Wednesday, August 29, 2012

The Axe is in the Attic

Exactly seven years after Hurricane Katrina visited the Gulf Coast, another massive storm is vexing the area again. Many of you have contacted me for word of our friends there. Here’s what I know:

 1. Brianna Hardy, our own SMC alum who has re-relocated to New Orleans, has evacuated northward to her aunt and uncle’s house in Covington, where she had power most of the day (but expected to lose it soon). She, then, feels like the storm is a pesky hindrance but not a dire threat. She has caught up on Mad Men viewing.

 2. The Parkway Partners folks are riding out the storm, partially to be quick on response. They had just announced a huge new initiative last week in honor of their 30th anniversary:

3. Joan from Catholic Charities is staying put, heading up the evacuation of several major areas.

4. Don Palmer (the dad) is staying to continue working, but the power is out both at work and at home. Troylyn (the mom), little Don, and other family members are evacuated to Houston.

 5. Mr. and Mrs. Pitts and Red have evacuated. Not sure where.

 6. Sarah is unreachable at the moment but called me a couple of days ago to talk about "those poor people in Haiti," wondering if we were going to go help them. She didn't mention her own possible need for help at all.

7. Two of Lisa's kids (Lauren and Andrew) are evacuated to Houston and another (Amanda) is boarded up in the city with her husband and baby to try to protect their new business (the nature of which I don't know).

 8. Lisa is riding out the storm with Bruce in their house. They lost power last night. A couple of days ago the plan was for Lisa to follow Bruce to Arkansas where his job was taking him for a few days but that gig got cancelled so they stayed put. They tied down everything outside, got lots of water and food stockpiled inside and -- the part that broke me -- put the axe in the attic.

 It is very hard to make (and keep) a cellphone connection, so I am sure that Sarah is fine, even though I can’t connect with her. I’ll keep trying.

 I’m not quite ready to see words like “overtopped” and “breach” in my daily correspondence again, but the eerie recollections that I have are nothing compared to the traumas of the folks who are reliving memories of Katrina. I’ll keep you posted.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Remembering Rosie

We are sad to be commemorating our dear friend Rose Boitmann after her unexpected death in March 2009. We held a memorial service for her on the Saint Mary's College campus in Moraga on April 19. Not all of the veterans of the 12 SMC NOLA trips could attend, so this page will help them to get a feel for what they missed. We had a lovely day, even though we missed all of those who could not attend and we were, of course, sad to be without Rosie. Our good friend Lisa Trigo came from New Orleans, so that helped to ease our pain a little bit.

About 40 of the student relief workers along with a number of related friends and supporters came to the event. When they arrived, the NOLA folks found nametags waiting for them that were designed by our own fabulous artist, Kate Coulouras. Each nametag had our NOLA slogan ("Everyone. All the time."), along with the person's name and the number of trips that person had taken with the SMC relief workers.

Here are the basics of our service. Most of the participants submitted their pieces, though they might not have been delivered word for word.

***Welcome (Aaron Arnold):
Welcome and thank you to everyone for coming, especially the student relief workers who have returned from far and wide to be together here again. For those who didn't travel to New Orleans on the SMC relief trips, we're glad you've joined us in honoring and celebrating one of our most special friends.

We are here to celebrate the life of Rosemary Boitmann, known to us as Rosie. She died on March 12, 2009, of a combination of cancers.

This is not a funeral or a mass; Rosie's funeral mass was held on St. Patrick's Day at her home church in New Orleans. Many of us attended mass with her there, so we know how important that church and its congregation were to her.

Still, she was special to us all the way over here in California and because many of us were unable to attend the services in New Orleans, we decided to hold a memorial of our own.

Thanks again for joining us.

***Video Introduction of Rose Boitmann
(Introduced by Justin Verrips, Produced by Marcia Ong and Bryan Navarro)
On January 7, 2006, 27 of us got off of our bus in the Upper Ninth Ward and crossed North Claiborne to meet Rosie Boitmann. On that day, we had no idea how much our lives would become intertwined with hers and how many times we would return to see her again.

On that day and every day with Rosie, her beauty and light blasted through all of the pain of New Orleans after Katrina. It was a privilege for us to know her and to be there at so many of the important stages of her return to her lifelong home.

Actually, Rosie owned three homes in the 4000 block of N. Claiborne and we have grown to know all of those properties like our own homes away from home. We helped her clear the houses, gut them, decontaminate them, and rebuild them.

And along the way, we got to hear stories of buried treasure, of the changes in the Ninth Ward, of her father, mother, and her grandfather, and of her unshakeable Catholic faith. We also got to eat a lot of donuts, because that's the thing she liked to feed us most.

But just before we met her, she went through an experience more traumatic than most of us can imagine: she rode out a hurricane. We can't describe Rosie or tell her story the way she could, so we decided to let her tell all of you what it was like. The video you are about to see is from a short documentary prepared by Marcia Ong on our first trip in January 2006. Many of you have seen these clips before, but for those of you who haven't, we'd like to introduce to you our friend Rosie . . .

