Joel Johnson — First, I apologize about a lack of updates, but I've been working. I got away from the group for a day and went up north to the house of Miss Gerri, who may be one of the most open, compassionate women I've ever met. I could only stay away from New Orleans for about a day. Although a day away from the stress in a cool bed did wonders, as soon as I hit the ground back in Algiers I found the Common Ground camp in high alert mode and the stress and frustration came right back.
There's a small but real chance that we might be hit by Hurricane Rita. If that happens, all the work we've done will probably be knocked back down to zero, and we'll have to pick up the pieces.
We've finally been able to get some people from the community into the computer lab we set up to sign up for FEMA's Disaster Aid or to look for their family. I won't pretend we've had the numbers through here that I was hoping for, but between those here and the communications support we've been able to provide to the medical clinic, I at least don't feel like it's been a complete waste of time.
There were, of course, far too many volunteers in here checking their email and blogging and generally fucking off. In fact, that was a main point for much of my stress last week: I felt like I had spent thousands of my own dollars to come down to New Orleans to build an internet cafe for
adventure tourists volunteer. That's been a lot of why I haven't been blogging, as well. It just didn't feel appropriate given the work to be done.
The guys from Radio Response showed up a few days ago and have been—to a man (and one woman)—fantastic. They gave me a lot of needed perspective on my priorities down here, as well as what the role should be for me in this community project.
We had a report of DSL from a few folks, but haven't yet been able to find a person willing to let us throw up antennas on it. I suspect that we'll be able to locate someone soon, but the DSL service is spotty, even where it operates. But because there is a trickle of internet upstream available in the neighborhood, Radio Response and I agreed not to bring in the point-to-point teams to provide multi-megabit connections to Algiers. With other areas completely destroyed, it doesn't make sense to use the equipment and manpower here when it could be better used elsewhere.
Of course, with Hurricane Rita possibly on the way, we may be up a creek anyway. We've been making heavy use of Verizon's EVDO infrastructure and I confirmed with them today that we are coming off their actual towers here, not the mobile COWs. That's good—that means we should retain at least some internet connectivity unless the storm takes it down.
Right now I'm still trying to find DSL service to use in Algiers, but we also are having to make secondary plans to prepare for a possible hurricane hit. It sucks especially for me right now, because my girlfriend Susie was going to come down and help tomorrow, but now I'm not sure if I want her to fly into New Orleans only to have to hide from a hurricane. We'll have to make that decision tonight and I'm not looking forward to it.
I missed my flight out this morning on American Airlines from Houston. I called them about an hour after the flight left and I was told there was nothing they could do for me. I explained I was a relief worker in New Orleans and asked if they could make a special case, but they told me I should have known better and to suck it up. They're right—I should have called them. If only I hadn't been so busy doing other things I might have been able to call them and try to move it out. It's depressing, but it's yet a few more hundred dollars to toss into the great big hole in my savings that this trip has become.
And just so it doesn't sound like I'm trying to coyly ask for donations, I'm not. There is a chance I may get reimbursed for some of my equipment, vehicle, and travel expenses, but right now I'm not going to go broke, and there is much greater need than helping me. Don't worry—If I fear missing a rent payment or something like that, I'll definitely pipe up.
So on the whole, I'm doing pretty good. Mostly now I'm spending an hour or two each day working on technical things, then hauling around food and water with everybody else. Once we know what will happen with Rita, my tech responsibilities will mainly consist of packing gear in boxes and getting it to higher ground.
This has been a wrenching experience, but the people I have met from both the community and the volunteers have helped make it worthwhile. It's not that my faith in the goodness of humanity has been restored, but that it has been clarified. It's still an awful, horrible world, but there remains a few people whose selflessness and just plain goodness seems to persevere despite its statistical uselessness.
I guess I probably should have put this on my personal blog, but suck it up, nerds.
I'd like to thank all the people who continue to provide both technical and emotional support. Specifically, Justin D'Onofrio and his pal (whose name has already slipped my mind and I can't find in my email) who drove a truck full of laptops and other computer gear down from New York City just for us to use, then turned around and drove right back. Their donation completely changed the tenor of our operation and put us in a space to deploy more internet labs, as well as build some decent EVDO router machines.