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Noelle in Biloxi
Writing about my work trip to Biloxi, MS
Caffeinated and on our way to drywalling. And yes, it is 6 here, thus 4 in Seattle. But at least we are not in snow. And we had Organic, Shadegrown, fairtrade, double dark, Sumatra roast. AKA Sanka.

Current Location: biloxi, Msm
Current Mood: amused amused

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Today I hung drywall! For those in the know, we went to a class at Home Depot in Marysville in December to learn this skill. Since we arrived, we've been waiting for the opportunity to put that lesson into practice. That was that. I did a lot of screwing, de-nailing, cutting and sawing. A little bit of leveling, and a whole lot of... Oh, did I mention? Screwing! I was one of two people (out of twelve) who was able to stay with drywalling all day.

Lunch today was at the salvation army tent. The group went there yesterday (while I enjoyed ham and american cheese). Great facility. They were serving red beans and rice. I got there too late for rice. So I enjoyed beans, a spoonful of peanutbutter, and a "real food" bar I brought along. It was actually quite substabtial.

The afternoon, Erin and I got to know Brian. Brian is a pilot for US Airways and this is his forth trip down here. He has passions that become evident quickly, and calls this hs refueling time. He is a pacificist and definitely a humanitarian. After hanging sheetrock, the three of us went for a beer. I had Red Stripe! (Thank goodness for options beyond bud and miller).

Speaking of beer brands... I haven't yet mentioned that our drinking water supply comes from Anheuser Busch- except at the Salvation Army, where it is Miller brand. More on that later, I hope. I have mixed feelings, to say the least.

This evening we started to play Apples to Apples before deciding to go to a casino. What a world of change. The casino was so... Touristy... New... It smelled of paint thinner. Everything was shiny. What a drastic contrast to the rest of the town.

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Current Location: Biloxi, MS
Current Mood: awake awake
Current Music: the buzz of the ice maker

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This should be an interesting day to read all the blogs - since we were a little split up.  The majority of the group went to work on de-molding a house.  We were warned that those with allergies should avoid this task.  My allergies aren't terrible, but I am getting over a cold and cough - so I didn't want to aggravate that.

Kevin, Erin and I went with some other Hands On folks to Turkey Creek in Gulfport, MS.  We rode over there with an East Coast couple who is living life on the road.  There was an awesome freedom in their outlook on life.  I love my work and I love being in Seattle - but it was refreshing to see people just quit and make things happen like that.  They've been all up and down the East Coast and have plans to do the West Coast as well.  

When we got to the "community center" in TC (it was formerly a "senior complex") - we were prepped a little and divided into smaller teams to hit the neighborhood and pick up debris.   There were around 100 volunteers.   We were each given 3 bags to start. (By the end of the day we each probably went through a box of bags)  That was it.  Pick up trash and put it in piles so the city could come pick things up.  

My group was Erin, Kevin and myself from Seattle Works, Mark from NY and Leah from Boston (?).  We started with a ditch across the street.  Soon we realized how grueling this task would be.  There were shingles layered upon shingles, soaked in water, encrusted with mud.  It seemed daunting.  We worked hard and got most of the major pieces out.  It was interesting to see even more bags by the end of the day from other groups who must have raked up the smaller bits.

Then we started heading more into the neighborhood.  We found a house on a corner that a few other groups were working on.  Apparently the owner had said she was trying to fix it up.  There was a lot of tile sitting around.  A shed in the back had collapsed, so there were lots of boards with nails in them.  

At one point a woman drove by, simply to tell us "Thank you," and "We couldn't do it without you."  It was so genuine and appreciative it gave me goosebumps. 

We moved on to another area - an empty corner lot with lots of trees and water.  It smelled terrible.  We were all starting to get hungry, so we went back to the center for lunch.  It was a ham and cheese sandwich, a slice of apple and some peanuts.  And yes, the cheese was American.  (For those keeping track, that's three slices of American Cheese so far).

While we were there, one of the leaders pulled Mark to help with a Home Depot run.  They rezlied they could use one more helper, so I volunteered to go.  I thought a change of pace would be nice.  We had to get 70 1x4x14s.  It was tiring, but at least there wasn't as much bending.  I'm still not sure what the lumber was for, but it went to the Turkey Creek Community Initiatives.  

