Thursday, September 29, 2005


For those of you seeking sage Christian advice (as all of us need to do every now and then), I recommend turning to Betty Bowers (aka America's best Christian). Her website is very extensive and also easy to navigate and includes Betty's view on politics, merchandise, and advice. (Note: Betty is also the founder of T.R.A.S.H.--Traditional Families Raging Against Sluts and Homos.)

The advice section is of particular interest as it covers important areas of faith and Christian behavior and also answers frequently asked questions such as:

What should a Christian lady wear to an abortion clinic bombing?
What would Jesus eat? and
Should you acknowledge Methodists and other Satanists at a party?

Check it out at

Our Prez

Donald Rumsfeld is giving the president his daily briefing. He concludes by saying: "Yesterday, three Brazilian soldiers were killed."

"OH NO!" the president exclaims. "That's terrible!"

His staff sits stunned at this display of emotion, nervously watching as the president sits, head in hands. Finally, the president looks up and asks, "Just how many is a brazillion?"

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Focus, Focus, Focus.

Went to see some Buddhist monks from the Drepung Gomang Monastery creating a sand mandala at the Menil Collection the other day. It was amazing in its detail and so soothing to watch the monks work.

If only I had this kind of focus...

Friday, September 23, 2005

Fleeing from Rita

A 6 1/2 hour drive

My husband and I left Houston at 11 pm on Wednesday night. Correction: my husband, myself, and three cats, four photo albums, and two suitcases of clothes left Houston. We arrived in College Station 6 1/2 hours later after surviving several tedious hours of driving 5 m.p.h. The roads were ridiculously crazy; cars were everywhere, many of them on the shoulder. A lot of cars had overheated, many were out of gas. However, we were lucky. I have friends from Housto who spent 13-15 hours fleeing to CS and Austin. We left just in time to avoid the worst.

Here in CS we're starting to get a light breeze, but it's sunny and probaly at least 90 degrees. It is a bit sureal to imagine what is about to happen. Apparently Houston and Galveston are deserted, with about 90% of Galveston residents having already evacuated.

I worry a little about looting and crime. People are going to start getting a bit stir-crazy, especially since there isn't really any gas left and stores are closed. Even here all the way in CS the grocery stores are out of fresh foods, milk, bread, and peanut butter. Anybody left on the road is basically screwed; I hope the traffic has gone down and nobody else tries to leave.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005


Reliant Center

September 13, 2005

Last night I volunteered in the Reliant Center, which is one of the two adjacent buildings to the Astrodome.

A number of people stopped me to thank me for what I was doing and to complement the city of Houston on its response. I told one woman, “Well, this is one situation in which Houston has actually done something right.” Don’t get me wrong…there are also some dissatisfied evacuees; those who feel that they want “real doctor” or are upset about problems receiving assistance. There are a number of people with skin rashes, congestion, and intestinal problems who feel they should be getting better medical treatment. For the most part, though, there isn’t much to do for these people; for instance, several individuals wanted antibiotics when they probably just have a virus. But overall, just as it was the other night, people are generally pleased. Some are downright thrilled about their reception here in H-town….including most of those who had previously been in the Superdome in New Orleans. More than once individuals expressed the fact that they didn’t want to leave because they were worried that their next living situation wouldn’t be as accommodating. This really seemed to be the case of people

Although the cots were originally set up in rows, families have put cots together in a number of ways to create privacy and to delineate their own personal space. One family, including at least 20 different people, had set unused cots on their sides along the perimeter of their sleeping area to form a fence between themselves and the rest of the crowd. Although I have visited the sleeping quarters twice now, I cannot imagine coping with the lack of privacy that these people have had to endure. Many people, when I asked how long they had been in Houston, replied that they had lost count of the nights. This seems like it is partly a function of their stress and also a coping mechanism against the disarray of their lives.

Most of the people I spoke with had located all of their family members. One grandmother cried on my shoulder when telling me of her search for her daughter and her two grandsons. After wading through “shitty brown water” and fighting to be at the front of an unruly crowd, she put the three of them on one of the first trucks leaving the Superdome because she was worried about an infected rash on one of her grandson’s legs. Days went by and then she and the rest of her family (her two sisters, their children and grandchildren, her three other children and their children) were moved to Houston. She had no idea where her daughter went to and searched for her via the internet, Red Cross, etc. She told me she was so hysterical with fear and stress that when Bill Clinton arrived to do a press conference, she stepped up right behind him while he was on the air, tapped his shoulder, and said, “MR. President, help me find my daughter.” Well, to make a long story short, Clinton and a Representative Sheila Jackson Lee together helped her to find her daughter. She went to San Antonio, searched three shelters, and finally found the rest of her family. Now they are together here in Houston.

I can’t help but wonder what will happen to some of these families. Several had managed to already pull together different types of assistance and were working on buying homes and renting apartments in Houston. However, one large family I spoke with, including an 11-year-old girl who was about seven months pregnant, was unsure of what to do. Together, they were looking for an apartment in Houston. It didn’t seem to me that they had any assets, any bank accounts, any insurance to collect, much education, any employable skills, or any other family on which to rely. The children hadn’t been put into school yet and it didn’t seem like they were interested in placing them any time soon. What will happen to people like this? Will they be swallowed up in Houston somewhere? Not to mention, how can 8-10 people live in an apartment together?

When I asked one woman if all of her family was accounted for, she said that yes, they were all there together in Houston, but she hadn’t seen her son since the late afternoon of the day before. He is a teenager and she was worried he had taken off into the city and gotten into some trouble. Her children and grandchildren were running around and it was impossible to know where they were at any given time. The crowds are so large and the buildings are so cavernous that it is completely possible to lose track of somebody within moments if you turn your back. Not to mention the fact that everybody is a bit stir-crazy and needs to get out and get some quiet every once in a while. She was extremely troubled and anxious about the uncertainty of their living situation and was ready to get out of Reliant Center ASAP.


