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I'm enjoying running shorter distances more than I imagined I would. I'm learning that there is just as much satisfaction to be had in running a shorter distance like a mile and doing it well as there is in finishing a marathon. Well, almost, but it takes a lot less time to recover and start thinking about the next one so it evens out.

I ran the Main Street Mile two days ago in 6:30. Keep in mind that a month prior to the race I was down in New Orleans where I didn't run a step except up the Mississippi levee in the lower 9th ward for 3 weeks. I was half tempted to forget about running any kind of a quality race, forget about training for the race with the Flying Feet, and worry about nothing but processing my experiences and getting my money back for the training program. I'm so glad I didn't decide to do that. I needed to get back to running. Running is as much therapy as it is exercise. I needed running to get back to feeling like myself. So I did it. Not much at first or even all that much now, but I stuck with the training program and met the goal time I set for myself before the Red Cross sent me down to Louisiana and I learned more than I could have imagined about life and injustice and the human spirit.

Judy told me when I got back that I would wake up one morning and feel back to normal. I resisted getting back to normal for a long time because I thought that what with all the people living down there are going through I had no right to get back to normal.  I can't pinpoint a day, but I've gotten back to waking up and feeling back to normal.  I've come to the realization that I did what I could while I was there and stewing in my own juices here at home is not going to help out the people down there on the Gulf Coast. Better to take care of myself so I'm ready for the next time the Red Cross deploys me because like it or not, there will be a next time.

Running is about so much more than putting one foot in front of the other.

Race results-if they're not up now they will be shortly

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Someday I'll get caught up on my journaleers homework.  Good thing I'm not being graded for timeliness.

I'm going to be brave and post this one publically.  If you haven't read my deployment stories read them now.  I truly believe in New Orleans and I want you to too.

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Yesterday I started the process towards extending my VISTA term for another year. That means another year of disaster education presentations, another year of disaster action team calls, and another year of disaster relief deployments. It also means I have a chance to do this VISTA thing the way it was intended, by living on my own and trying to support myself on that puny little VISTA stipend. There are certainly plenty of people who do it. There are also certainly plenty of people who live like that not out of choice but by necessity, and who support families on not much more than that. The only trick is finding affordable housing. Other than that, I'm pretty low-maintenance. I don't even really need a TV, except maybe for the occasional movie. I can eat oatmeal and rice and beans and whatever else I can get cheap. I can be a 5k runner to save on running shoes and run little local races to save on entry fees.

But first I need to start looking for a cheap (but safe) place to live.

Speaking of disaster education presentations, my goal is to reach 700 kids this month. I've got a ways to go:

Zokutou word meterZokutou word meter
8 / 700

In other news, I am not "back to a routine." I am not "recovered" from my disaster deployment. Up until last month I lived a very sheltered life and recovering from the shock of a wake-up call like that does not come easily. I am trying to process all that I saw down there but I'll warn you, little things tend to set me off. It's not your fault, and thank you for understanding and trying to "get it."

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Here are just a few of the relief organizations I saw hard at work while I was down there.  I'm sure there are dozens more and that they would love to have whatever you are able to give, whether that is a few weeks of your time, monetary or in-kind donations, or an encouraging phone call or email or letter.

And you know what, if you're not willing or able to volunteer at this point, consider a vacation to New Orleans.  There's plenty there that's well on it's way back from Katrina.  Eat crawfish etouffee or po-boys at a local restaurant.  Go on a plantation house tour or a swamp airboat tour.  Spend a day aimlessly wandering the French Quarter and shopping.  Have hurricanes at Pat O'Brien's where they were first made then skip down Bourbon Street in the wee hours of the morning.  Most importantly, show your support for a city that will come back, and listen to the survivor stories.

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I'll be writing more later, as I have time and energy.  Coming back home from three weeks of disaster relief work is tougher than I imagined, but you know what, at the end of the day I have nothing to complain about because at least I have a home to come back to.  I will never again complain about petty things that don't matter.  The amazing people of New Orleans have given me inspiration in the way they are working to rebuild their city, and they have given me perspective about what really matters in life.