The Turkey Creek neighborhood (and vicinity) will have volunteers there all week, and a fish fry this Friday - all leading up to MLK day.  

When we met back up with our group, they were working on Hattie's house.  Hattie saw them and asked them to come help.  Her husband passed away before the storm, and she was living in a trailer a block up from her house.  Her husband did some mechanic work (although it sounds like it was just a hobby).  He was the type to never throw anything away.  So imagine a yard full of car parts, tires, cans of oil, cans of paint, etc.  Now imagine a storm knocking everything over.  Now imagine 15 months of overgrowth.  It was pretty crazy.  Hattie came out to work with us and was very appreciative of our work.  Leah and Erin hauled probably 15-20 tires from the site.  We found chain link fencing in a pile, overgrown with balckberry vines.  It was strenuous, and we were tired, but it was wonderful getting to work with Hattie.

We're back at the base now.  My back hurts from work and now typing.  I'm excited to work with the rest of the group again tomorrow.  We should start drywalling tomorrow - it hadn't been inspected, hence the other work today.  I'm also excited for dinner and rest.  I just had my first outdoor shower.  It was actually quite splendid.  Helps that I was dirty and going on two days.  Peace out.

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Current Location: Biloxi, MS
Current Mood: sore sore
Current Music: The sound of people excited to be back

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I'm a little confused right now. Technically I know it is Sunday night. But since I haven't slept in a bed since Friday night, you could tell me it was Tuesday and I'd believe you. I was able to get a little sleep on both flights. On the way to DFW there was a lot of turbulence. I think it actually may have helped. Several times I woke up to glance out the window the wing slicing through storms.

In DFW we were all zombies. A few opted to begin their days with coffee. I was one of those hoping to grab a few more winks on the puddle-jumper. I managed to, and felt much better in GPT.

The airport was incredibly rundown. A combination of construction and unfinished surfaces. We waited for our minivans, musing non-verbally at the family who traveled with their cat and a woman who told us a little TMI about her port-a-potty experience.

When we arrived at our new campground, church was happening. So we decided to get some food. We had an awesome time at a Wafflehouse. I was quite satisfied, yet amused and slightly grossed out by my scattered, covered and capped hashbrowns and grits with cheese. American cheese at that.

We went back to the church, found our sleeping area in the sleeping loft, and left our bags there. Then we made a group decision to go to New Orleans. We won't have time later in the week, and we all knew it was something we had to do, especially after watching When The Levees Broke.

Jaxon had been to the 9th Ward to do a project last year, so he was able to help us navigate the neighborhoods. As we drove west, towards New Orleans, the devastation just got more and more intense. First it was just trees, signs, etc. Then huge strip malls were shut down, boarded up, signs and windows broken. Of course there would be the ocassional McDonald's that was fixed up. You could tell which companies were locally owned vs. nationally by whether they were fixed up.

I can't wait to post the pictures from the 9th Ward, because I'm afraid my descriptions won't do it justice. It is what you may have seen on TV a year and a half ago. Empty houses, painted by those who originally checked for bodies. It continues to be a ghost town. Some signs say they want to buy houses (likely to demolish them and build new development) - but even more signs saig things along the lines of "Save Our Neighborhood" or "Stop The Bulldozers." It was a ghost town. Silent, with the exception of other "tourists" and even a tour bus.

We went to one of the levees, or "ground zero" of the flooding. There was utter silence, with the exception of the creepiest sound when a car passed over a nearby bridge. It was the kind of sound no one would have noticed in a bustling neighborhood, but in a ghost town, it provided the soundtrack.

When I post pictures I will probably write more about the ninth ward. There was a local relief group in the neighborhood - Common Ground Collective - Solidarity, not charity.  

We decided to spend the evening doing typical New Orleans tourism.  As Jaxon helped navigate out of the neighborhoods, and into the French Quarter - he pointed out the corner where the French Quarter began.  From that intersection on, you could tell there had been more focus on rebuilding.  By the time we got to Jackson Square, there was a pretty large crowd of tourists huddled around a magician.

