Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Building and surveying

Please note that this has not been publishing correctly, so there are three days of posts below that have not appeared on the days I wrote them. Read away.

Yesterday I worked on building a ramp for what will be a clinic in a town outside of Biloxi, near the border with Alabama. I painted some boards white, and then I cut strips of tar paper, and then for a very long time, I hammered "joist hangers," which are these metal things that help to hold the joists up. The joists are the boards under the walkway that go perpendicular to the direction you walk, and the joist hangers help to hold them to the edges of the walkway. Each one had 10 nails, which I nailed in. This took me a very long time. Eventually that was the only thing left to do, so the two men and the other Williams student (a boy) hammered the rest of them in with me, which took only about 10 minutes (it took me a few hours to do the first half). My arm was kind of tired from hammering for a few hours.

After we got back I went for a short run. It was very hot out, and I got to this intersection where there were cars and cars for a long time so I couldn't cross, so I went home. My parents and I went out to dinner for the third and final time, this time to a catfish restaurant. We talked to our waitress, and she had lost her whole house and everything. After dinner we went to their church, where we listened to this guy pray and give a sort of a sermon about how God was showing through the people who were working there and such. The real reason we went was so we could watch this DVD made by a local news station about the hurricane. It showed the issues the citizens were concerned about before the hurricane, the interviews with people about what they thought was going to happen in the days before the hurricane, and then the news coverage of the rain and wind during the storm (the roof got blown off the news station building) and of the aftermath.

Since this area is very Christian, and Christians don't like casinos, there was a law that said you couldn't have casinos on land, so the building with slot machines would be floating, and the hotel and restaurants and shopping and all would be on the land directly adjacent. During the storm, the casino boats got floated up with the 25-foot tidal surge, and when the water receded they came down in places other than where they had started. One in particular broke in half; half came to rest in the middle of the highway, and the other half on top of a very old house, Something Manor. (You can't see the house at all.) In order to remove the casino barge from the highway, they imploded it with explosives.

I realized I gave a shorter account of that before; this is to tell the whole story.

The video had these 911 calls from people in their attics when the water was rising and they had nowhere to go. "That's why there was a manditory evacuation," said the operator, "our crews can't reach you." "I know you can't do anything," said one woman, "my mama and I are going to die; I just wanted you to know." (There are sound psychological reasons, of course, for her to call 911 and just let them know; I am only surprised she called 911 instead of her other close family and friends.)

Today I did "survey," which means we walked around a part of East Biloxi with flyers advertising this community meeting that will happen next week. This is a time for the citizens to come together and discuss what they think should happen in East Biloxi, rather than just listening to the mayor and others tell them what will happen. Some people actually said they were very interested in the meeting and would definitely go. Some invited us into their houses and talked with us for a while, sometimes because they were lonely and wanted someone to talk to, and sometimes because they really wanted to tell us what they thought should happen in Biloxi.

This one woman told us, "don't ask me what I think of the people in New Orleans." So naturally I asked, "what do you think of the people in New Orleans?" She thought it was ridiculous that they were getting all of the attention and help when they had gone and built their city in a bowl. "They built their house in a ditch, and now they want all this help?" She gave the example of when she was in a fabric store, and she was buying a particular fabric to cover some of her chairs. "I really like that material," said another woman, "and that's the last of it. I should get it, because I'm from New Orleans." The woman thought this was preposterous, and there was no way on earth she would yield to a demand with such a ridiculous justification. "They don't do anything for themselves," she said. "We rebuild slowly, because we're doing it all for ourselves." Her house was all cleaned up because she and her family had done a lot of work on it.

She invited us in, telling us that her husband was Santa Claus. It turns out that they had 12 children, and now have nine grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren. She was happy to know that we were in college, telling us that we can do anything as girls, and if anyone ever tells us otherwise, we should go do it! She said she had done everything, especially when someone told her she couldn't. She had danced on television many times, was a costume designer, wrote a novel, and wrote articles in magazines. When someone told her she was too old and her hands didn't work well enough to use a computer, she went and learned it, and now, four years later, people ask her how to use the computer. She gave us each a copy of the magazine in which her article appears, which is a free periodical called "Senior Scene."

The interesting thing about today was trying to figure out if someone lived in various houses. At each property, we had to either decide that no one lived there, or knock on the door and either talk to someone and give them a flyer, or leave the flyer in a place where it wouldn't blow away. There was often a house that looked somewhat inhabitable, with a FEMA trailer beside it. We would knock on the trailer first, then on the house, because people with trailers had them for a reason. But what about just houses? Maybe people lived in the ones that didn't look very good at all. Unless there was clearly no way to enter the house (wires or pipes across the gate, a big pile of debris in front of the only door) or the house was clearly uninhabitable (spray painted "do not demolish," indicating that the person was out of town, or all of the windows were gone and the house was off its foundation) we had to assume that maybe someone lived there, and left a flyer. It was kind of scary to go to these houses that looked like a haunted house, with dried mud and rubble on the doorstep and no sign of life, dust on the windows and maybe barred entrances, and knock on the door.

Anyway, we survived. Tomorrow I shall rescue stray animals and deliver animal food. Rebecca would be so terribly proud.

(P.S. the text box for the title has not been appearing, which is why my posts have had no titles.)

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