just wrapped up a good trip to Texas, and now that Thanksgiving’s past, I no longer have to click “next” when Christmas music comes up on my iTunes!

I’ve got a number of short post ideas, so over the next couple days I’ll post a couple blurbs at a time. I’ve seen so much here, met so many wonderful people, and felt quite a bit of growth these past three months! It’s going to be tough to leave next week. If it were up to me, I’d stay another 3-6 months after the holidays, but it’s not up to me. That said, away we go:

John Burnett
Burnett was one of NPR’s two Katrina correspondents. You could pretty much say he’s the reason DHS Secretary Chertoff finally learned of the Convention Center disaster. Burnett’s also covered Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Waco, and more. He wrote a book on his travels, and was at a local landmark bookstore a month or so ago to read, answer questions, and jam on his harmonica. I get to see events like that at Dartmouth all the time, so it was nice to have a touch of it here. I got a chuckle out of one of his stories – he was embedded in Iraq, and spent one firefight trying to make his 6’ 7” frame as tiny as possible in the back of a Humvee when an M16 slammed into his lap. “You’re from Texas!” screamed a Marine. “Use that thing!!” Burnett said he wanted to yell back, “Yeah, but I’m from AUSTIN!” I’ve got to remember that one! :-D Burnett has many personal memories of New Orleans, one of his favorite places in the world. Despite living in South America and covering Iraq and Waco, he called Katrina “the culminating horror” of his career as a journalist. Following the book reading (I’m reading the book now, and thoroughly recommend it), he played his harmonica with the guitar player hired to play before he spoke. There were only a few of us left, so it was almost like a private show! He was amazing – he takes three harmonicas with him everywhere he goes, and his whole body got into the playing. His official NPR.com biography describes it as “bad-ass harmonica.” He was a fun guy.

Common Ground Relief
I’ve mentioned Common Ground a time or two, but I haven’t really explained it yet. They’re an amazing group headquartered in the upper ninth ward. Though they were founded amidst some controversy – one founder is a former Black Panther, and the other is under FBI investigation – they do amazing work. I visited their lower ninth ward distribution center once to learn about them. They have an extensive gutting program, focusing solely on the ninth ward. They also run a tool library, where residents can check out any tools necessary for gutting and rebuilding just like library books! They provide an Internet cafĂ© for working on government forms or contacting relatives, give away lots of donated clothing, and have some limited food distribution (four cans per visit, but they were big cans of meal items). CG is mostly known for its medical work – they have a free clinic in Algiers and helped to open one in the lower ninth. Their street medics (think nurses and EMTs on bikes) were among the first medical responders after the storm. You can imagine the shock residents felt when, after no sign of the government, a young white guy pulls up on a bike asking if they feel ok! CG also runs a small women’s shelter in the upper ninth ward. I’m not sure who the donation/volunteer base for Common Ground is, exactly. Most of their volunteers seem to be college-aged free spirit types. My guess is much of their support comes from people who want to donate to a secular Katrina group but are disillusioned with the Red Cross – but that’s just me running my mouth.

More to come!

Friday, November 24, 2006

Not Gulf Coast Stuff

Hmm. Nine days without a post. Is that a record for this blog? Well, my apologies. I'll have something Gulf Coast-related up by Sunday night, if not sooner, I promise (I'm in TX for Thanksgiving right now). In the meantime, on a non-Louisiana sports note:

AGGIES WIN!!! AGGIES WIN!!!

ASTROS SIGN CARLOS LEE!!!

AGGIES WIN!!!

And, I got most of the courses I wanted for the winter term. So, um - good day. :-)

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

More Photos From Bob

Me!
This is the Trinity Mobile Loaves and Fishes truck I told you about, that comes sometimes from Trinity Church with actual lunches to give out (sandwhiches, tea, lemonade, chips, cookies).

Bob has a digital camera, so his photos of the warehouse came out better than the ones I took with a disposable camera.

Photos From Bob

Bob and Marty are here from my church in Idaho, and Bob's taken some photos. I'll write soon about driving to Mississippi and about the array of people I'v emet here, but for now, some of Bob's pictures:

The guy in the middle saw Bob's camera, and just about squealed "Oooo! Take a picture of meee!!!" and started dancing around. Silly goose. You can see me off to the side in the shadow against the RV with my U.S. Army cap and Phillipians 4:13 shirt on.

Our tent. Me on the left. That's Jane in the straw hat and yellow shirt. She's from London by way of Missouri, and drives the RV twice a week. Wonderful volunteer, lovely lady. Her husband is the Diocesan chaplain, Ben Helmer. I told you about him; he's a friend of my Idaho rector's.