It still had an eerie feeling to it.  It was packed with people, but I felt that at least 50% were fellow volunteers.  Many wore t-shirts from their organization.  We went to Cafe du Monde, I had some cafe au lait.  Most everyone had the beignets.  I do love those beignets, but wasn't feeling the sugar.  I've had them before, and they are a must do.  Kalindra, Erin, Ryan and I started to wonder towards Bourbon Street.  We spent a few minutes at Madame Laveau's voodoo shop before deciding to switch from caffeine over to a typical Bourbon Street beverage.  We found one of those slushy places - where they obviously want you to just come in, get your Hurricane and go.  I had a Pina Colada, Erin had a margaritta and Kalindra and Ryan both had Hurricanes.  Large.  Unfortunately, it was all sugar.  Mine supposedly had rum in it, but the fuzz and rush of sugar was more the sensation.  

After a little more wandering, we started looking for some dinner.  We knew we wanted something local, authentic, very NOLA.  We also didn't want to overpay.  We found The Gumbo Shop.  As we walked up to it, I thought it looked familiar.  Then I realized it was where my family ate with Tami and Mike last time I was in NO.  It was too funny.  We had some Abita  - Erin and I tried the Amber, Ryan tried the stout (I can't remember the name, but I do remember it was a funny name).  Our server was named Chris and was from Florida.  We tried to have him guess where we lived.  He asked for a clue.  After some discussion, we decided the best clue - nothing too obvious or obscure - was "We have the largest ferry system in the world."  We weren't sure if it was nation or world, but we knew it was something significant.  He started to guess SF, but didn't get Seattle.  Jan and Kevin also wandered in.  I had jambalaya and it was awesome.

After dinner, we started wandering back towards the canon above Jackson Square.  Right at the corner across the street, next to the park, was a jazz band.  I know, there are live bands in every touristy part of major cities.  But in New Orleans, they specialize in jazz.  And for street musicians, these guys were great.  I have a few short clips I will have to upload to YouTube so you can see what I mean.

Our time in the city was short, but it makes me want to go back.  It is such a vibrant area.  I can understand - beyond just the tourism industry - why it was the first part to be rebuilt.  And, of course, it wasn't as damaged to begin with.  There are so many beautiful cultures colliding in history -  and even more in the present.  There's a spirit in the air - and the air is filled with music.

The ride back, in the van I was in at least, was a blend of relflection, country, a coffee break for the driver (followed by cold air blasted at him) and some New Orleans tribute music.  

We got back to the church/shelter/base/home around 8:45. 

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Current Location: Biloxi, MS
Current Mood: tired tired
Current Music: people getting ready for bed

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I am sitting on the plane. Don't worry, we aren't airborne, so I'm not violating the no-electronic device policy. One of the starters on our plane didn't work, so the mechanics just installed a new one. Originally our flight was supposed to leave at 11:55. That was pushed to 12:15. Now it is almost 2. I wouldn't care except that I am tired and want to sleep, but have a hard time ignoring the girl on her cell behind me. I've learned about her schooling, recent trip to Europe and long distance relationship. And that's just from the conversations that were in English! :-)
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Biloxi Specific imix
Just for fun imix

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Well, I just checked in online and I *think* I'm finished packing.  That's the nice thing about finishing packing 3 hours before you have to leave - I'm sure I've forgotten something, but I have time to remember it and stuff it in a bag.  Boy, my new work boots are big suckers!  I decided not to wear them on the plane because taking them on and off at security could make people late for their flights.  So they take up about 1/3 of my "clothes" bag I'm checking.  My other duffel bag, while light, is also stuffed - sleeping bag, pillow, towel, and robe.  We will be showering outdoors - so I think a robe to get there and back is in order!  Then my backpack is flight safe - no liquids, no leatherman (though I may toss that in a checked bag - I love that thing!). 

I also just finished burning some CDs.  First the set of Biloxi/Katrina/NOLA specific music - tribute stuff, local stuff, etc.  Then 5 CDs of just fun music.  Of course, I don't know the music tastes of everyone in the group, but I'm a bit of a musicphile and think I found some fun things that everyone will either like or tolerate.  It ended up being just under 100 songs, no artists duplicated (although some were similar, i.e. a song by someone else, featuring Jack Johnson).  I'm publishing "imixes" - so you can see for yourself! (How insane is technology?)

