Growing up in a small Connecticut town with liberal parents and a very New England education, I never imagined – in fact I never wanted – to find myself living and working in the heart of the South. For the past twenty years I stayed on track; I found the quintessential Ivy League experience and with the exception of a short term stay on the sunny west coast, I bled blue New England blood. Imagine my parents surprise then, when I presented them with an opportunity to volunteer full time on the Gulf Coast. My entire family was stunned that I would chose to spend my time-off in the South, and not in my hometown of Roxbury, Connecticut.
Somehow I managed to put my hesitations aside and in early January I found myself racing through John F. Kennedy International Airport; with just about ten minutes before the airline stopped boarding, and with just a change of clothes in my carry-on (I was too late to check baggage), I tearfully said my goodbyes to my mom and after she forced me through security, I was on my way. After a long layover in Atlanta and a time change later, somehow I made it safely to Gulfport, Mississippi where I was greeted by a kind cab driver who helped me with my nonexistent luggage. Jeff was a native of the area; like many of the locals I’d meet in the next few months, he’d been on the coast for over forty years and weathered many storms.
Without even asking, Jeff pulled out three books from underneath the passenger seat. He handed them to me and said, “this is my town, this is what we’ve been through, and this is where we’re going.” As Jeff drove me to Yankie Stadium, where I would live for the next few weeks, I looked through the photographic depiction of Hurricane Katrina. A few pictures, like the ones taken weeks after the storm at the Superdome in New Orleans, were familiar; others, like most of the South, looked completely foreign.
I tried to take in as much of the scenery, and as much of Jeff’s commentary, as I could, but it was difficult. I didn’t know what to expect of my experience and even though Interstate 10 looked relatively harmless, I still felt entirely overwhelmed and unsure of what the next two months would have in store. As we rounded the corner on Division Street and pulled into the Volunteer Village, I took one last deep breath and reaffirmed my purpose: “you’re here to do good,” I told myself, “you’re here and you can make a difference.”
I wish that my reflection on my experience in Mississippi could be cohesive, and eloquent and meaningful to anyone but me. But the truth is, the two months I spent on the Gulf Coast were probably the most exhilarating, confusing and fulfilling months I’ve ever had in my life. From the second I stepped foot on that Mississippi Mud, I was hypnotized by the people, the places, the beauty of the commitment locals had to rebuilding their home. Sometimes it was ugly, sometimes it was disorganized, sometimes inequality and evil were exposed; but mostly, what Mississippi was for me, was an infinite experience that allowed me to find myself in a very real and very genuine way. The truth is, I haven’t stopped “reflecting” on my internship since I left Biloxi in March; Hands On Gulf Coast and that experience is so much alive within me, that I just can’t find it in my heart to distance myself from it...
Which is why I'm officially coming back to the HOGC Team in June! I can't tell you how thrilled I am, and I will write more later when I don't have a midterm looming in the near future =)
Love and heat waves,