Here is the video clip we showed:


***Prayer (Prepared by Erik Coloma)
Psalm 23
A psalm of David.
The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not be in want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
he restores my soul.
He guides me in paths of righteousness
for his name's sake.
Even though I walk
through the valley of the shadow of death, [a]
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and love will follow me
all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the LORD

***Reading I: Old Testament (Ecclesiastes, Chapter 3)
(Porsia Tunzi, Ana Ahnen, Vanessa Fortney, Brad Parry)

*Porsia Tunzi:
There is an appointed time for everything, and a time for every affair under the heavens.
A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to uproot the plant.
A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to tear down, and a time to build.
A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance.

*Ana Ahnen:
A time to scatter stones, and a time to gather them; a time to embrace, and a time to be far from embraces.
A time to seek, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away.
A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to be silent, and a time to speak.
A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.

*Vanessa Fortney:
What advantage has the worker from his toil?
I have considered the task which God has appointed for men to be busied about.
He has made everything appropriate to its time, and has put the timeless into their hearts, without men's ever discovering, from beginning to end, the work which God has done.
I recognized that there is nothing better than to be glad and to do well during life.
For every man, moreover, to eat and drink and enjoy the fruit of all his labor is a gift of God.

*Brad Parry:
I recognized that whatever God does will endure forever; there is no adding to it, or taking from it. Thus has God done that he may be revered.
What now is has already been; what is to be, already is; and God restores what would otherwise be displaced.

***Reading II: New Testament (1 Thessalonians, Chapter 5)
(Dave Blanchard)
Therefore, encourage one another and build one another up, as indeed you do.
We ask you, brothers, to respect those who are laboring among you and who are over you in the Lord and who admonish you,
and to show esteem for them with special love on account of their work. Be at peace among yourselves.
We urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, cheer the fainthearted, support the weak, be patient with all.
See that no one returns evil for evil; rather, always seek what is good (both) for each other and for all.

Rejoice always.

***Musical Selection: Let it Be
(Soraya Parker, Shana Dhillon, Shawny Anderson)

***Tributes to Rosie
(Shawny Anderson, Emily Robbins, Julie Nisco, Darcy Tarbell, Elvia Hernandez, Mallory Lee, Hugo Leon, Shane Keane, Salvador Ortiz, Brianna Hardy, Julie Wesler-Buck, Vince Sison, Kate Coulouras, Scott Eberhardt, Sergio Trejo, Linzy Gustafson, Samantha Yeates, Matt Wheeler, Katie Leonard, Tommy Bell, Rebecca Wright, Juan Zaragoza, Amanda Arreola, Erik Coloma, Mark Araujo, Bryan Navarro, Obi Uwakah, Lindsay Ryberg, Lindsay Swoboda, Renee Egan, Lisa Trigo, Alli Arkfeld, Feke Lauti)

We knew that we needed to write a tribute to Rosie, but then we realized that many tributes had already been written: as entries in our NOLA journals over the last three years. We searched for references to Rosie, then assigned the readings to different people at random, in order to protect the confidentiality of the journals’ authors. Here are the selections we read:

In her song “Feels Like Home,” Bonnie Raitt sings: “A window breaks down a long dark street and a siren wails in the night. But I’m all right, ‘cause I have you here with me and I can almost see through the dark there’s light. . .” These lyrics parallel the feelings we share with the people of New Orleans. I had the privilege of talking to Rosie about her experience. As much as I wanted to hear about what happened to her, she was more interested in talking about how grateful she was to have our assistance. We were her light, but she was ours.

Never in a million years did I think I would meet someone who had truly lived life to the fullest -- even if it ended up almost killing her. But I watched her -- and she was so well-spoken and genuine I just hoped the whole time that one day I could be half of that. I think our relationship with Rosie really established the relationship that we were hoping for -- the ones from our readings. The chance to actively dialogue with such an amazing woman was truly once-in-a-lifetime.

I went up to Rosie and introduced myself. As I put out my hand to shake hers, she pushed my hand away and exclaimed, "Baby! You ain't gonna get away with no handshake here! Give me a HUG!" She grabbed me and hugged me. I could feel the gratitude in her strong hug. As she finally released me from her firm grasp, I realized that it's hugs like those that make all the hard work, hammered fingers, and mosquito bites worth it. We are so blessed and it is so true: every day just gets better and better.

Whenever we see Rosie, she calls us her little angels sent down from Jesus. But are we?

Everyone really seems to have a spot and a purpose. Even the way that we reacted to Rosie's house, the rubble being taken away, everything really balances. When someone falls back, someone else runs off the bench, takes the job, and kicks butt. Who does that? We do. I get to be a part of that. Go me. How did I get to be so lucky and blessed?