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Just like running your first marathon leaves you far more exhausted and far less able to get out of bed and more emotionally worn out than you could have imagined, so did my first deployment. It was like a marathon in a lot of respects-you couldn't just give up when you were tired, you really had no idea what you were getting into, and while adrenaline keeps you going, as soon as you stop it all catches up with you. Even more, with deployments like this you have less than 24 hours of warning, not 4 months to get ready.

What I'm trying to say is that I'm much more exhausted than I expected, in all senses of the word, and it has very little to do with the fact that I went to bed at 4 am last night. Thank goodness I work for the Red Cross, so they'll completely understand when I don't get right back to normal. Also, thank goodness for all of my endlessly supportive friends and family. You all have helped New Orleans rebuild too, more than you probably realize, because we disaster relief workers couldn't do what we do without you all backing us up.

Narrative of my experiences to follow when I'm ready for it.


back home

Mar. 24th, 2006 03:10 am
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You all are just too awesome. 12+ hours after I put up my outprocessing post and I already have 8 comments. Thanks guys. I'll be posting an in-depth account of my experiences, but I need a good night's sleep first, and a day or so to process my experiences and do some research.

Yes, unfortunately I just got home. Crazy flight schedules-flight from NOLA left 2 hours late so I missed the connecting flight to Baltimore. New flight to Baltimore left an hour and a half late-I didn't get into BWI until after 2 am. Wow, am I going to sleep well tonight. Then I'm going to get up and have raisin bran and granola with soy milk and a plastic cup of oj for breakfast. Beignets rock my world, but I've missed my good ol' fallback of a healthy breakfast.

Please stop me if I try and compulsively stuff plastic bags with a salt, a sweet, a water, a fruit, and plasticware, or if I try to fill "clamshells" with what the Red Cross calls etouffee. No, wait, we don't have etouffee up here in Maryland. Oh well.

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Where to begin? This last week has been crazy. First for the bad news. The "Katrina crudt" has gotten worse. It feels like someones stabbing me in the throat everytime I swallow, and I've been all stuffed up since the day I got here and out on the response vehicles. This is not cool. No one's going to convince me that this is just allergies, because I never had allergies a day in my life before I got to New Orleans. It's the "black mold motel" that's making everyone sick, and if our higher-ups want to tell us to stop complaining, maybe they should move from their fancy-schmancy hotel to over here.

Anyway, I've had a huge number of amazing "Red Cross moments" in the past week or so. For one thing, I've been on the same route, Violet, since last Wednesday. That's awesome because I've really gotten to know the clients (the people we're serving). I know Kathleen and her survivor dog named Gypsy, I know the guy who thinks that all women are good for is heart attacks, and I know the older woman in a FEMA trailer next to what used to be a Baptist church who needs her food brought to her. I ride in the back of the response vehicle with a woman who lives down in Plaquemines right where the storm hit, and after three days of riding with her, I think she's warmed up to me. I've heard some amazing stories from her, and she's taught me a lot about the strength and resiliance of people down here.

The best part is feeding the thousands of college kids who are down here for spring break gutting houses, particularly houses in the 9th Ward. One of the girls I passed hand sanitizer (our new best friend) out to today wanted to know about how she could join up with the Red Cross when she gets home. I probably just recruited a lifelong Red Cross Disaster Services volunteer. Besides, those kids are just about my age and they're so grateful for anything other than hot dogs.

Monday, Karen (a fellow Red Cross volunteer and history buff) and I took our day off wandering the French Quarter just blocks from our hotel. Beignets for breakfast, po-boys for lunch, lots of souvenir shopping and a private tour of the Beauregard-Keyes house. The best part is that for the day we weren't Red Cross volunteers but tourists, and we got to see the good side of the city, the side that's recovering on something like a schedule. I think I've had just about every local food so far-jambalaya, etouffee, gumbo, po-boys, and beignets. Oh, and hurricanes to drink with just about every dinner, that or Katrinas or Katrina-Ritas. Those things are powerful.

In short, this has been the bext two weeks of my life so far. I couldn't have asked for more-fellow volunteers who become best friends within hours, clients who are endlessly appreciative and hardworking, and the energy of a city that will come back. What more could I ask for?