Saturday, November 11, 2006

Pictures of Our Outfit

This week certainly had its low points. Had my first fender-bender, for which I blame Brad Pitt. I've yet to find out what the ticket and car repairs will cost me - hopefully not too much, but we shall see. Had way too many volunteers with us a few days this week, so things got chaotic - I like to run this respite unit with maybe 7 people, not 25. Especially when half those 25 were with us the day before, and so know what they're doing, and attempt to tell the other half how to do things, often in contradiction to the instructions Quinn or I are giving. Ug. But, live and learn; I'll just add to our future orientations.

Yet despite those downsides, I'd call it a good week. Dems won House, Dems won Senate, Dems won every possible thing they could win in New Hampshire, Dems increased their seats in the Idaho legislature, and Rumsfeld quit. Huzzah! My friends Bob and Marty are coming from Idaho later today; I'm picking them up from the airport in about 45 minutes. And, a great team of volunteers from Texas took all us interns out to a nice dinner at Pascal's Manale, a classic and fancy New Orleans resteraunt. I had a great discussion with two of the volunteers, including the rector of League City, Texas who talked to me about discernment.

Working in the warehouse yesterday for a couple hours, I thought to myself that an apt job description for what I do is Pointy-Haired-Boss meets manual labor. In any event, here are some pictures of our lower ninth operation. Pictures of devestation to come, y'know, whenever. This first picture is of the medical RV that sets up with us in the Walgreen's parking lot twice a week.

Our intersection also has a Long John's Silver, a minimart, a KFC, and a Popeye's, all abandoned, of course. You can see the Popeye's in the background, behind our sign.

That's Quinn with the white cap in the middle of the picture. The volunteers are from TX, NC, and maybe elsewhere.


Thursday, November 09, 2006

Warehouse (with pictures!)

Here are a few pictures from our warehouse. They didn't come out too well - I had to play around with the brightness, and they're still pretty fuzzy.

We store many of our supplies at a warehouse in the upper ninth. It's a big complex - there's a cabinet store, a wholesale store and its storage, storage for parade float-pulling tractors, loading bays, etc. We rent one lane at the edge of the warehouse to keep our toilet paper, paper towels, water, bleach, t-shirts, toys, blankets, tea, and other stuff for the lower ninth, as well as gutting wheelbarrows (most other gutting tools are at St. Paul's), hospital mattresses and cots for our volunteers, and some other random odds and ends.
I'm in charge of arranging/supervising the supplies and the daily loading this month - I'm warehouse guy. Usually, Deacon Mike runs the warehouse end of things, but he's in Alabama for the month of November. We're almost out of paper goods and bleach, and he'll come back to help put away the new shipment of all that when it comes in. When he's here, he loves his forklift! It's the worst case of boys and their toys I've ever seen! If there's a job two people can do by hand for five minutes, Mike would rather take ten to do it with the forklift - he'd rather move an empty pallet ten feet than let someone carry it! It's hilarious!

Mike's actually in this last picture, too, but you can't really tell. Look up, though - you can see the forklift arm putting stuff up above.
One other thing we have in warehouse is the belongings of a homeowner who's house we gutted. She's decided not to return to the area, so we need to finish going through her documents and belongings to see what's relevant and usable - we'll mail that to her in time and junk the rest. I had some pictures of the outside of the warehouse and of our Penske truck all loaded with supplies, but for whatever reason, they didn't develop - and they should have been all bright and sunny, too! Phoo.

I'll be working part of tomorrow at the warehouse, rearranging water pallets and other supplies. Of course, that all depends on if I can get out of the driveway - Brad Pitt is filming a movie on my street tomorrow. All parking on the street has been banned, so I don't know about actual driving. I have more pictures to post, too - some of St. Paul's (a beautiful sanctuary), but they came out even darker. I've got some of our operation in the lower ninth, and a few of the city and the remaining devastation. None of me yet, but I'd probably break the camera anyway! :-P

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

In Which it Continues to be a Small World

Brief political word before I get to my regular New Orleans musings: As you can imagine, I’m euphoric right now. The Democrats have taken the House and the Senate, and Donald Rumsfeld has resigned – I can’t imagine a rosier picture for the country right now. And I’m chuckling at the latest episode of HotlineTV, one of my favorite analyst sources – the episode was shot at 10AM today, and the hosts had been up for around 30 hours. BUT, on a New Orleans note: Karen Carter earned 21% in her Congressional election, and Rep. Bill money-in-the-freezer Jefferson won 30%. There will be a runoff election, which Carter is likely to win. I watched election results at the Karen Carter victory party at a downtown hotel ballroom, which was a lot of fun! Also, I’ve almost used up my disposable camera, and will probably take it to Rite Aid tomorrow afternoon to be developed. So pictures in the next day or two. Now, on to today’s blog:

Remember my earlier post about how small a world it is? Well, it continues to shrink!