"This isn't work for ladies; the men should be doing this."--Miss Rosie

These people lost EVERYTHING and had no one to turn to. Don even cried on Shawny's shoulder while we buried Smokey, his dog we found dead in the house. He cried on a COMPLETE stranger -- that's how much we mean to these people. Rosie told me that we "restored her faith in humanity." Just by being here we're touching so many people that had lost hope in the human race.

When I was working with Rosie, pretty closely going through her possessions together, she kept saying, "Baby, this is hopeless. I'm hopeless." And the only thing that came to my mind was the complete opposite. There are so many people that just left their homes. . . and she wants to come back!

Then one of the most emotional times came tonight while at Lisa's in Destrehan where Rosie made gumbo for us and Connie and Jerry were there. It felt like family there, like we all have a bond that I can never find anywhere else.

. . .[T]he whole room was so alive and full of love. It made me think back to our first encounter with Rosie, when she talked about how we shouldn't be afraid to love. This class has completely let me do that. For me, trusting people enough to be myself around them is really hard but I realized tonight that somehow on this trip it was like we had always known each other, or I had always been looking for friends like this and I finally found them when I least expected to.

Working at Rosie's has become more rewarding because we get to see how thankful she is and it allows us to keep pushing even when we're tired.

Every morning Rosie greets us, making me smile and forget that I could easily sleep another few hours. Although I've been tired, I get up easily, almost like I've become a machine.

Today Rosie said she's never seen anything like what we are doing for her in her 75 years of life. Those comments allow the tiredness to disappear.

Rosie invited us to walk through her house. It was cool to see how great it looked from the work that had been done in past years and to think that the houses we're working on now will eventually look like that.

I was talking to Rosie about the tree that we were axing down. We were talking about its size and she told me how big it once was. She said it took over and shaded almost all of the neighbors' houses. She told me she had a picture of it. I was about to say, "I'd love to see it" when she reminded me: "But I lost all my pictures in Katrina, at the same time that I lost my tree. I planted that tree with my mother, you know." Something about that just shook me up.

It was so sweet that a guy like Jared, with the 504 (New Orleans) area code tattooed on his neck, would tear up, name his dogs Leo and Rosie, and get so sentimental with us. . .

We went to Rosie's and I was assigned to work on flooring in the second house. It was a really stressful process because it requires you to be so precise. Even though it took a long time to get the process down, it's looking good so far.

Today was the best day by far. We did the sheet rocking in one of Rosie's houses. We put actual walls on the framework of the house. By the end of the day there were walls up on the studs. The first room of Rosie's house was livable. That's amazing. We totally transformed something in just a handful of hours. We had done some big changes before, but this was different.

For a while I cleaned the floors. Rosie wanted to help and she wouldn't take no for an answer. So I just embraced it and loved it that Rosie and I got to sit on her new floors and pick off tape together. It's that solidarity we were going for.

I can't believe how much we've transformed Rosie's backyard. It looks amazing and every time Rosie sees it, she says that she had never dreamed this was possible. I'm glad we've proven her wrong.

I put in a few trees so I am definitely excited to see these trees grow into huge ones that offer shade (or maybe olives) to Rosie.

I absolutely love when the cars drive by Rosie's and honk. It's great to have support and after two and a half years the people of New Orleans are still appreciative. I think every day at Rosie's we get at least three honks; it's a great feeling and is helping me to keep going, work harder, and get my butt off that bus every morning.

Today was absolutely beautiful. Although it was freezing outside, we all were warmed by the Holy Spirit. We attended Mass today with Rosie.

The highlight of the day was going to church with Rosie. I really needed some resuscitation, so this was a perfect time. The service was very moving. At one point, Rosie went up and spoke about us which is usually not a big deal but this time it was. I started to cry. We have such a connection to Rosie and that neighborhood. It feels like home!

This time mass was kind of sad, because we all know that we only have two days left in New Orleans and also two days left with Rosie. I sat by Rosie in church and as I sat there, she squeezed my hand and looked at me with those beautiful eyes and I really almost cried because I realized how much this woman who I've known for a little over 3 weeks has impacted my life so greatly. I really do love her and she will always have a place in my heart.

Rosie tells us that we are her angels, but she is mine. I was never that spiritual/religious before this trip, but I really do believe that Rosie's strength, love, and safety before, during, and after the storm have come from her prayer.

Rosie is like the grandmother I never had and to see how much she truly appreciates our efforts makes it all worthwhile. Now I feel like any Jan Term NOT spent helping to rebuild New Orleans would leave me with a void in my heart.

After Rosie's, Bryan ran with me to Habitat and on the way back he waved to Sarah in her car, said goodbye to Mr. Pitts, asked Red how he was doing, and we waved to the kids again. It felt like a neighborhood. It's coming back. It is back.

Saying goodbye to Rosie and Lisa was just so sad -- it was the hardest goodbye because we really weren't sure if we were ever going to see them again or be in this neighborhood again.

