• Posts from Biloxi: Day 3: Tuesday, June 19, 2007

    Sunday, June 24, 2007
    News Type

Being the Ira and a Pro with the Paintbrush and Darts

Biloxi, Miss. – Today I was "the Ira." Named after a former Hands-On-er, "Ira" drives around, shuttling to worksites the people who stayed on base to do morning chores, picking up folks early, taking anyone to the airport, etc.

Sights seen while being "the Ira," driving volunteers to and from the airport and around Biloxi. Photo: Vicki Allen '06

I had one major strategy in signing up for Ira duty: to see Biloxi. A side benefit was the chance to have one-on-one conversations with people I'd not met yet who've been here for 2 months and are leaving tomorrow (particularly Derek, who lives in Alabama and is from a family of New Orleans residents).

I drove between the Hands On headquarters, west of the Air Force base, and East Bilxoi (east of the base) about 10 times today. I tried to take a different route every time, to see the neighborhoods, and by the end of the day I knew the streets—major and smaller—reasonably well. I'm a geographer at heart, with a strong visual memory and sure sense of direction.

Another highlight of the day was hearing Carlos, a whiny two- or three-year-old, count back to me in English when I played catch with him. We mentors don't want to reprimand the kids only in Spanish, because we want them to consider Spanish and English to be equally important, wonderful languages. Usually, when Carlos wants something, he just points and mumbles, "Ehh." Today I said to him, "Tell me in Spanish." And he responded, "agua."

I said, "Would you like water? If you do, say, 'Water please?'" He mumbled words that sounded strongly like "water" and "please" and so I went and got him water. Today it became clear that this young lad, who barely speaks to us, can quite capably say all the numbers, 1 through 10. 

Another volunteer, Kim, and I reflected on really making this trip about the children, as opposed to ourselves. We could see how for volunteers who've been here for 10 days or more and are likely quite tired, it could be hard to still make this trip about other people and not slip into making it about yourself. I know that I'm not here only on the premise of altriusm. I'm also here to get to know the other volunteers during off-time activities, like the ice cream mixer today that our alum/fac/staff group had with a number of Dartmouth students who are here, and to get the great feeling that comes from helping someone else and a community in need. 

When we were in the ice cream shop, a local man who was leaving the shop with his kids walked along the line of all 30 of us saying, "Thank you very much, thank you for coming here, we really appreciate all of you guys's work, thanks again, thank you so much for helping us." Experiencing this moment is not altruism. It is self-satisfaction and warming of the heart and soul.

Biloxi, Miss. – Anyone could tell I was on mold crew today by the splatters of white paint all over me.

Painting on the primer is the last—and most fun—step in a long process involving first "gutting" the house; scraping mold off all exposed surfaces; vacuuming up the loosened mold spores; and "ReCon-ing" the house with a potent mold-killing chemical. After a wait, we then painted over all organic surfaces with a primer that locks out moisture and, the hope is, ensures that mold does not regrow.

It was extra fun to work on the house I was assigned to, because it was the last house and last day at Hands On for one very dedicated member of the mold team.She had de-molded four houses in four weeks and was really happy with what she'd been able to accomplish. It was great sharing that with her; it could be a little frustrating to know that, because I'm here for just a week, I'm limited in what I'm able to contribute and most likely won't get to work on any one project from start to finish. Not that I don't feel good about how much we ARE able to do in the limited time we have!

After signing up for "Construction with Doug" after dinner and ice cream with Dartmouth students, I walked over to the local pub (actually named "Pub") with a couple members of the Dartmouth team. We met some other Hands On volunteers and a couple guys who were working with Architects for Humanity, which was the first I'd heard of that organization. We were hanging out, chatting, playing pool and darts, and by complete accident I played a really stellar game of darts. Well, word travels fast here, and now I'm under quite a bit of pressure to live up to my name. Wish me luck!