As a volunteer we got peach or white wristbands to identify us as volunteers. The refugees got hot pink bands. This is to try to keep order. This is to make sure people are getting what they need. It also allows them back into the areas where they are staying.
I was actually in the Astro arena which is located next to the Astrodome. This was where they would unload the buses arriving from the Superdome in New Orleans. The smell was almost unbearable. I do not say this to be unkind. I say this because you can see the conditions people are in, but when you smell them you understand what their bodies must be going through.
They get the people in as quickly as they can to get into the airconditioning. As they enter they are given cold drinks and food. They register and get their bands. They are then either taken for medical attention or they are seated to wait for showers. We gave them sanitary kits, blankets, diapers, baby formula, and bags to carry their belongings. We gave them everything they needed. If they wanted another blanket they got it. If they needed another sandwich it was theirs.
I met one lady named Katrine. That's my name and I have never met another Katrine (without the a) in my life. It was sort of ironic for me to meet someone who shared my name and we have a similar name to the hurricane that brought us together. She was looking for her 8 year old daughter who got on another bus with an aunt. I helped her bring her mother, 12 year old son, and 2 year old daughter, and her grandmother who was in a wheelchair into the arena. She told me that they were at the superdome and then they went home and saw that their home was gone so they returned to the superdome. She mentioned seeing dead bodies in the street as she made this journey.
Her little daughter had blisters around her chin. She said that she thinks she got it from the being in the heat for so long. But this little one had such a sweet smile and she kept twirling in her little dress covered in grime.
Her twelve year old son helped his mom and grandmothers out the best he could. He was small for his age and I wondered if he felt a burden being the only male in this group. He was very quick to help.
Let me tell you that children bounce back quickly. If they are fed and have water they will laugh, play, and smile. The children were the ones who brought smiles to everyone. It amazed me that with all the kids running around I only heard a few children crying the entire day.
I also helped an elderly gentleman that was hard of hearing. He had made this journey with his two daughters but they got separated when they got off the bus in Houston. He was a little different in the way that he appeared to be cleaner than most of the refugees. He also had his tank top tucked into his pants with a belt. It looked as if he was trying to hold onto his dignity. A very sweet man. I hope he finds his daughter's soon.
The news doesn't always show you the good part of being a volunteer. The effort is so strong that there isn't enough organization. But people are doing a great job and working harder than they ever have. You can tell the difference between the refugees who arrived yesterday and the ones fresh off the bus. The ones who came yesterday are wearing clean clothes and a smile. They have a little bit more of a relaxed attitude. The ones coming today are tired. They are worried. It goes to show that the work of the volunteers are not in vain.
I never saw anyone get mad or frustrated. I saw tears of sadness. I saw grateful hearts when you handed them a clean white blanket. I heard friends finding each other and slapping each other on the back. And remember the 12 year old boy? He ran across some friends and they started laughing, "Dude, you made it!"
As I looked at all these people I began to put myself in their situation. You have survived a storm I can only imagine. Now you are bussed away to a place you've never been before. If you are lucky you know where your family is. And now you have to sleep on cots in a room filled with hundreds of people. As I was thinking this Katrine turned to me and said, "This place is so nice you may never get me to leave!" It made me understand more of the nightmare they came from.