5. Today, we had a group of volunteers from Denver. Turns out their rector was Father Henry’s immediate predecessor at St. Thomas, my NH church!

6. Similarly, Bishop Cederholm, who visited us from Massachusetts, used to be the rector in White River Junction, VT, about 15 minutes (or less) from Hanover, NH.

7. One of the bishops’ wives who came was Mrs. High, whose husband Rayford is Suffragan Bishops in the Diocese of Texas. She was also at Dena Harrison’s consecration (Bishop Harrison being my old rector). She knew all the people I miss from my days at St. James – my assistant rector/role model there, my old Sunday school teacher, my parents’ friends the Kennards, everyone!

8. That same day we had a lady named Linda who is, I believe, a deacon in formation, and who is working as a chaplain at a Houston hospital – so she also knows my asst. rector/role model!

9. One day, I was driving with Deacon Mike to Gonzalez, LA to pick up about 60 donated mattresses. He asked me what part of ID I’m from, and when I told him, he said, “Oh! So you must know Heather Voss pretty well!” Heather Voss is a priest in Illinois now, but used to attend my church in ID – St. Luke’s sponsored her through the process, and she was the popular youth director right before we arrived.

10. I have a new friend here, Jenny. Jenny and I have a mutual friend, a girl named Donna who is now in Alabama. Donna and I attended St. Luke’s together, as well as the same Jr/Sr high school. Our mothers were both in EFM, and her dad helped lead our youth group for a time. In Florida, Jenny and Donna went to elementary school together and attended the same church, as well!

11. In my last small world post, I mentioned Father Ben, the Diocesan Chaplain. Well, about a month ago, we had two volunteers from Kansas who knew Father Ben and his wife, perennial and wonderful volunteer Jane, quite well - he was their old rector, and they had no clue they would be bumping into him while volunteering with us!

12. One of these days I’ll have to tell you about Common Ground Relief. I stopped by their lower ninth ward distribution center once to hear about what all they do. The fellow who talked to me, Alexi or something like that, went to high school with Emily, one of our gutting staff.

Sometimes, this world’s tiny size seems scary, but other times it can be quite comforting!

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Distinctly Episcopal

Gutting homes and passing out supplies/listening to people in the ninth ward are both important ministries, each with their own distinct advantages. One of the advantages of working on the mobile respite unit is that it has helped to insure that my experience here would be an Episcopal one. For the most part, our gutting program could be run by any church, or even secular group. 6 of its 9 regular workers are not Episcopalian (although many of the short-term volunteer crews are) and the gutting itself is just generic deconstruction. Now, obviously there's nothing wrong with a non-Episcopalian program - I worked with the Evangelical Free Church of America when I was here in March, and recovery is recovery. But I didn't come here just to work on Katrina issues - I also came to be with my church, partially in preparation for ordination. Perhaps that is one reason I was guided to the mobile unit.

Virtually all the volunteers we get at the mobile unit are Episcopalian (although there are other groups as well, such as the Messianic Jews). Certainly all the regular, local volunteers who come in for a day or two each week are Episcopalian. This means I get to hear about Episcopal churches all over the country - you may recall my post about Bishop Cederholm. We also, at one point, had volunteers from Truro Church in Fairfax, VA, which has dealt with recent controversy. It was interesting to hear about it firsthand. The gutting program deals mostly with Episcopalians, but they also get college crews and other assorted groups.

Every Thursday, Father Joe Rhodes comes in from Baton Rouge to hold a short Eucharist with us at noon. Quinn reads the Gospel and Father Rhodes races through a Eucharstic Prayer, and it takes us 15 minutes, tops. We stop distribution for those short 15 minutes, and sometimes waiting residents will join us in worship. There's one lady who makes a point of coming each Thursday for the Eucharist. And even on days when we don't have the Eucharist, we have deacons running the program (which reminds me to tell you, Mike has gone to Alabama for the month, and left me in charge of supply duty at the warehouse!).

Finally, working with the mobile unit means I get to see our churches all over the city. Sometimes we leave from Grace Episcopal Church, sometimes from St. Paul's (my favorite). And since Mike uses me to help with various errands, I get to see places like St. Augustine's in Metairie and St. Anna's in the French Quarter. (I've also been to Annunciation and St. Andrew's, though that would be true even if I were routinely gutting.) Through in the Episcopal shields looming over us from the side of the RV each day, and you can see that I'm definitely with my church!

And now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to watch a Jodie Foster movie. Yay for Jodie Foster! :-)