Rosie is so funny and really nice! She told me that she made a pact with God that no matter what the time in Purgatory we all have, she wants all that time to be put on her because we mean so much to her.

I can't believe that's our last day at Rosie's house. I was scrubbing the floor after having signed the porch and I just totally broke down thinking about how Rosie's was our first day in January '06 and our last day as we end here today. So much has changed in our lives, in NOLA. It was so cool to wrap it up having turned her life around so much but it's hard to accept that we won't be here again.

Rosie just kept saying, "I'll see you in heaven, my little angels." I couldn't stop the tears. I had to run into the bathroom so no one else would see. Not because I'm afraid of others seeing me cry, but I know that as soon as one person starts, everyone else follows because the tears are on the very edge of their eyes.

We began the day by working on our projects and interviewing Rosie. Tears filled my eyes as she spoke. She talked about the blessings the storm had brought to her and had such a positive and spiritual outlook on her life. There is one thing I don't ever want to forget about that interview. She stopped talking for a brief second and heaved one of her heavy smoker's breaths and then looked me straight in the eye. She said, "This world is becoming messed up, baby. It's your job now to help change it." I don't know why it had such an immense effect on me. It could have been the fact that she was looking me right in the eyes or it could have been the passion in her voice. All I know is that she's right. It is up to us to make a difference. It's our turn as empowered college students to help. That is my plan. Thank you, Rosie! I’m ready!

***The Lord’s Prayer (Led by Aaron Arnold)
Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.
Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread, And forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those who trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. Amen.


***Tribute to NOLA (Brianna Hardy)
How can any one of us effectively communicate our feelings for New Orleans? How can we begin to explain why it is so special? This week I kept asking myself: how do I pay tribute to something so meaningful? It just seems like anything I mention would be too obvious. But then I got to thinking about it and it's really not that obvious. What IS so special about New Orleans?

Let's face it; NOLA is far from perfect. In fact, it is a very flawed, imperfect place. There's the obvious: its below-sea-level elevation, local government, levees, nonexistent green movement, and horrible roads. It is not typically considered an aesthetically beautiful city. The controversial aspects of the history of our country are more concentrated in New Orleans, and continue to be more deeply seated there than in many other large cities in the US. The architectural masterpieces of the Garden District, while perfectly symmetrical, cannot hide the imperfections of their origins.

Yet even a city with clear barriers between race and class gave birth to communities like the corner of Bartholomew and N. Claiborne. New Orleans became one of the first cities where freed black slaves could reside, and eventually even become homeowners, though only in neighborhoods with some of the most underfunded schools in the country. Yes, New Orleans is marred with imperfections. Even the most perfect of Blues solos is grounded in exactly that: the Blues.

I'm sure many of us here today still think of New Orleans as home, or perhaps one of our homes, home to a piece of us. I in no way mean to argue that any city, home, place or any thing for that matter, is perfect. But it doesn't take much thought to make the point that our beloved NOLA is far from perfect, will never be perfect, and isn't really striving to be perfect.

Rather, New Orleans is full of problems and contradictions: single story homes raised a story or two above the ground, newly remodeled houses that may never quite feel like "home," history, MRGO, depleted wetlands, a growing demand for oil and jobs, and on and on . . .

New Orleans is human. We can see ourselves and be inspired by its imperfections, even though it always has room for improvement. The way "home" should be.

So it kind of makes sense that this particularly imperfect place brought out our best versions of ourselves. Rose was not perfect; she was an inspiration and a sage yes, but also a smoking, drinking, sassy woman. And we would not have had her any other way.

New Orleans, even before we came to know and love the city so well, was not perfect. Katrina exacerbated that, but now we're seeing progress. Progress is not "perfect" neighborhoods with brand new homes -- 2 bedrooms, 2.5 baths. Progress is the 9th Ward, looking tired and run down, but with people walking around, gathering on their porches, not living in the house they deserve after everything they've been through, but not living in a FEMA trailer either. It's the existence of classrooms, charter/magnet schools, public schools, recovery schools, now forced to compete against each other for students and funding, but enrolling students nonetheless. While controversial, progress is the new research hospital that will create jobs within the city, even though it will require the demolition of a historic neighborhood.

New Orleans is not perfect and is not trying to be perfect -- just a version of what it once was and a place that will always feel like home.

***Visual Tribute (Prepared by Salvador Ortiz)
(Introduced by Brianna Hardy)
And now, we've told you quite a bit about Rosie and we've even let you hear her tell her own story of Katrina. We have lots of post-Katrina memories with Rosie too so we'd like to take one more opportunity to review our experiences with her, this time with some of the thousands of pictures we've taken over the years. Sal Ortiz selected some of the best photos that feature Rosie and made a slide show for us. For a lot of us, these pictures remind us of the stories Rosie told us or the jobs that we did with her. Please enjoy this moment of nostalgia with us.


