Dale (dalestan) wrote,

On Mississippi

As some of you are aware, I was in Southern Mississippi for my spring break, hanging drywall. I went down with nine other people, and met up with about ninety more when we got to the church where we were staying.

As I said, there were ten of us: the director of Wesley Foundation and his wife, three students, the mother of one of the students, three random men who attached to our group because "The Indiana group" (more on that later) was full, and myself. We met at Wesley about 6:00 (GMT -5) Saturday morning, ate breakfast, packed, and hit the road.

We arrived at our destination at about 22:15 (GMT -6), and discovered that we were not the only group from Indiana. We were not even the only group from West Lafayette. There were four groups that stayed basically the whole week: One group from Virginia, one from Indianapolis (in .in.us) and two from West Lafayette (also .in.us). These were, respectively: "the Virginia group", "the Indiana group", "the West Lafayette group" and "the other West Lafayette group". Which WL group was "other" depended on which group was yours.
There were also several groups that came and/or went partway though the week.

In total, there were around a hundred people showering, eating, and sleeping in this not-particularly-large church each night.

The majority of the men, including me, slept in the sanctuary. One of the other men said that it was "like sleeping in the middle of a frog pond with all the snoring". I wouldn't say it was that bad, but woe betide you if you need either pitch black or dead silence to fall asleep. Neither happened, ever. I sleep in a room with four computers, (They're not all mine, honestly! Only three of them are.) so this did not present a particular problem for me; in fact, I nearly require white noise in order to fall asleep.

Food was provided by a few members of the Indiana group, who basically spent the whole day, every day, cooking, cleaning, shopping, cooking, and cleaning.

Sunday, we went out driving along Highway 90. You should see route 15 there; we started there and went west. If you go far enough west, along 90, you'll find a bridge. The satellite images report that the bridge is intact; it is not. Seven months after Katrina, and there have been no visible efforts to repair or replace the bridge. We didn't actually get to the bridge; but we did see plenty while we were out there.
- Buildings that looked fine. As long as you didn't look below 30-40 feet (9-12 m) above sea-level. below about 20 feet above, there was nothing but steel structural members. Everything else had been washed away by the storm surge.
- Buildings that looked fine. As long as you only looked at the foundation, and not the building, which didn't exist any more.
- Sign posts that were twisted, bent, or otherwise not straight, as they should be.
- Spray-painted "You loot, we shoot" signs, and similar messages.

I spent most of that drive shell-shocked; looking, but not actually seeing.

Monday and Tuesday, the ten of use were hanging drywall at a house that had been flooded up to the ceiling. For those of who haven't done this, it's not particularly easy or fun, and definitely not for those with weak backs. Take rather fragile 4'x8' (1.2m x 2.4m) 60 lb (27 kg) sheet, and hold it on the ceiling. Go get another sheet, and repeat, except this time, make sure it lines up with the previous one. Repeat, until the whole ceiling in covered. Now, do the same procedure in a house where the concepts of right angle and straight line do not exist.
Once the ceiling is done, you can continue with the walls; these are easier, except that now you have to cut relatively accurate holes for switches, outlets, water supply pipes, drain pipes, gas pipes, ...
Wednesday, the St. Andrews group (aka "the [other] West Lafayette group") and two of our students went to the beach. The rest of us stayed at the house, and finished the drywalling around 15:00.
Thursday was spent cleaning yards. We cleaned three yards. The first yard was by far the most interesting (FCVOI). The house was completely gone, and the foundation, although safe, was going to have to be bulldozed. But amidst this destruction, we found a collection of rare coins, a glass tea-cup in apparently perfect condition, and a ceramic plate sitting on the slab, also in perfect condition.
Friday we left at "5:30" (again with the "Ain't democracy great" thing, both on the leaving a day early, and on the leaving that absurdly early in the morning) to go back to WL. I put it in quotes, because we didn't actually leave until 6:00 (GMT -6). The trip was uneventful, and we arrived in WL at ~21:00 (GMT -5).

Here on this college campus, we live in this nice little bubble wherein a "poor student" is one who can't afford to put gas in their car. The concept of "poor" as in "I don't have a place to live" or as in "I own nothing but the clothes on my back" simply doesn't exist, and every now and again we need a reminder of how blessed we truly are. Here I am with three computers, at least two weeks worth of clothes, at least three pairs of shoes (possibly more, depending on how you count) a roof over my head, a warm bed, .... There are many who would count themselves lucky to have even one of those.
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