Saturday, January 24, 2009

Day 13: Friday, January 23, 2009

We woke up early this morning to finish the work at Jean’s house. All that was left was to box up the files in her husband’s studio, finish cleaning out the attic, box up the rest of the books for donation, and take an inventory of the rest.

After we were done, Cynthia treated us to lunch at the Eat Well grocery down the street. We had Vietnamese food and Po’ Boys. While there we discussed our plans to keep working on the class video project. We split up into teams and assigned various important areas of the city left to be filmed. Also, we each began to think about what we wanted to say, personally, in front of the camera.

We hurried back to the hostel because we were meeting with a woman, Marlo Bouvier Stevens, who had agreed to show us her house down the street from India Hostel and tell us her Hurricane Katrina story. We walked down a few blocks to the property where her office stood. She owned several properties all near the office, and all which were damaged in the storm. Upon arriving we were introduced to Jocelyn Sideco, who is the founder of Contemplatives in Action, a small Catholic non-profit providing relief and hospitality to those affected by Hurricane Katrina. Jocelyn explained her motivations for being in New Orleans. Living in Milwaukee as a minister at Marquette University, Jocelyn was inspired to come to New Orleans and minister after a student opened her eyes to the needs of those residents affected by the hurricane.

Jocelyn wanted to impress upon us that the hurricane affected everyone in New Orleans—black, white, rich, and poor. However, she said that it was those who were most vulnerable who suffered, and continue to suffer, the most. As the poorest state in the nation, Louisiana can use all of the help it can get. Their biggest fear is being forgotten. Jocelyn told us that helping out isn’t rocket science. You don’t need a degree to make a difference. Instead, she encouraged us to utilize our network systems to spread the word about New Orleans.

Next, Marlo sat down to tell us her story. As a registered nurse, when the call to evacuate came to New Orleans, Marlo and her two sons decided to stay. She told us, “I’m a nurse. The Lord God wanted me to stay. I’m going down with the ship.” On the night of the actual Hurricane, Marlo stayed by herself in her house. Her son, Santo, was in his house next door and her son Rasta at his a few blocks away. The night of the Hurricane, Marlo was amazed at God’s power as he ripped trees up from the earth and shingles off the roof. Waking up the next morning, Marlo and her sons laughed at the fact that the entire city evacuated for a storm that turned out to be so minor. However, the true storm had yet to be weathered.

Marlo noticed water in the street that morning, something that did not occur often but did not seem like a reason to worry. Soon, however, the water began to rise. First it was at the driveway; next it was halfway up the lawn. Suddenly, her son Rasta called her on the phone and told her that there was a car floating by his house and he was about to swim to safety. Then the phone cut out. What was going on?

The water outside Marlo’s house was rising quickly, she figured that the bayou must have overflowed because there was no electricity and news or radio to let her know that the levees had broken. As the water was rising, Santo joined Marlo at her house with some supplies. Knowing that she couldn’t swim he brought a duffle bag with beach balls just in case. Afraid they would be trapped in the house, Marlo and Santo put on the life preservers and waded into the water and headed next door to a three-story house. At this point the water was up to Marlo’s chest. Santo broke into the house and they went to the top floor where they would spend that night hoping the water wouldn’t continue to rise.
The next morning Santo climbed onto the roof and saw that the water was at least eight feet high across the entire neighborhood. He called out saying, “This is Santo, is anyone out there?” Three different neighbors called out to him letting him know that they were alright. Later that morning a rescue boat finally came by to rescue Marlo, her son and their neighbors. Travelling through the city, they took in the magnitude of the disaster. New Orleans was like a lake and there were people hanging out of second- and third- story windows calling out for help.
Marlo and hundreds of others ended up spending two days and two nights on a freeway overpass. Despite the 105-degree heat, no one bothered to bring them any food or water even though they saw them from the helicopters flying overhead. Thankfully, Marlo used her skills as a nurse to help those in need. One thing Marlo learned during the storm is not to judge people by the way they look. Despite what people may think about them it was the young people, “thugs” who stepped up to help out when the people needed them the most. They waded through the flood to bring back food and water to starving babies and refugees and carried the elderly on their backs through miles of flooded city streets to bring them to safety.

After the storm Marlo moved to Little Rock, Arkansas. She could not come back to New Orleans. It angered her son Rasta, greatly, that she seemed to be abandoning her city when it needed her the most, but she needed the time to fix herself before she could fix others.

Three years after the storm Marlo is back in New Orleans. Although she says she will never be able to live here again, she wants to help Contemplatives in Action (CIA) by donating the properties she owned. As donations come in, these properties will be transformed into volunteer housing. Also, Marlo is in the process of writing a book, Blind Faith, Can you Trust Me in a Storm? A Hurricane Katrina Survivor’s Story. In addition to be a way for her to heal and educate others, all profits from her book will go to CIA and the volunteer housing project.

Despite everything she has been through, Marlo’s incredible faith in God has helped keep her optimism and spirit alive. She told our class that we are the next generation and that the future truly lies in our hands. We are so thankful to have heard her story. Marlo is truly an inspiration and I am sure her story will remain with us forever.

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