"Auryn," I'd love to get to meet you but that might be a trick given that by the time we get off the response vehicles and back to the hotel it's usually at least 7 pm. I don't know what your work schedule is like, but I'm here until next Friday. I have a day off on Wednesday to do the whole tourist thing again, then I "out-process" (basically, meet with our mental health people to be sure I'm still sane) on Thursday and fly home on Friday. Let me know what works for you-my number is (734) 765-5880.

For now, I just hope my roommate isn't too upset with me for not doing the whole Bourbon Street thing tonight. It's off to bed with me-I'll be on the trolley at 7 am for a breakfast of beignets at Cafe du Monde.

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There is no internet access here in my new hotel room. There's also no jacuzzi and no restaurant right next door, but we are right on Canal Street and the French Quarter is only a few blocks away. Should be way too much fun. Besides, who am I to complain when I spend all day working with people who've lost everything? My only real concern is all the mold thanks to this hotel being 4 feet underwater after Katrina, which could make me sick enough that I couldn't work.

The point of all this is that I won't be posting very much for the next 2 weeks. Don't get worried about me or anything, and feel free to give me a call if you want to know what's going on.

For now, out to the French Quarter for a little fun.

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I have that "katrina look" today. Let me tell you why.

A guy came up to the truck looking pretty worn out. I asked him if he was okay and he proceeded to tell me how he'd stepped on something hard this morning. It had a leash attached to it. 6 months ago, it was his dog.

A mother and daughter come up to the truck. It was the first time they'd been back to see their house (or what was left of it), and they had also come to bury the mother's sister. Not sure if the death was recent or if they'd just found the body in their house. I didn't want to ask.

We also found a bunch of houses in the middle of the road, pushed at least a lot off their foundations. Several of them completely blocked the street.

I think the weather today was freaking the clients out. All that wind reminded them just a little too much of Katrina.


On the plus side, we gave a bunch of meals out to spring breakers and Americorps NCCC people. They're awesome, out there gutting houses in the heat of the day. So selfless. I also flirted with the clients by offering them (hershey) kisses.

The coolest moment of the day had to be telling a client that they reminded me of the song "Wind beneath my wings," which we'd just heard on the radio. They are our heros, out there rebuilding their lives and living day to day, like we are theirs for taking care of them however we can.

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Quick update...I'm still on the same ERV with the same crew, but we've been moved out of the 9th Ward to Gentilly (yesterday) and Violet (today). I've been popping the cough drops like there's no tomorrow to fight the katrina crudt, and I just got back from a walmart run for a St. Patrick's Day headband and Hershey's kisses for the kids. Anything I can do to make the clients happy. I know a sparkly green headband would make me happy. :-)

Off to dinner and hurricanes at Copelands. I'll post a more detailed entry later.

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Where do I begin? I've been ERV-surfing in the Lower Ninth Ward. I've caught the "Katrina crudt" from breathing in mold and who knows what else all day. I serve hot food out of the back of a hot ERV while ERV-surfing over piles of debris. I spend 12 hours out of my day either on the road serving hot meals and snacks or scrubbing down the ERV and I haven't made a cent beyond my Red Cross stipend for food and medicine to treat the "Katrina crudt."

The amazing thing is that I'm having the time of my life. I'm meeting so many cool volunteers from all over the country, enjoying the 75* midwinter weather, and eating in a bunch of cool restaurants. I bought my own hurricane glass-my new favorite drink which one of the volunteers is going to give me the recipe for so I can order it back in Maryland-and filled it with beads that another volunteer gave me. We spend the evenings soaking in the hot tub and alternately relaxing and sharing our Katrina stories.

The best part is that I'm falling in love with the people of New Orleans. I've never met a more appreciative, more open-hearted, more hard-working group of people in my life. I just wish I could do so much more for them than give them a hot meal-I want to fix up their houses and look after their kids and give them a reason why the rest of the city is well on its way to recovery while they don't even have electricity and there are houses in the middle of the road. It's not just sad, it's criminal.

I knew it was bad down here, but I couldn't imagine anything like this. As one of the houses in Arabi (another neighborhood) said, "Thank You Katrina."


EDIT: An ERV is an emergency response vehicle, the big boxy thing we all serve food out of.


Mar. 6th, 2006 07:50 am
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I'm now the proud owner of a hurricane glass filled with Mardi Gras beads. I'm innocent, I swear.

