Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Gulf Coast Road Trip: Louisiana

After Mississippi we headed to Port Sulfur Louisiana where we stayed in a building run by Mennonite Relief Services. On our way to Port Sulfur we stopped through New Orleans and ran into a women named Sherry who is the manager of a local bar as well as a lawyer. She has grown up in New Orleans and spoke to us about the denial associated with the oil spill. She talked about how the people in New Orleans are stubborn and will deny there is a problem until they can't anymore. She said that the younger generations will most likely move away and the older generations, who are attached to the New Orleans way of life, will stay. Above all, she said people will not give up their sea food.

When we stayed in Port Sulfur, we drove further south to a bar in Venice where we ran into a man named Todd who is a commercial fisherman in the area. Todd told us that not many locals are being hired by BP to look for oil. He also told us stories about his friends who quit school in the 7th and 8th grades just to become fishermen, and how they can no longer fish. One very interesting thing Todd told us was the reason the cap for the oil broke. He told us that it shattered because it froze and all that needed to be done was for methanol to be pumped down with the cap to prevent it from freezing.

After we went to the bar in Venice, we headed to Joshua's Marina where we ran into oil-field workers. A worker named Kevin has been the captain of his own boat for 6 years and is currently employed by the energy company, working on cleaning up the oil spill. He told us about how they are currently using the "Kevin Costner solution" which is a device that separates the oil from the water.

While we were staying in Port Sulfur we had the opportunity to be brought out on the Gulf by a local Vietnamese fisherman. We experienced dolphins swimming only feet from the boat and pelicans flying over us. It was beautiful and heart breaking at the same time. We had recently been informed of dolphins showing up dead on local beaches due to coming up for air and being suffocated by the oil.

After being in Port Sulfur, we visited Cut Off Louisiana where I attempted to find information on the Houma Indian I am named after, Marie Melodie Dupre. We couldn't find any information on her, even after calling all the baptist churches in the area and all the Dupres in the phone book, so we continued down to Grand Isle where we heard the oil spill was the worse.

We were told by local people back in Mississippi that booms do not work very well because waves can go over them and the oil with it. There were huge booms all along the beach at Grand Isle. They separated the "hot" zone from the rest of the beach. You couldn't see the oil in the water, but it was there. The dispersal that has been released in the gulf to break up the oil, makes it so that the oil does not float on the top but it is dispersed throughout the water. This process seems to do more harm than good because the dispersed oil sinks to the bottom and is no longer able to be collected.

We had an amazing experience along the Gulf, made some lifelong friends and lifelong memories.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Gulf Coast: Mississippi

A friend and I just recently got home after a 10 day road trip to the gulf coast and back. The point of our trip was to travel along the gulf coast, interview and listen to people's stories about the effects of the oil spill.

The first places we visited along the Gulf were Gulfport, Biloxi, and Pass Christian Mississippi, none of which have seen oil quite yet. The first night we were there, we were told a good place to find local fishermen was Shaggy's Harbor Bar & Grill in Pass Christian. After sitting at the bar for a while we began talking to a local fisherman named Gerald. Gerald told us he originally from Chicago and he moved to Mississippi to fish. He expressed his frustration through the phrase, "we can put a man on the moon, but we can't put a cap on this thing?" He also expressed his fear of eating local seafood due to the dispersants being released in the water in order to break up the oil. He told us that there has been minimal research on the affects this type of enzyme has on fish and sea creatures.

The next day we attended a Vietnamese press conference in Biloxi that's purpose was to address the concer
ns of the local Vietnamese American boat people. The frustrations of the Vietnamese in the area have occurred due to the lack of representation and assistance . The press conference had representatives from Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana. It also had speakers from various generations. My first observation upon arriving at the Vietnamese dock in Biloxi was the condition the dock was in. The dock was extremely weathered and had large gaps in it. The dock was in such bad condition that there were planks placed across the big gaps just in order to continue to use the dock. We learned that the condition of this city-owned dock was the result of Hurricane Katrina and the city has failed to fix it, even after all other docks in the area since then, have been fixed. This is a blatant example of racism.

The first person to speak was a Vietnamese Mississippi representative. She spoke broken English but she communicated well, her concern over how local people treat the Vietnamese in the area as aliens. She emphasized her American citizenship being received in 1990 and her husband's being received in 1987. One of the important things she mentioned was the difficulty with BP's compensation packages. Mortgages on many of Vietnamese fishing boats cost more than the boats are worth and BP is only paying back the worth of the boats. She threw out the number $450,000 for the average cost of a boat mortgage and then mentioned how BP is only compensating $350,000. Without work, the Vietnamese fishers can not make that $100,000 difference.
The next speakers were Tony Cao and Linda Nguyen, both from "Voice of the Youth". Their argument was that their parent's generation only knows how to fish and with the oil spill, they will not be able to do even that. The local Vietnamese need job security and training in other areas in order to live normal lives. Once of the areas that Linda focused on was the need for BP to hire local interpreters in order to provide jobs.
Chou Chin was the next speaker and he was from Houma, Louisiana. Chou was one of the only boat owners in the area who was not hired by BP to be an oil skimmer. He apparently did not meet the "criteria," even after applying multiple times. Chou expressed his sadness over the probability of never being able to shrimp again.
One of the last speakers was Wing Wen. He spoke at the press conference in place of his father who has been forced to leave his family and move further west in order to fish. His father was not hired by BP to look for oil.

The evening after
the Vietnamese press conference, we headed back to Shaggy's in order to find some more fishermen and other workers in the area. We were introduced to a man named Randy who works for the electric company and does his own non-commercial fishing between the coast and the barrier islands off the coast of Mississippi. He talked to us about a fishery meeting held downstairs at Shaggy's a couple nights prior to our visit. He told us about the concerns that were expressed at the meeting. The main concern was over outsiders moving into Mississippi, shrimping, fishing and being hired to look for oil by BP, because they can not do so elsewhere. Randy told us about how local people with boats should be the first to be hired by BP to look for oil, instead of people who are coming in from other areas along the coast looking for work.
While visiting Shaggy's for the second time, we made a contact with Keith, the manager and bar tender. He gave us his phone number and told us to call him in a month when the oil is predicted to hit the Mississippi coast, and he would provide us with the truth of what is going on.

...More to come...