Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Katrina Country Mission Trip Day 2 – Tuesday, Oct.3, 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.

Did not get a good night’s sleep at all on the Greeny Meany covered cot in the gymnasium. Every time I turned from side to side (Which I do often because I’m a light sleeper. Only time I don’t move is when I’m drop dead drunk, which I think might be a tiny bit inappropriate on a Christian mission trip), the cot would creak loudly beneath me, and I’m paranoid that I’m keeping everyone else up at well. Though there were certainly a lot of additional creaky noises from everyone around me. It was like hearing an oncoming storm, or listening to an 800 pound giant sliding into one of those red Naugahyde booths.

There’s a new group that’s joined us. They’re a chaplain group from Arizona. The Blue Shirts, as they’re called (the workers are called the Grey Shirts.) On our prep meeting before we left, Pastor Bernard tried to brace us for them. The chaplains assist at local food banks, drive to our work sites in their van, pray with us, park the van and then toodle down the street with Bibles in hand, looking for people to talk to and pray for. This particular group had been down here earlier in the year as a Grey Shirt group (and I wonder how effective they could possibly be, given the fact that half of them look to be in their 60s.) Now they’re back as chaplains.

I am not happy about this aspect of the Relief Organization. Evangelicals like this type annoy the shit out of me. It’s intrusive to have anybody knock on your door and ask to talk to you about religion. If I wanted to talk about it, I’d come find you. Every now and then, the Jehovah Witnesses will knock on our door in Los Angeles, and I, who totally believes in God, hustles as fast as I can to get the door closed in as polite but as a firm a way as possible.

Since the Blue Shirts are all about Getting To Know Ya For Jesus! of them sat across from me at breakfast and raved about how a particular member of their group was great at “saving souls” and how the last time she was out with them, “She brought three people to Jesus.” Like it’s a notch on their belt or something. And it’s that kind of behavior that gives me the heebie jeebies. Where’s the follow up with the Saved Soul, Notch Belter? It’s like you think your job is done if the person agrees to make Jesus Christ their personal Lord and Savior, when it’s possible they’re only saying that to get you off their porch.

Maybe not. Maybe I’m just a cranky bitch (actually, I know I’m a cranky bitch.) I think, rightly or wrongly, that this kind of heebie jeebie behavior is a generational thing. Old School folks like these will never understand why their behavior is heebie jeebie. When I chatted about it with Native Chick, she disagrees, thinking it’s more regional than generational. We are in the South, after all. Possibly.

Relief Worker Leader tell us one more horror story before we go, about the guy on a previous trip who had a toxic refrigerator accidentally open on him. He got toxic sludge on his arm, it turned orange and stank so bad for days that they moved him to one end of the gym while everyone moved to the other side of the gym to sleep and it still stank. Cool. Can’t wait.

We’re sent to an Orleans Parish house (The Utah group is sent to a house in St. Bernard Parish.) It’s in the neighborhood of Gentilly, and Native Chick is pointing out sights and things along the way. And certainly everything you’ve seen on the news and articles are all true. The numbers on the houses saying what date the house was searched, the name of the task force, the number of bodies they found inside, if any. The broken windows, some houses still crushed. Many businesses closed, places like Wal-Mart, Burger King, Taco Bell. But other businesses are open, it’s not as though it’s a ghost town, it’s not as though there’s not traffic. There’s a couple of places where the stop lights aren’t working, and you treat it as a regular stop sign, but there’s certainly people around.

There’s advertisements stapled to telephone poles, and stuck on sticks on the median, advertising tear down services, put up services, shingle services, drywall, gut outs, vote in the upcoming elections, It’s a mish mash jumble of stuff.

We get lost a few times, but get to Miss Ida’s house. Miss Ida is waiting for us, an African American woman somewhere in her late 40s, early 50s. She tells us her story. She works at a nursing home, and went to work the day the hurricane hit. She stayed with her patients, and evacuated with them by bus to another facility in Baton Rouge.

Miss Ida has actually done a lot of the work already for us. Despite all the hazardous materials instructions we got yesterday night, there is no toxic refrigerator of death, no appliances to wrestle out, no aerosol cans that might explode at a single touch. She’s already made a pile of things that she’d like to keep, and we’re to strip all the walls down to the studs. It’s plaster, not drywall, so there’s wooden beams behind it. You have to hammer through it, knocking the chunks of plaster to the ground, then pry the wooden slats off, then pull out the nails.

Me and Native Chick volunteer to hammer away at the plaster, using sledgehammers, pick axes, hammers, whatever we think will work for us. “We’re the Team of Destruction!” Native Chick chirps. That’s about as much conversation as we get. There’s not a lot of talking or joking. Partly because it’s such tiring work, partly because we can’t hear very well with the respirators on. Giggly jokes that we all sound like Kenny from South Park through the respirators. And giggles about it.

We’re inside, not in direct sunlight, which Albino Me is very thankful for, but it’s still hot, (upper 80s), and the majority of us are wearing jeans underneath our cotton suits, and the jeans get heavy when soaked with sweat. When we zip down the suits to take a break, our shirts are sopping, our pants are sopping, our underwear is sopping. I call My Mother The Phone Harpy Who I Love Very Very Much on the cell phone and say, “I win this battle, hands down. Painting in hospital scrubs in Biloxi would be a picnic compared to this.” The Phone Harpy laughs, and concedes the battle ONCE AND FOR ALL.