When I come back from this trip, I will have put down 5% on my first condo (I'm doing power of attorney to make that happen).  I think defining a home will be a reocurring theme on this trip.  Working in the real estate industry, especially on a project like Veer, that's trying to market to first time homebuyers - I see people every day with the "American Dream" of owning a home.  I see people who are barely able to afford it (hey, I'm in that boat too) - but who see a place they want to call home.  And we'll do whatever it takes to make that place a home.

The survivors of Katrina have had their homes taken away from them.  Insurance companies tell long-time clients that their hurricane insurance is no good, because the damage is from flooding, and vice versa.  I'm sure we've all had those moments in our minds - where our home is on fire, or crumbling in an earthquake, and you think of what you'd grab.  The one or two things you'd save. 

As much as we may try to avoid a life of materialism - there are still <b> things </b> that are precious to us.  A book, a picture album, a ticket stub, a piece of jewelry.  An item that is part of our story.  Something that is more than the object itself and conjures up feelings of belonging, being loved.  Objects that help to define us.  To have those things ruined in wind and water is saddening.  People are amazingly resilient, and I'm sure we'll all be floored by the ability of people in Biloxi to rebuild.  I anticipate learning a lot from this trip, and I hope to be open to this experience. 

Thank you to those of you who have shared kind words of encouragement.  At this point, we don't really know all we're getting in to - and that's half the fun of it.  I think it'll be hard, but really good. 

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Seattle Works has also launched a blog.  This is some great cross-blogging goin' on!

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Current Music: Ai No Corrida - Vania Borges feat. Quincy Jones

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Last night a group of us got together for round two of When The Levees Broke.  It continued on a similar path as the first two acts, but now focusing a little more on the aftermath.  People waiting months for their FEMA trailer.  Families unable to reunite.  Homeowners returning to what once was a place filled with memories.  

It also reminded me of some of the more high profile incidents - such as Kanye's comment about President Bush and Barbara Bush's observation in Houston.  Overall, I'd recommend that people watch the film.  It isn't an easy movie to watch, but there were some choices Spike Lee made that I appreciated.  For one, he didn't narrate.  Obviously the interviews may have had leading questions, and editing can do a lot - but it was people saying what they wanted to say.  Whether critical of the government, grieving a lost loved one, or showing how music and culture defined New Orleans - it was in their own words.  Secondly, he did a great job of adding little bits of humor, and again, music and culture.  

The movie prompted some great questions.  What do you expect from your government?  How much do you expect them to take care of you?  As devastating as a natural catastrophe would be for any government, I still feel like our leaders made choices that I do not personally agree with.  It isn't that the government needs to hold hands, but basic needs were not met.  It seems like people wanted to go back and help rebuild, but couldn't.   

I spent the other night putting together some music to accompany the trip. I had some fun downloading Katrina Relief songs off of itunes.  It was a little hard to find them, and then I found this great page that lists songs that were either recorded or played as tributes to the storm and storm survivors.  Of course I didn't download all of them, but I found some good ones - some are a little cheesey, some are really moving.  Some we've all heard a thousand times, some I've never heard of.  

So I plan to burn a few playlists for our listening pleasure.  I'll also throw in some irrelevant music, for times when we want to escape the experience a little.  

Another member of the group, Ryan, is also going to be blogging and posting pictures from our trip.  Here is his blog, if you're interested in another perspective.  That's me on the couch, ready to watch the movie.  Ryan may also have a laptop available to upload pictures on to - so I may be able to post pictures afterall.

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I now own two pairs of Carharts and some Cat boots. And four pairs of wool socks. They aren't steel-toed, but they're a hearty pair of boots. Ari and I went down to Work 'n' More in Southcenter so I could gear up. I look at these purchases as good investments beyond Biloxi too. It is nice to know I have a couple good pairs of work pants for other volunteer and home improvement projects.

I'm trying to think of some good playlists to burn for a soundtrack for the trip. I'm thinking a peppy, wake up and get working one. A contemplative one. And something in between. Three CDs is probably plenty.

Here are some good links:
This is the group we're volunteering through, Hand on Gulf Coast.
Locally, I volunteer with Seattle Works.
Here's an online documentary on Hurricane Katrina.  Gotta love Frontline.

Current Location: Seattle, WA
Current Music: Rodrigo y Gabriela - PPA

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