Back to work. Meeting's at 8:30, and we'll probably be out of the kitchen and on the road by 10. I hope they keep me on the ninth ward route because as tough as it is to see all that devastation, I'm already getting to know the clients. I also love the "wedding cake" houses.

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As for today, let's just say that seeing the ninth ward up close for hours on end will do things to you. Didn't help that yesterday ran from 8:30 am-nearly 8 pm.

After a day like that, there are some things you want to forget. What happens in New Orleans not only stays here, it never happened. That's as much as you're going to hear, and it will not happen again.


EDIT: It will not happen again because 8+ hours of serving food out the side of an ERV is tough enough without a hangover. Ouch.
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I'm all in-processed and checked into my hotel where I'll be staying for the next 3 weeks. I'll either be working in a fixed kitchen or riding around in an ERV (response vehicle) delivering food to the neighborhoods. Work starts tomorrow-good thing, because somehow it doesn't feel right to be a relief worker but staying in a nice hotel with such gorgeous weather, just relaxing and soaking up the sun. It's 72* right now, supposedly unusually warm for this time of year, but I ain't complainin'. The food is excellent as well-all you who know me know I love rice and beans and seafood and that's just what they specialize in down here.

Meanwhile, everyone keeps telling me I should have been down here a few days earlier for Mardi Gras. I'd have to agree with that, esp. seeing all the beads my roommate has lying around. :-)


PS-It looks like someone sprinkled blue confetti all over the roofs here. Yes, the tarps are still up, though at least where I am there doesn't look to be too much other damage. I'm sure I'll see plenty of that in the next few days though, esp. if I get to be on one of the ERVs.

From the look of the Superdome (from the highway, anyway), you'd never know all the horrors that went on inside of there.

EDIT: If anyone wants a New Orleans postcard, send me your address at At 50 cents apiece they're a little pricey, but I figure the extra money gets pumped back into the economy down here.
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It's official. I fly out of BWI tomorrow morning at 11:55, and arrive at Baton Rouge, LA by 3:57. I'll be doing community services-either sheltering or feeding. Not the most glamourous stuff in the world, but it'll be great experience that I've wanted since Katrina hit/I started at the Red Cross on August 29th.

Adam, I want you to know how much I appreciate you giving me the green light on this. I'll make it up to you, I promise.
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Turns out they're not still recruiting for deployments after all. That means a couple of things-that I'll probably be using my vacation days for Lutheran Disaster Response not that trip to Minnesota (more on that in a minute), that I can start scheduling tornado presentations for March, that I'll be home for the March is Red Cross Month breakfasts (waking up at 5:30 to make nice with our big donors), that I have no excuse for not running solid races this spring/early summer. I'm disappointed, but I just have to be patient. It's not like I'll never get a chance to go on a national disaster assignment, I'll just have wait a little longer to do it.

Also, I've been invited back for another year doing CDE for the Red Cross out here in Frederick. *Grins* That must mean I'm doing a good job. Referring back to my vacation days-not going to Minnesota (as cool as that would be) will save me money on airfare and leave me more to start off my year doing VISTA as it was intended-actually living on the little bit of money they give us. Plus, if I actually lived in Frederick County maybe I could be on a nighttime DAT team. If nothing else, I'd save money on gas and have more free time without such a long commute.

I'm almost done listening to The Grapes of Wrath in the car. I see now why this book is a classic.

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I probably shouldn't be updating this from work, but I'll make an exception this time.

So my do-I-head-down-there-and-help question has passed the parents test and the sibling test. They all think I should go, but they have no idea how torn I am about all of this. See, there's two sides of me arguing. The one says, "look, you're already doing more than most people by working at the Red Cross. Besides, you've put in a serious summer of training and it's time to reap the benefits. Is it really all that wrong to stay put and keep doing the good you're doing right here? Look, you don't even know what you're doing. Stay here and get trained and be ready for the next one." The other side of me says, "look, no matter how much you rationalize your decision to stay home and safe, there are thousands and thousands of people who didn't have a choice to lose everything they owned. How many chances do you have in life to pack up and leave for 3 weeks, to give everything you have with no holding back? Anyone can pour water, serve food, and set up cots. They don't need just skilled people; they need people who are willing."

I'm torn right down the middle. Either way, I'll never look at the world the same way again.



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