Friday, September 02, 2005

Katrina's aftermath

I have been watching, reading, and listening to the coverage of Katrina's aftermath, and I am deeply affected. I feel some kind of survivor guilt, I think. I am shorter tempered with my kids than usual, because I think they should understand how lucky they are to have a house and food and water, and therefore they should not squabble with each other. Yeah, right.

At eleven one night my husband emerged from reading the web and asked if he could go to the gulf coast for up to 30 days as part of a program with FEMA to mobilize firefighters. I asked if he was serious and then said yes, as long as he understood this would be our contribution and not just his. He already knew that -- I shouldn't have worried. It looks as if he will not go, at least not in the next month. Instead our town's only two full-time fire fighters will go – the chief and a firefighter/EMT – and my husband will be acting Chief while they are gone. He is trying to get his company to give him two half days a week to tend to fire department paperwork and inspections. The chief leave his family of six kids (one just started college) behind in the able hands of his wife, whose reaction was apparently similar to mine.

I don't know if I will talk to the two men who are going before they leave, or if my advice would be welcome or new to them, but I would tell them two things: one, they need to take care of themselves so that they don't become other people who need help – they need to eat and drink and sleep well, even when people around them have severe needs. The other thing I would tell them is to believe that they are making a difference, because it can be so hard to see when the problem is so large and the work that a single person (or a team of two) can do is so small. Chipping away at a problem does make a difference. Under difficult circumstances it may be all you can do, but if you do enough of it you will see a difference.

My heart goes out to people who have had to leave their homes behind. I'm very concerned about what their lives will be like in the immediate future. I see pictures of the Astrodome, and I know that I could manage there alone for awhile, but that it would be very, very difficult with my three children. I can't even keep them from running around the library! And how can you get your life going again from a refugee camp? There is no opportunity for any sort of employment or entrepreneurship, as far as I know. These people need to be where they can start to feel that they have a purpose. Presumably there will be reconstruction work starting soon in the Gulf Coast area that will jumpstart the local economy. Can able refugees find work as laborers? Is that an unreasonable idea? They won't be able to do that from Texas. Can shelters be created in the devastated areas so that people can work in reconstruction and provide services to those who are coming in? I hope that somewhere someone is working on a plan for the Katrina refugees who need the shelters that includes opportunities for work and a life that is more than sitting on a cot all day long. This great country should have more to offer than that.

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