As I’m sitting there whacking away at the plaster, I try to conjure up something to think about. Think about something that’s made you really angry, so you can take out your frustration on the wall. Nothing’s coming to mind, again probably pointing to my lack of emotion about anything these days. Probably not a good thing. Can’t be helped. Think about God. Focus on God. You’re down here to attempt to get closer to Him, though it’s strange to think this kind of manual labor would do the trick. But try anyway. Have a conversation with God as you’re prying away the plaster. But it’s just too taxing to think. Too taxing to think about why I’m here, and what God is trying to show me. See that nail you’re trying to pull out? Make a cheesy metaphor for how it’s sin, and it’s persistent and stubborn, but armed with the Hammer Of God, you too can overcome! You too can overcome! Yay God! Yeah, not so much.

Lunch is ham and cheese sandwiches and I pretty much choke it down. I don’t feel like eating anything, but I recognize that I have to in order to make it through the afternoon. Maybe tomorrow I’ll stick with my powerbars. Lunch meat in the hot weather just makes me cringe.

The afternoon is harder, because it gets hotter. We had taken one bathroom break before lunch (Which meant the Blue Shirts drove us to a Burger King to use their bathrooms, so they’re good for something), but no bathroom break in the afternoon until we broke for the day. I tried to convince myself that I was sweating out too much fluid to have anything left to pee out. Then I tried to convince myself that if I just kept working, I’ll be able to hold off the bathroom urges. That was more successful. Because you get to a point where the more breaks you take, the harder it was to get back going again, so it’s just easier to keep working.

When we left, we stopped by a Walgreens so we could use the bathroom, buy me an air mattress, and buy T-Roller some heavy duty soap. We’ve quickly recognized that the foofy bath gel we use back home is not gonna cut it here.

We have meat loaf, cornbread, greens, and stone crabs for dinner. Mmmm, Southern food. It’s gonna be hard to keep my stomach from expanding again, despite the fact that I was counting on all the manual labor to be my cardio workout.

We’re supposed to have sharing time after dinner, where people come up and talk about their experiences of the day. It’s where we learn that we lucked out with the Miss Ida assignment, since the Utah crew got a house where nothing had been touched since the hurricane. Thirteen months, and nobody’s gone inside the house. Toxic refrigerator, toxic appliances, crap, crap, and more crap. They dealt with it all.

But nobody from our crew really wanted to share anything. We’re the Crew of Destruction, not the Crew of Sharing. We didn’t really have a lot of interaction with people, since Miss Ida had to get back to work after talking to us for ten minutes, and there wasn’t anyone else that came up to us. The Blue Shirts got up several times and talked about the people they interacted with today. And it’s all about leading people to Christ for them. Makes me squirrrrrrrrm. It’s very possible that the people they find WANT to share their stories. People on the block have been coming out of their houses to watch us, the Moonmen, doing the gutouts. It’s good advertising, I suppose. How do I get those Moonmen to gut out my house? Fill out this application and hey, by the way, do you believe in Jesus Christ as your personal Lord And Savior? Squirrrrrrrrm.

The struggle for me is that by doing this work, I look like I agree with their evangelical ways. Which I don’t. I didn’t choose this Relief Group, 11:00 church did. Does that mean 11:00 church has been evangelical all along and I didn’t know it? Um no, I think I would have noticed. I mean, I HOPE. Nobody tries to shove a Bible in anybody’s hands during our Homeless Karaoke nights. But I don’t think it would’ve been smarter to sit this mission trip out because I didn’t agree with the Relief Group Pushy Christian Ways. Bottom line is, Miss Ida needed her house gutted out. I can do that.

Fearless Leader got up and talked a bit about what it’s like at our 11:00 church in Los Angeles. His crack of “Some of you might be surprised to know that there are indeed Christians in Los Angeles” got plenty of appreciative chuckles from the Old School brigade.

Lights out is at 9:30pm, but nobody’s complaining. I am bone dead tired. And if I feel this bone dead tired after the first day, how in the world do I think I can make it through the rest of the week?

I feel like one of those Survivor contestants that Roomie Jekyll and I make fun of on TV. The ones that start crying on camera, “I didn’t know it was gonna be this hard!” “You’re on Survivor!” Roomie Jekyll and I scream at the TV. “You’ve watched the show. You know it’s hot, there’s gonna be bugs, you’re not gonna have food. You’re gonna lose twenty pounds and have your personality edited to fit the whims of a fickle Story Editor! Why did you think it was gonna be easy?”

Why did I think this trip was a good idea? Following the call isn’t necessarily easy, but surely, there’s a reason I’m here, right? It’s not just that I’m helping a crew gut Miss Ida’s house. Isn’t there some meaningful lesson to be learned here? Why is it the only things I’m learning are things from the Chaplains that make me squirrrrrrrrm?

God, I’m tired. I’m so so tired. I can’t remember being this physically tired since…since I don’t know when. Maybe trying to do load ins at the theater for previous plays of mine? Hefting flats and boxes and painting skyscapes at 1am in the morning? Does it compare? I don’t know.

I don’t know why I’m here. God still seems far away. I know it’s only the first work day and a silly to be expecting a thunderclap realization, but I’m seriously drawing major blanks, and a sneaking suspicion I’m not gonna be getting the answer here, there, or anywhere.

The cornbread and stone crabs. I’m here for the cornbread and stone crabs.

1 comment:

Midlife Virgin said...

Brava to you for surviving your trip, evangelicals and all! I'm not one for the bible-thumping, Find Jesus or Else kind of religion either but there is a place even for them. I think you'll find, as time goes by, how this trip impacted you, especially in sneaky ways you're not expecting. What an amazing opportunity for you and I'm sure God was watching and will find a way to give back to you eventually.