Monday, October 09, 2006

Katrina Country Mission Trip Day 1 – Monday, Oct.2, 2006

Disclaimer: as if the fact that this is a personal blog doesn’t make it obvious, the opinions expressed here are solely mine, not my 11:00 church’s, not the members of my Katrina Mission team, and not the relief organization that ran the show. This will become important later.

Since there’s seven of us on this mission trip, my original thought was to name us after the Seven Dwarves. But that’s not gonna work, because I couldn’t decide whether I was Dopey, Grumpy, Sneezy or Sleepy. So I’m naming everyone after…whatever I feel like.

Here’s our Merry Band of Seven:

Amy The Writer – That’s me! Yay me! Doing this Katrina trip because guilt-ooops-I-mean-Christ’s-love compels me to do so!

Fearless Leader - The leader of the crew. He’s the only one of us that was on 11:00 church’s first mission trip to Biloxi, where they were assigned to a single family and helped them build their house to specifications so their special needs kid could get an operation (that she couldn’t get until the house was completed.)

Native Chick – Our secret weapon, because she’s a New Orleans native. Her brother, sister-in-law and new baby nephew live in Metairie, and she’ll be staying with them at night instead of the community college gym like us. A very wise decision on her part, as the events of the week will soon show.

Giggly – The happiest member of our crew. Nothing gets her down. Not the 6am wakeup calls, not the lack of water pressure in our showers, and not tiptoeing in at 5am after a night out on Bourbon Street. Quite possibly the happiest hung over person I’ve ever seen.

Tweedle Rock and Tweedle Roller – a guy and girl pairing that were usually found to be goofing around together in the most sunniest and innocent of ways. Tweedle Rock has worked in construction in the past, this would prove to be very helpful.

Doc Brown – the oldest member of our group, with hair that bears a fierce resemblance to the character from Back To The Future.

Our flight to New Orleans is so nondescript that I’ve got nothing at all to say about it. We land in New Orleans, and the airport is freezing cold. But it appears to be put together alright, no signs of visible damage or anything. It takes forever to get the rental car, and though I’m not there to witness it, Fearless Leader and Native Chick tell us later that the car agent is quite the Chatty Cathy, and wanted to talk about how her house made it through the hurricane okay, it was only the wheels that came off the Budweiser truck and into the living room that ruined the whole thing. Ha ha ha.

We’re in two vans, and we strike out for Chalmette, where our Base Camp, AKA the gym of a local community college is. I’m the navigator in Native Chick’s van, and it’s the better van to be in, because she’s pointing out all sorts of stuff on the roads. There are definitely places we’re passing where there are no street lights, and there are no lights on inside the houses, because nobody’s home on the entire block. Native Chick and I are chatting about various aspects of Southern culture, which Giggly in the back seat wants to know all about. The Greek System in Southern Colleges, what’s a Shoney’s, what’s a Hush Puppy. It cracks us up.

The Chatty Cathy car rental agent had made us late, and I’m concerned that we won’t have time to eat dinner. But one of the things I’m going to work on this trip are my trust issues, which are huge and thorny and often my downfall. So I’ve made the decision that regardless of what I think we’re going to get into trouble about, I’m not going to say anything, and let Fearless Leader be Fearless Leader, and let the chips fall where they may.

So dinner it is! Native Chick wisely makes the decision to bypass a Burger King to hit a local New Orleans fast food place, and I get a BBQ Shrimp Po Boy. YAAAAAAAY! You have to understand, New Orleans Barbeque Shrimp is one of my favorite things to eat in the world. I used to make it myself, but I could only make it once a year because it uses a full stick of butter and three bottles of beer and some other stuff, and once a year would do you. It’s just as yummy as I remember, although I can only finish half of it. This trip is starting out on a very good note.

We make it to Base Camp a good forty-five minutes late. Ooops. Well, they know we’re from Los Angeles, we’re probably fulfilling any stereotypes they might have of West Coasters. They don’t seem to harbor any grudges as we arrive. And it is a Christian relief organization. They’re in the forgiving and helping business.

