Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Piecing Together This History of Loss

After spending most of yesterday afternoon in the field conducting interviews, much of today’s activity here in Gulfport has centered on teaching the grantee partners to edit... using software that loads right onto their laptop computers. Before we delved into the instruction process, though, Saki from PPH (and their Radio Rootz program) checked in with the whole team to get their feedback on how it had felt to be out in the field for the first time the day before, conducting their inaugural interviews.

To a person, the participants seemed to feel not only excited by what they’d experienced, but empowered by it, too. I think each of them had been a little surprised by how much actually goes into not only conducting an interview, but also recording it and checking sound levels and battery power, all at the same time—but it seemed to me that they were equally surprised at how good they all were at it, too, once they got the hang of things.

It was great to hear them sharing their experiences, and offering others advice based on their early impressions. One grantee was quick to share her finding that though it’s great to interview someone you know well, it also presents a challenge when it comes to remaining on topic—and in remembering that no one else will have the kind of information about the interviewee that often gets taken for granted between friends. In other words: make sure you walk into the room with good, specific questions, and be sure to always cover the basics. Great advice for any newly minted citizen journalist.

Then it was time to dive into the technical element of the day: learning to edit. It sounds daunting, and I’m sure it was to some extent, but the folks at PPH really seem to stick by the model of “you learn by doing,”—so within an hour of the start of their presentation of how it’s done, all of the participants were behind the wheel of a laptop, copying sound files, checking levels, and cutting and pasting the tracks they would need for their final pieces. And once they got started they didn’t stop: the entire afternoon was spent slowly and methodically constructing the narratives of the storm they will soon be sharing with all of us.

If the flashes of sound I heard looping through our temporary offices on Martin Luther King Boulevard are any hint of what’s to come, I think we’ll be astounded by the sadness and horror, but also the bravery and spirit that’s driving life down here these days. It is impressed on me more with each passing moment that I am down here, how little we who do not have to live this out understand of what “living” has become since this storm. I know that I, personally, could not envision what losing everything might really look like until just tonight, as I stood next to Sharon Hanshaw in the parking lot of the Imperial Palace Casino (a very different kind of Katrina survivor).

There, with the gravel crunching beneath our feet, Sharon pulled at my arm with one hand while she waved the other back and forth through the air, beckoning to something no longer visible in the distance. “Where’s my house?” she called out, half-jokingly. “Where is it?” Together we peered out across the parking lot. A sea of cars and packed dirt stared back at us. At the far end of the new lot, a row of great old trees held their ground. It seems they were the only things that could. “Over there, by that tree” she said, “is where my house used to be.”

We stared a little while longer at what was not there. Then, together, we turned and headed into the casino for dinner.

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