Saturday, August 11, 2007

One Door Closes... and Another Opens

Leaving friends behind is never easy, and pulling ourselves away from Gulfport was no exception. Friday marked our longest day of work: like any other set of journalists covering a story, the participants knew that they couldn't leave until their stories were done--which in this case ended up being around 9 o'clock that night.

It was a long day--but I think all of these newly minted radio experts would tell you it was worth it. Even given the late hour of our wrap up, and a hard deadline of a rental car return a two hour drive away in Baton Rouge for the teams from Ms. and PPH, we were able to joined together in laughter and applause as we listened, for the first time as a group, to the finished products of our week of labor.

I won't say too much about the content of these stories here, because they are best told, listened to, on their own terms, in the format in which they have been created. And soon enough, you will get to hear them yourself, either
on the radio or on the Ms. Foundation website, where we're planning to run audio clips. Then, you can be the judge. But from my perspective, these finished stories were a revelation: hearing each of these voices that have become familiar shift themselves just enough to adopt the radio announcer's more formal delivery; listening as the stories unfolded with a narrative arc that would put most professional story tellers to shame--it was hard to believe it was possible at the outset, but what we've come away with here are productions that, in my opinion, it would be nearly impossible for the average listener to distinguish from the work of seasoned, professional journalists. What a coup.

Once we'd packed up all our equipment and said our many, many good byes, the teams from PPH and Ms. hit the road. We headed down the dark roads of Mississippi and on to Louisiana for the next leg of our trip. We were expected in Baton Rouge the next day, where we would be met by PPH leade
r Deepa Fernandes and begin the process once again of introducing a community to the power of radio, but this time with a difference: this time, we're working with kids.

And not just any kids, and not in any old location: this weekend we're working out of Renaissance Village, the massive emergency trailer park FEMA constructed to deal with some of those left homeless by Katrina.

Located in Baker, LA (about half an hour from Baton Rouge), Renaissance Village houses approximately 600 trailers, and looking around the Internet I find estimates of the total resident population that range from 1500 to 3000. That's a large spread, but either way, one thing you notice immediately upon entering is how deadly quiet this park is for a place that's filled as far as the eye can see with "homes": the only people you see regularly are the members of a small army of security guards who roam the grounds in their military boots and bulletproof vests.Though they are gracious enough when we entered, I find that their presence instills fear, not safety, in me. It's a feeling that won't leave me, the whole time I'm in the park.

Luckily, though, there's enough to keep me occupied to keep my mind (mostly) off the men and women with the big guns--namely, the children. There are four of them with us who live in the park, ranging in age from 12 to 16. We've also been joined by two young women from the United Houma Nation, a Native American tribe from Southern Louisiana that boasts nearly 18,000 members. They, too, were impacted disastrously by the storm, and they're here to learn the basics of interviewing, how to operate the mini-disc player and how to use the editing software so that the stories of their people can be told, too.

There's so much to say about each of these remarkable kids, and how much they and their families have had to put up with over the past two years, and it is my hope to be able to introduce you to each of them over the course of the next few posts. Right now though, it is time to get to work: they're heading out into the field that is their home to interview people about their experiences since the Hurricane. And I find that, more than anything else, I want to be with them. More soon...

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