UPDATE FROM NEW ORLEANS DIANA FRIED, DIRECTOR
OCTOBER 18, 2005
On Sunday we were invited to a Vietnamese community (Queen Mary of Vietnam Catholic Church!) where hundreds have just returned to their devastated areas - many can not stay in their homes, of course...and are back to start cleaning up. They were so incredibly grateful for what we were doing. We had all these folks sitting in church pews with acupuncture needles in their ears! They invited us back next Sunday when 1500 people will be returning, along with the Archbishop. Father Luke...sweet man...was so happy we were there. He said: "We will survive and we will rebuild!" The woman running the place kept coming up to us and kissing us and saying "God bless you". Many of these folks were refugees from Vietnam.
We have been going out to communities with Common Ground (the incredible community-based clinic and food distribution program, started by Malik Rahim, and run out of his mosque in Algiers, a neighborhood of New Orleans). Common Ground is doing amazing work. We treat every day at their clinic and then we go with their mobile unit to other areas. Their volunteers from all over the country are doing the really hard gritty work of cleanup, as well as staffing a clinic and food distribution. With tears in her eyes, one of the nurses told acupuncture volunteer Graham Marks how grateful they are for the acupuncture, that it is really helping them keep going, and she said all the staff talk about how good the treatments make them feel.
Yesterday some of our group - Graham and Sue Larkin - were in the 9th ward with the Red Cross and Common Ground. It was a hard sell to get the Red Cross to let us do acupuncture, but it happened, and they have invited us back. The venue was very difficult emotionally and physically. It is a very very devastated area...hard to be there. The flies are terrible and the smell unbearable (which you get in many areas...rotting garbage, mold, and whatever else)...They had to wash the sidewalk with bleach to clear the maggots before they could set up the acupuncture table. Little bugs stick to the sweat on ones body, and it is very itchy. Bulldozers are clearing areas and the dust is all over.
We have also been treating FEMA staff, EMT's, as well as government officials and their families. When we tell these people we are volunteers they are amazed!
I'm at the local café working...whenever I get a moment I sit here with the Army Corps people, contractors, etc. who also have made this their office. It’s a sweet café run by a lovely woman, and we all set up computers and work away. Quite a scene. We are also treating in a park across the street on Fridays, working side by side with local massage therapists.
We are now staying in a huge tent encampment where other emergency responders are staying (where we will also do acupuncture starting today - some of the kitchen staff were pleading with us to do acupuncture for them). We had been staying in a nice little house of a local acupuncturist. I'm not sure how long I'll last in the tents for the long term...I'm pretty exhausted, but the Army Corps guy just told me the hotels are going for $200+/night so that’s not going to happen. Everyone has jacked up their prices...hotels, landlords, etc. Another aspect of the tragedy.
It is very painful to see the devastation...it is quite unbelievable...pictures don't do it justice. It will be a long, long time before this area is back in any kind of real functioning way...the level and depth of the destruction is phenomenal...everywhere you go there are crumbled houses, totally destroyed buildings, infrastructure gone, electric wires still down, streetlights mostly don't work...people are starting to come back and clean up all over the place...and it is sad and they are so devastated...and you see the spray paint on the houses with information about the people and animals...1 dog under house (I can barely write this it is so painful for me...the innocent animals totally at the mercy of all this...). Someone described the feeling in the 9th ward and other completely devastated areas. She said: "There is an ominous silence...no birds, no kids, no dogs barking..."
Every where you go you see tents, RV's, campers...people are camped out in school rooms...many people still don't have electricity so the places that sell ice are very important. A woman in the café yesterday was telling me how the local people are now so afraid of all of us leaving...but some are also really not happy about all these outsiders in their town.
I've been in high function gear, so as I write, and breathe, I start to feel the pain in my heart and the tears in my eyes. I haven't really let myself go there yet.
People are very, very grateful for the help, the respite, that the acupuncture offers.
Please pass the website info around...we really need money to keep this going.
Diana Fried, Director
Acupuncturists Without Borders