***Words of Gratitude (Lisa Trigo)
We are all here today to celebrate Rosie’s life. Rosie had many difficult moments in her life but Katrina was definitely the worst of all. However through this tragedy so much good came into Rosie and Janice’s lives. St. Mary’s was a huge part of that good.

You gave them hope, you showed them love and compassion and I promise you none of it went unnoticed. Without all of you Rosie could never have returned to her home she so strongly desired to be back in. Other than the 14 months Rosie lived with me and my family she had always lived on that one block of North Claiborne you have all come to know so well. It is where she was born and was her home when she left this world. It was where she was most comfortable and all of you returned her there. I cannot thank each of you enough for giving Rosie that gift.

I returned to 4005 on Thursday for the first time since Rosie had died. As I walked up the ramp to the back door I could feel all of you present with me. I stopped to read some of your notes you had written on the railing of the ramp and I noticed how they were starting to fade away and this made me very sad but later when I was speaking with Shawny she mentioned how appropriate that these messages should fade away now as they were your notes to Rosie – personal notes of love and she is no longer here to read them and they were not meant for its future owner.

As I continued my walk up the ramp I stopped at Rosie’s “smoking chair” and realized never again would I stand out on this ramp to fuss at Rosie about how she needed to quit smoking. As hard as this may be for some of you to believe in Rosie’s last month here on earth she preached to everyone who smoked the need for them to quit smoking. It was certainly a sight to see.

As I walked in the back door of 4005 everywhere I turned I saw all of you and the work you did and even though the next owner will never know any of you and all that you did to return 4005 (4009/4011) to become homes again, your presence will forever be in their walls and floors. You have physically, emotionally and spiritually given parts of yourselves to NOLA that will remain with us forever.

As I sat on the bed in 4005 and went though Rosie’s things I thought how lucky I was that God had placed Rosie into my life. As I thought back on Rosie’s life I thought what a unique individual Rosie was and how blessed all of us are to have had her in our lives. There was only one Rosie and I feel sorry for those who never had the opportunity to know her.

Rosie did not live the 105 years she thought that she would but she certainly lived 76 years marching to her own drum. She loved to drink, smoke and say whatever was on her mind. These are some of the things that stand out about Rosie in our minds but she was so much more. She was a very spiritual person who always thought of others and was quick to share God’s love with them. She prayed for each of you everyday and I am sure she continues to do so.

Rose had a lot of issues with trust but when St. Mary’s students came that first time ya‘ll touched her heart in such a way that she was able to let all of you in and for Rosie that was a humongous deal.

As I said earlier Katrina was the worst thing to ever happen to Rosie but it was also the best thing to ever happen to her. She experienced tremendous growth in her journey with our Lord and opened her heart to love and trust others in a way she was not able to due prior to Katrina. St. Mary’s students were some of the chosen few Rosie let into her life and she loved you all so very much. Please continue to be the beautiful people you were to Rosie, Janice, NOLA and myself. Always place God first in all you do and there will be nothing you cannot accomplish in life.

***Musical Selection: Amazing Grace
(All, sung to the tune of The House of the Rising Sun)

Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me
I once was lost but now am found
Was blind but now I see

Through many dangers, toils and snares,
We have already come
'Twas grace that brought us safe thus far
And grace will lead us home.

***Prayer (Bryan Navarro)
When I die if you need to weep
Cry for your brother or sister
Walking the street beside you
And when you need me put your arms around anyone
And give them what you need to give me.

I want to leave you something
Something better than words or sounds.

Look for me in the people I've known or loved
And if you cannot give me away
At least let me live in your eyes and not on your mind.

You can love me most by letting hands touch hands
By letting bodies touch bodies
And by letting go of children that need to be free.

Love doesn't die, people do
So when all that's left of me is love
Give me away.

***Closing (Aaron Arnold)
Thanks again to everyone for joining us here today. Special thanks to Lisa Trigo for flying in from New Orleans to make this event even more special. Thanks also to Renee Egan, who helped make most of the arrangements for today. Thanks to Porsia Tunzi for selecting today’s readings, and to Kate Coulouras for designing our name tags. And, of course, thanks to Rosie, for leaving an impact on all of us that we will never forget.

In her honor, I’d like to ask all of you to do something she always recommended we do to protect ourselves. That is, thump your thymus five times. Your thymus is right in the center of your chest, and Rosie was convinced that thumping it five times – HARD – would keep you safe and sound.

The students from the NOLA trips are now going to shift into a more casual reunion mode. First we’re going to gather in the front for a few quick moments, then we're heading up to Ageno East for a cookout. Everyone is invited.

And so ended our service. We gathered at the front of the Chapel and everyone received several gifts to commemorate the day. We then went to the patio of Ageno East and everyone pitched in just like we were back on Eddie's lot. (Well, not quite EVERYone, but that's another story . . .)

We loved being together again and we pledged to keep in touch. Let's hope that's a pledge we keep!