The college is surrounded by destroyed houses. We might not even need to go to any other part of the city to help people out, all we might have to do is walk across the street.

The Relief Organization has divided the gym into three major sections – the dining room part, the women’s sleeping area, and the men’s sleeping area. There’s showers, there’s a microwave, there’s lots of donated snacks, water, soda, Powerade, la la la.

We’re sleeping in the gym, which I knew, and there are cots, which I knew. But no mattresses, and the other groups have had the foresight to bring those inflatable mattresses that my Dad uses when he takes road trips. I think I’ll be okay using my Greeny Meany as a mattress of sorts. Greeny Meany is the world’s ugliest sleeping bag, and it’s been with me since childhood. It’s neon green on the outside, red flannel with pictures of woodland animals on the inside, because when you’re going camping, you want to sleep on pictures of wildlife that you will be shooting in the morning. Not that I ever did that. But that’s the sleeping bag I got as a kid, so that’s what I have now. It’s pretty thick, and I’m hoping it’ll do as well as an air mattress for me.

Relief Organization Leader leads us through the orientation. It’s a really small group this week. There’s one other group of about 15 from Utah, and then a couple that came on their own from Kansas City. The Utah group is all middle-aged Moms and Dads, and all those fantasies I harbored about working alongside hunky college guys quickly fly out the window. Sometimes I think if God’s trying to tell me anything, it’s that to please get used to the idea of being alone, because He seems to continually put me in situations where there’s zippo chance of meeting anyone. And if that really is the plan, then I rebel. I rebel right now (okay, not RIGHT NOW right now. But soon.) and it’s not gonna be pretty, and I have to think that He must know that, and why would He want me to be alone when it would make, and has made, and is making me very very unhappy. Whatever. I’m here to help Katrina people.

We’re going to be doing gut outs, where we’re assigned to a house, go inside, clear out all furniture, all debris, all carpets, and tearing down all walls, pulling out all nails, reducing everything to the studs, so an inspector can do a walk through of the house and recommend whether it should be razed to the ground or not. We get to pull down drywall, that seems like a good destruction thing. Certainly would seem like a chainsaw would be involved, and that’s what I really wanna get my hands on.

And as they take us out to the parking lot, and we go through a line of things to take with us, it’s dawning on us that we’re gonna be hardcore here. They’re assigning us a type of paper cotton suit, and a respirator with vents on the side, hard hats, safety glasses, work gloves, because we’re going to be dealing with a bunch of mold. We’ll also most likely be trashing our work boots at the end of the week, as we’re not allowed to even bring them into the gym, because of all the hazardous material we’ll be tromping in.

The orientation guy tells us how it’s very important to wear this stuff, because apparently one guy on Extreme Home Makeover inhaled mold because he didn’t wear the stuff and died on the spot. I don’t watch the show, so I have no idea if they showed that (and if they did, WHY IN THE WORLD WOULD THEY SHOW THAT!) In any case, it’s definitely more hardcore than My Mother The Phone Harpy Who I Love Very Very Much painting in her hospital scrubs. So take THAT, Biloxi! Ha ha ha.

There’s three types of piles of debris we’ll be dealing with. Hazardous materials, like aerosol cans, medicines, household chemicals. Then appliances, like washer/dryers, or toxic refrigerators (which we have to duct tape up first. One of the Utah group people wonders if we should open it to try and salvage anything inside and was roundly laughed at. Like anything could sit inside an unplugged refrigerator for thirteen months and be salvageable.) Then the third pile is anything else.

What’s strange about the whole thing is that if it’s this hazardous, why in the world would they let a bunch of newbies go at it? Is it because we’re the only ones stupid enough to do it? So if any of us die, it’s not like we took valuable construction skills with us? Possibly. Very very possibly.

1 comment:

Joseph Antal said...

Wow!
Weŕe not alone in this painful world!