Blog post by Shana Rungsarangnont, Patagonia employee and LABB volunteer. Shana worked with the volunteer team in Lafitte, Louisiana conducting health and economic impact surveys.
Watching the news recently in the past few weeks, I have noticed that the reports on the Gulf Oil Spill have pretty much dwindled to nothing. Perhaps the mass impact of the spill on the environment has come to an end, since BP has claimed that over 75 percent of the oil has been contained. Yet, what the nation has failed to realize is that the oil spill, rather, flood into the ocean, did not only leave it as a floating tar pit, but it has made a lasting impact on the citizens of Louisiana as well.
Coming from a sociological background, the effects of the spill can be compared to that of the hurricane. In fact, for many people, it has worsened the damage that had already been done by the consecutive storms that happened only a few years back. My group and I spent a few days in Jefferson Parish, specifically spending time in Lafitte, Jean Lafitte, and Barataria. The economic dependence on commercial fishing has vanished. Most of the fishermen who once woke up at 4 in the morning to meet their crew on the docks are now waking up to commute one hour to Grand Isle to pull booms. The sad realization is that not all the local fishermen are able to pass the physical to be employed by BP. Many time this is due to old age and poor health. Yet, the few that are able to work for the mass oil company complain about difficulties they face.
One particular man from Barataria was gracious enough to tell my partner, Stephanie, and I about the hardships he experienced day to day. First off, oil cleanup workers are unable to get days off to rest. Many of them have been working for a month straight, without a single day to enjoy with their families. The toll it had taken on him mentally made him admit that he was going “crazy.” Secondly, most Louisiana fishermen have been fishing their entire lives. We even met one that had been fishing for over 80 years. The independence of their jobs and the livelihoods they had created for themselves drastically changed once the oil began to spew. Fishermen are used to working their own boats, on their own terms. Working under the “management” of oil industry employees and waiting for a paycheck for weeks at a time had become an annoyance they could not escape. Lastly, he spoke of the frustration many of the fishermen had due to the lack of knowledge the authorities had about the bay. The fishermen know the waters better than any of the oil workers could ever imagine. He tried to argue that laying the booms diagonally rather than vertically would be more efficient due to the shifts of the currents. However, many of the supervisors just look at the hired cleanup workers as “stupid fishermen.”
After speaking with numerous Lafitte citizens and their families for a few days, I came to realize there is little we can complain about. As volunteers, we were thrown out into random neighborhoods to speak with people that we may never encounter again. Their graciousness to let us into their homes and open to us is something I will never find here in California. Although the hardships they will battle for many more years will continuously affect them, the positivity they bestowed on us will never change. They are forever Louisiana citizens. We could complain about being hot, bit up by the mosquitoes, and even eating too much fried seafood on a daily basis, but the people we met have so much more to live for. All they want is to get through each day hoping another disaster doesn’t happen to them, and I don’t think that’s asking for too much.