Monday, September 1, 2008

a few more friends

Some further reports on our NOLA friends have trickled in. Jan Term '07 students will remember Cindy and David Franatovich and their grown-up kids Dara and Dustin. They, along with Cindy's parents Connie and Jerry LeRouge (from Jan Term '06 and '07) are all safe in Vicksburg, Mississippi. '07ers will remember that we had the greatest crawfish boil of all time at Cindy and David's house out in Slidell.

As for Rosie, she didn't get to her friend's house and is instead in a hotel in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, with her cat and two birds. She is anxiously watching the overtopping of the levee at the Industrial Canal, which is at the end of her street. If that levee blows, her three houses will be in serious trouble.

Bruce Trigo is still home and dry, though he is without power. Of course, as mentioned below, it will soon be his job to restore whatever power is out in the region.

Sarah called again from the shelter and we learned a few more details about her evacuation. She drove out in her own car with her kids and some grandkids. She is reluctant to watch the news where she is, as -- like Rosie -- she finds the overtopping of the Industrial Canal too scary for her to watch.

Sarah knew that Red Perkins (Rosie's backdoor neighbor) had evacuated to Shreveport. He had hoped to ride out the storm, but was sent away by city and state authorities. David, too, is safe, having been sent away by the authorities as well. He is the person whose house is covered with musical instruments that he salvaged from the debris of Hurricane Katrina.

News Feeds from NOLA

At this link, you can get live reports from NOLA stations:

One of them is showing the "overtopping" going on at the Industrial Canal, the channel right past Rosie's house with the bridge into the Lower 9th.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Gustav Preliminary Update

Hello, Friends of SMC NOLA! We are glad to hear from so many of our friends this week, but we are very sad that we are hearing from them and about them because another storm is threatening the Gulf Coast just after the third anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. As we hear from some of the families you know from our blogs, we will post updates so that everyone can know all that we learn.

At the moment (it's Sunday night, August 31, 2008), it is very difficult to get any calls through to any cellphone network serving the New Orleans area. Still, we have managed to talk to a few of our longtime friends in the Ninth Ward.

Our beloved friend Rosie Boitmann is currently in Mississippi, staying with friends of her cousin Flo. (For the SMC NOLA peeps, this is the cousin who loaned us the metal detector with which we tried to find Rosie's buried jar of nickels. As you recall, we never found the nickels, despite a day of digging an area roughly 15' x 15'.) Rosie waited until today to drive out, because she was unsure which direction to drive to escape a double hit. That is, if she fled west and then the storm hit Texas, her situation would be twice as bad. She finally decided to drive east. When we caught her she was driving in thick traffic through Slidell.

In her car was the suitcase that she has had packed since we first moved her back into her house. One of the closet floors was reserved for the evacuation kit and today was the day that decision paid off. She also packed up her one remaining cat, Tony, and her two birds, one of which is a squawky macaw named Magoo and the other of which is a rescued wren from the time when she was a refugee.

Rosie's friend and adviser (and her host when she was a refugee), Lisa Trigo, had asked Rosie to flee to Dallas with Lisa and her daughter on Saturday in the wee hours of the morning, but Rosie waited until today and drove the other direction instead. Lisa had given Rosie lots of advice, including a recommendation that she fill her car with gas and do any necessary banking before the end of the week. It's not entirely clear if Rosie followed Lisa's advice.

One thing that Rosie sadly had to leave behind was her new set of teeth. She got fitted with them on Friday and was supposed to go pick them up either this week or the next. She has lived without them for quite awhile, but was excited to have a toothy smile for the first time in a long time. If all goes well, her sunny new smile will not be far away.

For now, though, as anyone can guess, Rose is very sad, very upset, and very apprehensive about what might come next. She said, "I can't take this. And I really don't know if I can go back. No matter what." We invited her to come to California and wait out the impact of the storm with us. She liked the idea, but instead sent her love to all of the students and asked for prayers in return.

As for the Trigos, Lisa and youngest daughter Lauren are currently in Dallas with Lauren's older brother Andrew. They left at 3:30 a.m. on Saturday to outwit the traffic problems that they knew they would face if they left in the daytime. Their strategy worked and their trip wasn't nearly as difficult as other people's evacuations have been.

Lisa gathered up all of her pictures and took them with her in the van, but didn't worry about many other possessions. She mentioned that her Aunt Té also took only pictures, though her aunt's pictures were almost all reprints that she had re-collected from family members who did not lose everything in Katrina, as she did. Té's grandson stuffed the car in which he rode as full of his possessions as he could, saying "Don't you remember how hard it was to replace all of that stuff the last time? I don't want to have to do that again!"

Apart from their own needs, all of the evacuees are worrying about other people as well. As one of the case managers for Catholic Charities' rebuilding efforts, Lisa is particularly troubled to have left three of her families who were supposed to move into their completed homes this week. She hopes that the move-in plans won't be delayed for long.

