Immediately after I committed to getting involved with Blue Seals, David and I set out for Louisiana. I needed to see with my own eyes what was going on down there so we could figure out a way to contribute.
It saddened me to hear some of the Twitter feedback when I tweeted that we were off to explore the Gulf and help with the oil spill. Someone actually wrote that my involvement sounded like a publicity ploy.
My first reaction was disappointment at how jaded people are, then I thought: So what! If I can use myself and my celebrity as a publicity ploy to bring attention to a desperate situation, I am totally willing to do just that. So off we went, not knowing what the days ahead would show us.
After speaking with Erin, the fisherman’s wife that I previously wrote about, I was anxious to learn more from the families that were suffering. So day one when David took off in the Blue Seals seaplane to see with his own eyes what was happening in the restricted areas, I headed to Venice to interview some families directly effected.
This is Shrimp Girl. She is a mother of 2, now single and out of work. Just 2 months ago she had a booming shrimp business that she ran out of the back of her truck. Accompanied by her children on most days, she was able to supply many locals, restaurants, and factories with fresh shrimp that she bought directly from the fisherman. She seemed to be an honest hard worker, and a hustler with high hopes to open a Shrimp shack and expand her lucrative business.
That was then. Today, there are no more shrimp for her to buy, she has been forced to relocate and move in with her father, and she is looking for work in the casino business which means she will soon be separated from her girls. She shared her experience with me with a smile that expressed a thousand words. I was amazed that through it all, something still shined in her. Her life is now filled with uncertainty, but she is remarkably strong. It wasn’t her hope that fascinated me; it was her strength and willingness to let me, a stranger in. She didn’t know who I was, but she wanted someone to talk to, and I wanted to listen.
She introduced me to a restaurant owner named Kelly. She and her husband own a restaurant in Venice. I sat to talk with her. What was going through your mind the days after the disaster? I asked. Which disaster? she asked me. Then she pulled out an album and shared with me the photos of the shambles Katrina left behind of her home and her previous business. What did you do after that, I asked. I cleaned it up, she said with an obvious face as if to say- duh, what else would one do? I just listened as she compared Katrina to the oil spill. At least after Katrina we knew what we were dealing with and we began to pick up the pieces. This time we don’t know what to expect and now we are gearing up for hurricane season. You laugh or you cry… I asked her what she is hoping for. She said, A miracle.
Next, Shrimp Girl took me to meet Matt, a big shrimper that just built a shrimp dock at the port. Much to my surprise, fishermen were bringing in hundreds of pounds of shrimp. The thing is, those shrimpers have the boats and equipment to go out far enough to surpass the danger zones and bring back healthy shrimp. Most local fishermen are not equipped for that, nor can they afford the fuel to justify the profit margins, so they are out of business. His dock was quiet, and I noticed that construction was incomplete. He shared that he began building his doc after Katrina with high hopes for a successful business. What now? I asked. He said, I’m going to keep going and gear up for the next big hit around here. I’ll survive.
I was blown away by the attitude, strength and resilience of the region. When I thought about what they have been through for many years, I wondered if my community would be so strong. Is it a different way of life there? Is disaster expected? How do they imagine their lives? I left Louisiana with such admiration for the people I met. I was also filled with sadness, not pity, but serious sadness for what Mother Nature has dished out. I have no words for what people are doing, as if it wasn’t bad enough.