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And then there were the two strangers exchanging their Katrina stories in the
Memphis airport. One, a man in his 40s, was just returning from Iraq for a
21-day leave. His leave had been extended by five days so he could help his
family who had evacuated from Biloxi and were now in Florida. The other stranger
was an impeccably-dressed, professional woman in her 30s who ran a spa business
in the Gulf area. She had come to Memphis for a conference before Katrina hit
and was now also connecting with her family in Florida. Their conversation
continued on a personal level, until the man lowered his voice and said, "You
know, where I come from in Mississippi, it's all white and we didn't have the
problems that they had with all those blacks in New Orleans." He went on to say
that even though no one wants to say it's a black-white thing, he could see
nothing else that would explain it. The woman concurred with him and in a
quieter, more personal voice, started making her own comments about the
connection between blacks and looting. At that moment, a five-year old girl of
African decent came running up to where the woman was sitting. The professional
woman smiled at her and said, "well aren't you cute," and then looked up at the
child's African American mother, who had followed closely behind to reign her
in, and told her what a beautiful child she had. The conversation between the
two strangers quickly moved on to other things but their shared "secret" hung
heavy in the air.
And finally, there was the flight from Memphis to Hattiesburg. A total of
five people boarded the plane and my seat in 2A was switched to 16A to provide
"better weight-balance" for the plane (I tried not to take it personally). The
two women sitting near me, also providing ballast for the rear of the plane,
were on their own rescue missions. One woman was going down to gather up her
boyfriend, her mother, and her sister and take them back with her to her home in
New York. The other woman, from Maryland, was responding to a plea for
volunteers to help with rescued animals. She loved animals, and although she
didn't know anything about the organization that was doing this, she decided to
go. Apparently a shelter had been set up for rescued animals at the
multi-purpose center in Hattiesburg and she was planning to go there and see how
she could help. Little did I know then that this center was also the Red Cross
family shelter where I would spend considerable time over the next few days.
Jacqueline Luck, the UU minister in Jackson and Ellisville, MS, spent the
two weeks immediately after the hurricane hit visiting the people at Red Cross
shelter in Jackson. On September 14 th, Red Cross officials announced to the
remaining 200 or so residents that the shelter would close the next day.
Everyone had to find a placement within the next 24-hours. Jacqueline arranged
for three people, an old man and a couple from Honduras, to move into the old
house where religious education is held at the Jackson church.
Although the three people where thrilled to be out of the shelter and into a
more private space, it didn't take long for the old house, unused to full-time
residents, to recoil. The toilets backed up and one of the showers didn't work.
The estimate from the plumber came in at $2500. Because of the desperate need of
the people seeking sanctuary there, the church gulped hard and approved the
work. Some of the cost will probably be reimbursed from contributions to the
UUSC Gulf Coast Relief fund and the church will pick up the rest.
Then, just when you thought things couldn't get any worse, the Honduran
couple were car-jacked at gun-point in front of the church. Not only did they
lose their car but they lost their driver's licenses, his work permit, and all
of their other identity papers. Imagine being one of the thousands of American
citizens who evacuated without all of their personal records. How would you
prove your identity to get a new license, a new Social Security card, a
passport? Now imagine, the terror of being in this situation if you were here on
a work visa from a Central American country after just losing your home, your
car, and practically everything else that held meaning in your life?
Unbelievably, they are handling this new development fairly well as the
church is rallying around them. Already they have an offer of a donated car as
soon they can get copies of their drivers' licenses. Because so many people are
in this situation, the Mississippi Department of Motor Vehicles is allowing
Louisiana residents to apply for copies of their licenses locally that they will
then order from Louisiana. Although individuals have to wait for them to arrive
by mail at the local DMV office, as long as the photos match, they will be able
to get them with no other ID required. Of course, there is no telling how long
this will take, at least a process has been defined.
In faith, Annette Marquis
For more information contact web @ uua.org.
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Last updated on Thursday, August 2, 2012.
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