While Lisa and Lauren are with Andrew in Dallas, Lisa's husband Bruce is staying home because he works for the public utility company Entergy. He is on the first crew that will respond to the effects of the storm. He is keeping track of his family by cellphone for now.

Their other daughter Amanda and her new husband (Blake?) are in Baton Rouge with his family. Baton Rouge might well suffer some effects of the storm, but they didn't want to go too far from New Orleans, especially because they left behind most of what they own in a new apartment that is not yet covered by renter's insurance.

In general, Lisa believes that the entire area was better prepared for the approach of this storm, but she still fears that even though the evacuation went relatively smoothly, there is no way for the return to match it. She is aware that many gas stations have already run out of fuel and even if families can return next week, it will be almost impossible to do so. In fact, thinking about how, when, and where to get gas is one of the huge questions that occupies the minds of the evacuees, even though the issue of fuel probably barely occurs to those of us outside of the storm-affected areas.

Lisa said over and over again, "Let's just hope it doesn't go the same way this time." All of our friends in New Orleans wonder how many people will have the strength to return to the city again, whether or not it is ruined by this storm. Like Rosie, Lisa sends all of us her love and asks for our thoughts and prayers.

We finally got a call through to our friend Sarah Mercadel as well. Hers is the house we painted "tennis ball green" in January 2007. Once she figured out who was on the phone, her first concern was for Rosie; she immediately "tattled," saying "I don't think Rosie left. You've gotta call Rosie and get her to leave!" When she learned that Rosie is, in fact, safe in Mississippi, she assured us that she, too, is safe.

She was a little unclear, though, about where she is at the moment. She called out into the noisy room and asked, "Where are we? Where are we right now?" Though at first it seemed like perhaps she was in a crowded car or bus, it turned out that she was in fact in a shelter. Different people gave different answers to her question, but it seems most likely that she is in Lacombe, Mississippi. It was so difficult to hear (from either end of the phone), that we don't have many more details on Sarah. We do, though, have a solid promise that she will keep us posted from this point forward.

The last family that we can account for at the moment is the Palmer family. Don, Troylyn, and their son "Little Don" all live next door to Rosie. We helped them gut their house in January 2006 and repair it in 2007, and we gutted two houses owned by Don's dad, Leroy, over the years. All of the Palmers are gathered now in Baton Rouge, at the same house where Leroy has been staying since Katrina, which belongs to Little Don's aunt (Big Don's sister).

Little Don visited all of us last May as he contemplated whether or not to start college. He started classes two weeks ago in New Orleans, studying mortuary science. Now he gets a few days off from classes, but if the delay is very long there is a way to continue his studies through a related program in Baton Rouge. Little Don assures us that all is well. He was quick to report that their new dog is with them and is also safe.

From our end, we are in a bit of a frenzy full of fear and "what ifs . . . ?." We are keeping each other posted about Facebook messages from other volunteers or from our NOLA family members, about text and cell messages/conversations, and about the latest news reports that we've heard. On their end, they are learning some of what they know from us. The neighbors didn't all hear about each other's plans, but now they all know where the people of their corner of the world have landed, at least for now.

We hope that all of this anticipation and action turn out to be unnecessary. No matter which way things go, we will post updates when we have them. Thoughts, prayers, hopes, and best wishes should all be directed to the Gulf Coast tonight . . .

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Day Twenty-Two: January 2008

Day Twenty-Two: Tuesday, January 29

A clear morning awaited us, despite predictions of thunderstorms for our packing session. A few folks ran off to the ferry to bring back beignets for breakfast, while another set headed out to Rosie’s to do some last minute touchups. The rest started clearing out the bus, the warehouse, the tent, and every other place that we had left our stuff.

Rosie’s crew got to take in the house one more time and they got to hug Rosie a few more times as she cried over our departure. They looked back at the messages that we had scrawled on the railings at her house and thought “Maybe we should clearcoat these at spring break.” We still hope to take down her carport, build her a space for a new shed, and finish landscaping her yard. Who knows? Maybe we’ll be back in just a few short weeks.

As for the cleanup crew, they were quite efficient. They knew that many things had to be tossed, but they also were very judicious in deciding which things could stay with the bus (including our new kitchen tents and our old folding tables), which things could go to Bree and Shane (including open balsamic vinegar and our other “fancy” foods), and which things could be used by the residents of the tent city we pass almost every day. We had lots of food to offer, along with a few sleeping bags, blankets, clothing items, and umbrellas.

Though we were breaking down our NOLA home, we were all in a pretty playful mood. Shawny busted out some of the remaining awards and bestowed them on people. Because some of them were squirt guns and harmonicas, things got a bit crazy for just a short while there.

We finally got the lot back to the condition in which we had found it and headed in for one last run through the French Quarter to pick up souvenirs for ourselves (and for YOU!). Some grabbed one last muffaletta sandwich, some had red beans and rice, and some just hurried to shop.

