The Yats are driving home. We couldn't keep up with the big forearmed
Midwestern women on the sandbag line. But we held our own.
Our levee, the Sny, the world's largest, is in tact at this point. The
biggest threats to it in the days ahead will be rain and muskrats. It
was muskrats that took out the levee in Missouri on Wednesday night.
Let me conclude our first relief trip to America's heartland with a
final round of dissimilar and similar. Dissimilar first.
The level of organisation and communication between state and local
goverment, along with charitable agencies, is astounding. Local
organisers spent considerable time with us on Friday morning reviewing
their disaster reponse manual - knowing full well that being from New
Orleans we've never seen such a document before. They promised to
send to us on CD ROM. We'd pass along a copy to "Our Mayor" if we knew
his Plano, TX mailing address.
Local (volunteer) organisers have traveled the country learning best
practises - while not disparaging their hosts. They've drilled the
plan for two years making adjustments here and there based on what was
learned in trial runs. And they're already thinking up additional
tweaks and improvements for future events. In short, they're well
prepared and it shows. The entire experience reeked of Midwestern
orderliness, calm and efficiency. Just like "Our Mayor" when trying to
figure out where to drop $1,000 at lunch.
Now to the similar. The spirit of the American people is this nation's
engine and glue. We worked along side of people from a myriad of
backgrounds. Stoic farmers, convicts, retirees, children, Mennonites
and Yats all pulling together to save the homes, businesses and farms
of people they don't even know.
As was and in the case post Katrina, church groups were among the
first in (and the last to leave). In these parts the Mennonites are
hugely respected. But I, too, know them well from personal experiences
in Africa (where we lived prior to becoming Yats) and NOLA. Don't let
their pacifism fool you. They're tough as nails. There's an expression
here: "How is copper wire made? Two Mennonite boys fighting over a
penny." They - like the best of religious groups - don't seek the
media limelight or have any need for self-promotion. They simply come
as needed, often times at great personal sacrifice - to put their
heads down and serve. As someone quipped after Katrina, "we should put
the Southern Baptists in charge of FEMA."
What was accomplished during our albeit too brief time here?
Personally we were able to take our minds off our problems back home
in NOLA and help others in their time of need. Others who've been so
good to us. Often times reaching out to help someone else who's
suffering and struggling is the best form of therapy.
On a corporate level the folks here were blown away by New Orleanians
coming to their aid. We dispelled some of the sentiment that New
Orleanians are all just "takers" and "gimmes."
The local media was all over us so by Friday we'd achieved minor
celebrity status. We went along with it knowing that "good will
ambassador" was part of our job description. People here embraced and
thanked us warmly and profusely.
As one old man told me on the way out, with his southern illinois'
farmer Vulcan death grip handshake, "We're damn glad you people from
New Orleans came here to help us."
We're glad too. Damn glad. And we'll be back..
To help: look for future trips to southern Illinois on Annunciation's
website: www.annunciationbroadmoor.org or call the church at
504-895-8697. You can also use Annunciation's Pay Pal account on the
website to make a donation. Or send a cheque made out to Free Churh of
the Annunciation, with "Quincy" in the memo line, 4512 S. Derbigny,
New Orleans, LA 70125. One hundred percent of all gifts will be passed
on to displaced/severely impacted people in the flood zone.