I am really impressed with Houston’s response overall and Houstonians generosity in particular. However, on several occasions in the last two weeks I have encountered individuals who believe that the fall-out from the hurricane is a consequence of “the culture of entitlement” and “Welfare.” I am completely appalled by these comments which I believe are made from positions of power and reflect classism, and racism, and ignorance.

I sincerely hope that this catastrophic event will have a long-lasting impact on Americans by raising our awareness of the pervasiveness of inequality and the disastrous effects of poverty. I have been doing some reading on the concept of social justice and equality lately and have really been thinking hard about my individual role and society’s role for ensuring that all people are treated justly, but I will spare you these thoughts for now! Those of you who see me as a “left wing nut” now…just you wait! J

Wednesday, September 07, 2005


Friends and family have been pressing me for any information about the situation in Houston. Here is some information about what I've been up to.

The Astrodome

September 7th 2005

I will gloss over the bureaucratic confusion that confronted me when I entered through the gates to Reliant Park. I first spent some time walking around the outside of the various buildings in the area taking in the sights (and also trying to find the volunteer registration center.) I was surprised to see, among other things, a makeshift playground perched on a small area of grass in which several young kids were playing. Across from the playground a very thin older woman was shuffling along with a vacant look on her face. I assumed she was mentally ill; it could be she was simply alone and in shock.

I have been volunteering on behalf of the UT-Houston School of Public Health’s Student Epidemiologic Intelligence Service (SEIS) for the Houston County Health Department. Their task each night is to complete a survey of all of the remaining 7500-8000 individuals in the three sleeping areas who are in their cots at the time of the survey. We are doing what is called a rapid assessment; in short the task is to get an idea of the prevalence of health problems such as skin rashes or wounds, gastrointestinal problems, you name it. As you may have heard there have been some viral outbreaks. This survey is occurring on a nightly basis to help track the scope of the symptoms and to identify any emergent outbreaks. Through our daily counts of the “active cots,” we are also providing the estimates of the evacuee population at the three buildings in the Reliant Center.

During orientation, I was told that we would be screening for mental as well as physical problems. In fact, during the previous evening’s survey, a volunteer had identified a suicidal evacuee and helped to make arrangements for care for this individual. We were also warned that on most nights so far, volunteers had witnessed vomiting. I was nervous about my task, worried about being exposed to disease, and wondered how I would be received.

I was assigned to the Astrodome along with 13 other volunteers. Despite days of being flooded with media images I wasn’t really sure what to expect. Basically, my first impression can be accurately summed up as holy shit. I had been repeatedly told how most of the evacuees had been moved to other shelters in Houston, cruise ships, even other states. But when I entered the Dome a veritable sea of people greeted me.

I was assigned to walk up and down two long rows surveying everybody who was awake and in or near their cots. All but two of the people I eventually interviewed were African American. There were senior citizens, families, and children. Many people were there with their family, but some were alone. One 17 year old girl was there with her boyfriend and his family. Despite registering with several services and searching lists of evacuee names across several states, she had yet to find her family. I couldn’t help but think they had died in the storm.

Like the rest of us, I had being hearing about filth, sickness, violence, and despair. But the people of New Orleans, at least those at the Astrodome, demonstrated a strangely calm faith. Many people talked to me about miracles, about God’s purpose, and about resiliency. Several people understood the hurricane to be a result of God's wrath on the evil that lurked in New Orleans...a la Sodom and Gomorrah. One woman told me that she had lost everything once before in a hurricane and wasn’t bothered by losing everything again. She was just glad her family was alive and accounted for.

For the most part, people’s physical complaints included runny noses, congestion, coughing, allergies, diarrhea, vomiting, and skin rashes. Most people had already had their prescriptions filled and their acute and chronic conditions handled by the medical staff. Several people had already been hospitalized and/or quarantined for gastrointestinal problems and were now feeling better. However, a handful of people were still sick and trying to rest on their cots. That’s hard to do when you’re surrounded by thousands of people, a loudspeaker, and bright glaring lights.

I was also struck by the fact that a number of people were dealing with withdrawal issues. Most of the serious cases had already been handled by medical staff, but there were a number of older men, especially, who had rheumy eyes and shaky hands who, when I asked how they were feeling, told me they needed a drink. There is a liquor store nearby to the Reliant Center as I am sure several people have already discovered.

Probably the funniest response I got was from a girl about 10 or 11 years old:

ME: “How are you feeling tonight? Do you feel sick at all?”

GIRL with a huge plate on her lap containing 5 1/2 donuts and a sugary-coated face: “Got a stomach pain. Real bad. Ohhh.”

ME: “Think that has something to do with all those donuts you’re eating?!”

Most of the people I spoke to were not interested in returning to New Orleans. Some were thinking of Houston as a temporary home, but others were emphatic in their refusal to ever return to New Orleans. After what they have been though, I can’t blame them. I heard several people complain about how they were neglected for days, how they were treated in the Superdome, and about their anger toward FEMA and state and local officials.

After the first two hours of interviewing, I was exhausted. Every minute or two there are announcements over the loud speaker that make it nearly impossible to hear anything else and kids were running around playing and chasing each other and trying to get my attention. The stories I was hearing were appalling and the I couldn’t help but think of the enormity of the obstacles that these people are facing. Eventually, though, I pulled myself together and kept up the pace for the evening.