As we sat at the airport, we realized that we felt like we were re-entering civilization after a long absence. We were overly fascinated with TV screens (a tendency that was even more evident last night at the restaurant when we got mesmerized by a competition in which people were breaking as many as ten concrete blocks at a time with their bare elbows) and we started to get the scoop on celebrity gossip until we remembered that we just don’t care.

Bryan pointed out that he would have to make a big mental adjustment to stop treating his clothing like one big napkin (as we have done with our dirty work clothes for the past three weeks). Others talked about how weird it felt to just sit and wait, rather than pushing on to the next task. Still others predicted that the Moraga routine was going to feel even more strange, as we are unlikely to match our NOLA level of productivity when we are back there.

Despite these losses, most of us were eager to sleep in our own beds tonight, to eat favorite foods, and – most of all – to see family, friends, roommates, girl/boyfriends, pets, and even our cars.

We will see each other in the morning, assuming that we manage to wake up without the presence of 28 other stirring bodies to roust us out of our beds. We’ll review things, look forward to what happens next, and then kick our projects into high gear so that our breaks are not too terribly interrupted by their completion. And, apparently, we will begin to think about spring break and how we want to spend it.

We’re very tired. Our clothes are very dirty. And we are changed. Talk to us, listen to us, hug us, and let us be different than the people we were when we left. Thanks for listening, watching, and reading. We hope to see you on February 13!

Monday, January 28, 2008

Day Twenty-One: January 2008

Day Twenty-One: Monday, January 28

The morning came too early, especially because it was the morning of our last workday in New Orleans. We are still ready and willing to work, but we are not ready for this experience to end. Also, we knew that our workload for the day was daunting. Like every day, we charged on.

We all hurried to Rosie’s house and hopped on the long list of jobs we had identified as our final push priorities. We occupied ourselves by painting the porch and front doors, touching up interior paint, scrubbing remaining glue globs from the newly-installed floor, caulking the baseboards, completing the brick walkway behind the two houses, finishing the birdbath, scrubbing the vinyl siding on the front of the house, and sweeping, sweeping, sweeping, and sweeping some more. One by one, the jobs got checked off the list.

We got distracted over and over again by visitors who wanted to say goodbye. Two Habitat staffers came over and brought us to tears as they thanked us and told us they’d miss us. Neighbors from all around Rosie’s house came by to talk, to thank us, and even to pray for us. And other neighbors that we don’t already know came by and asked us for help.

When evening began to fall, we knew that it was time to load the bus in front of Rosie’s for the last time. We had just pulled the tape from our paint job, so one by one we crossed the street to look back at our most recent work. As we stood there and took it all in, we fell quiet.

Veterans of multiple trips found themselves reviewing all of the many stages of Rosie’s houses that we have experienced together. They remembered the initial swirl of belongings in those houses back on that first Saturday in January 2006; they remembered the shovels and wheelbarrows and the huge piles of debris that we accumulated there. They remembered the big awful freezer that we wrestled off the porch with a triumphant thud. They remembered the smells of those waterlogged houses, especially the refrigerators and the sickening substance inside them that we lovingly called “fridge tea.” They remembered the huge claw that came along and scooped up everything we had removed from those houses. They remembered the tears that we shed on those front porches and the many lunches that we shared there as well. And they remembered the slow but sure reawakening of each house, one by one.

Newcomers (who are all solid veterans now) reflected on all that has happened for them – and for these houses -- in the last three-plus weeks. We all thought back to the houses we initially entered: framed-out skeletons standing inside a shell of vinyl siding. And we remembered the struggles of learning to insulate, learning to sheetrock, learning to install flooring, learning to paint properly, and learning the basics of the logic of construction. The more we looked back at those newly painted doors and porch, the more we leaned into each other and hugged each other. Tears started to fall.

We let this time float on for awhile then organized ourselves for a picture or two. We decided to have dinner in the French Quarter tonight then come home all together rather than dispersing throughout the souvenir shops, cafes, and bars. Over dinner we had each person stand up and praise the person to his or her right at the table. We got to say sweet things about each other in front of each other. It wouldn’t have mattered who was next to whom, as everyone has plenty of evidence that every person at that table deserves a lot of praise.

We’re getting up early in the morning (5:00 a.m. for the early shift) to gather up everything in our lovely little village and pack it up to head back to California. Leo will drop us off then start the long drive back to central Indiana. We have more work to do this week to complete our projects, some of which will be presented publicly at 7:00 on Wednesday, January 13th in the Soda Center at Saint Mary’s. Please join us that night if you can.

It wasn’t all about the hours worked for us, but we are still impressed with our own achievements. Today we added another 261 hours to our overall total, taking our collective running total to 5529 hours. Because a few of us are going to make one more pass through Rosie’s in the morning to finish some quick tasks, we’ll add those hours in before we declare our ultimate total. But for now, we say “whew!”