Curtis Eilers '06
by Curtis Eilers '06
October 19, 2005
I thought about the beach on the way to Mississippi. I’d never seen the Gulf before, and it was also the only thing I could be sure was still there. That was pretty close to reality.
Near the coast, in Biloxi, the destruction was inconceivable. We toured the area, seeing porch steps leading to nothing, flipped cars, cinder blocks strewn like fallen leaves, and somehow a perfectly intact roof collapsed over what had been an expensive beach-front home. I couldn’t shake the feeling of how temporary everything was, as we played on the broken remnants of the I-90 Bridge.
I hadn’t originally planned to go, but they needed drivers. I wanted to visit my family and friends in Cincinnati, and get some egregiously overdue work done for my summer internship. Even now that I’m playing catch-up, it was definitely worth the trip, one of the most moving things I’ve been a part of.
Before going down a lot of people I talked to were critical of the whole venture, that we’d just be in the way, it would help more if we just sent money, or even that everything was fine now, since it had been a few weeks. I became self-conscious, not knowing what kind of work to expect. Nothing could be farther from the truth.
The situation on the Gulf Coast right now is normalized chaos. People are able to get food (we ate most of our meals at a free cafeteria tent set-up in Moss Point) and most have a place to stay, but lining the roads everywhere is what seems like everything anyone ever owned being thrown out en masse, along with most of the interiors of their homes. That is what we spent most of our time doing, cutting off drywall at the waterline and tearing out everything underneath, usually covered in mold and still damp.
I feel like I made some great friends in just a few days. The idea of spending fall break driving for 30 hours, camping out, and doing hard manual labor every day tends to attract some awesome people. And through it all we became a pretty tight knit group. It was nice to help people, to do something direct and personal, and now I have a great story about how Ben Nguyen Tang Le made us stop in the Vietnamese Community where we ended up helping install insulation in a Buddhist Temple.
I’m grateful to Wabash, and the Malcolm X Institute for setting up this trip, and everyone who decided to go.