Guest Blog Post by Stephanie DeSantis, Patagonia Volunteer, Lafitte, September 5-11, 2010
I’ve been home only a few days from my time in Louisiana, having spent the majority of it in Lafitte and Barataria, both in Jefferson Parish. I honestly didn’t have set expectations for our trip, simply because I had no idea what to expect other than the logistics. Like earlier Patagonia volunteer groups, we spent three and a half days walking door-to-door taking surveys. It’s difficult to sum up my experience in a couple paragraphs, but I’d like to reflect mostly on the positive impact many people I met have made in my life. I know there are and will be plenty of blogs explaining the heartache and immense impact the oil spill has brought to the South. I’d like to approach this differently and briefly describe how extraordinary people are down on the bayou.
First initial impression – the landscape is beautiful and teeming with life in spite of the oil spill. The vegetation seems to grow inches throughout the day, bugs zipping by constantly, alligators, lizards, etc. I’ve never been to the South, let alone the bayou, and I suppose all of those things are pretty typical. Nevertheless, it was amazing. The house we stayed in was a fishing lodge located on Baritaria Bay, only 29 miles from the Gulf. The caretaker, Danny, was a fisherman who “took care” of us – cooking breakfast and dinner. He kept mostly to himself, but made us feel very welcome in his home.
Second major impression – the people that live in Jefferson Parish all seem to have a witty sense of humor despite their current economic conditions. My partner, Shana, and I were invited into almost all the homes we surveyed and we always ended up laughing pretty hard. Humor is a big part of my life so having connected with them instantly on that level made us feel so utterly welcome. A few times we didn’t want to leave. Many times our conversation ended up turning to the impacts of hurricanes and how many families are still recovering from Katrina, Ike, Gustav and Rita. I think many of us haven’t thought about those in awhile, but locals are still rebuilding. Families seemed eager to talk to us and we could tell that they didn’t hold back whatsoever, whether the topic was the spill, hurricanes, family history, home décor (lots of deer heads), and tons of stories.
I think my favorite question at the end of the survey asked if they were considering moving because of the spill. We received crazy looks and/or laughs. It NEVER crossed their minds to move away from their homeland where generations of their family lived. On more than one occasion we heard people say that if they could make it through hurricanes, they will make it through this one. I admire their incredible optimism.