Burners Without Borders – Report From the Field

Biloxi, Mississippi

Hey there, time for an update from the Katrina zone:

modeled here by Mishka--you can see what she calls our "Tonka Trucks" in the background.
BWB shirt modeled here by Mishka–you can see what she calls our “Tonka Trucks” in the background.

First, about the headline. After looking around for months at all the other volunteer groups wearing snazzy matching t-shirts, we decided we should probably get some of our own. You know, that whole esprit de corps and souvenir thing. Now, thanks to some rock star volunteer graphic design work by Jon Lowe, we’ve got some–and a name for our little project:

Burners Without Borders.

(See a bunch more photos on Mishka’s flickr site if you’ve been here and volunteered, please write and we’ll send you a t-shirt.)

The BWB name kind of perfectly sums up what we feel like we’re about, namely taking the ten principles of Burning Man (your refresher course; they are: Radical Inclusion – Decommodification – Gifting – Radical Self Reliance – Radical Self Expression – Communal Effort – Civic Responsibility – Leaving No Trace – Participation – Immediacy ) off the playa and into the real world. Black Rock, Biloxi–where we are, it turns out, doesn’t matter nearly as much to what we have in common as does the way we do our collective thing.

Her name is Katrina, and she ain't for hire.
Her name is Katrina, and she ain’t for hire.

In practice this past week, that’s taken on a few parallel tracks. Lucky answered a call to DPW for a finish carpenter ( time from message posting to first reply: 13 minutes ) and came over from Texas, to help Matt, Cab, Teresa and Michael, among others, do some finish work in the Buddhist temple. It’s going to be _so_ much better than before when they’re done. Meanwhile, Monte’s and Eli have been running supplies around in his truck, bought to be turned into an art car but now doing duty as a supply hauler. Her name is Katrina, and she ain’t for hire.

The rest of us keep busy removing debris. Consider: 40% or so of the houses in east Biloxi ( and the whole gulf coast, for that matter ) are destroyed, or need to be. All that rubble has to be broken up, and pushed to the curb to be hauled away. Some of it’s by machines, a lot of it by hand-not too bad, unless you rip into something that splatters “I can’t believe it’s not dead body” juice all over you–we go through a lot of hand sanitizer.

Here's Richard "Big Styk" Scott talking shop with Chaos, before peeling a house like a banana.
Here’s Richard “Big Styk” Scott talking shop with Chaos, before peeling a house like a banana.

Sharp readers will note that yes, all our vehicles say “Black Rock City Department of Public Works” on them. There is something very right about that, considering the amount of MOOP we’re moving on a daily basis. People are often curious about our group, asking where we’re all from, and how we know each other, to which we sometimes say “well, we get together once a year to build Nevada’s 5th largest city. In a weekend. Then we live in in for a week, and take it all down. So we’re kinda into cleaning up big messes.” They nod and say “oh, right…” and then don’t really know where to go from there.

A quick aside about Richard: he’s been here without a break, without a day off, for MONTHS. Always level headed, always safety conscious, he’s been the anchor for this whole operation, and can run an excavator like it’s a part of his arm. And that’s AFTER going non-stop on the playa running his name sake cranes. He deserves mad props–feel free to deliver yours here: rdscott@inreach.net.

There was a recent article in the New York Times that featured our neighbors across the street. The sign showed in the story is one Chaos and Mishka made. Today Reba, Austin, Michelle and I spent five hours clearing junk out of her yard, which we’re turning into a massive neighborhood holiday display (more on that later ).

Here's a tiny panoramic of our camp--dome, bus, tents etc all ours
Here’s a tiny panoramic of our camp–dome, bus, tents etc all ours

At night it gets dark early, and there’s not a lot to do. So, we invent games ( last night’s: Fenga. Like Jenga, only you add wood. And it’s on fire.) or hang out in our gorgeous, bright white, how-can-we-ever-thank-Asha-from-Pacific-domes-enough dome.

Fenga. Like Jenga, only you add wood. And it's on fire.
Fenga. Like Jenga, only you add wood. And it’s on fire.

We’re getting in the Christmas spirit–Austin ground scored a box of black socks, and with some glitter pens has made us all stockings, to hang from a fireplace she’s building around our burn barrel.

Our gorgeous, bright white, how-can-we-ever-thank-Asha-from-Pacific-domes-enough dome
Our gorgeous, bright white, how-can-we-ever-thank-Asha-from-Pacific-domes-enough dome

Across the street, there’s an abandoned lot, a sort of muddy bog. With the owners permission, we’re going to transform it into a sort of Christmas/Holiday theme park. The idea: give families something to come see and do together, and brighten an otherwise blighted neighborhood. We’ll be setting up all kinds of lights and decorations ( using a lot of what we’ve found in wrecked/ruined houses ), and if we can get a projector will have free outdoor screenings of holiday movies, on hay bale benches. Of course we’ll have a bonfire–there’s no end of fuel, and ever since the very beginning the police have allowed us to have what is, as best we can tell, the only open fire in Biloxi. There are plans for hay rides on a trailer towed behind our tractor, hot chocolate and candy for the kids, and santas. Lots and lots of Santas. Like, each kid gets there own. Santa may then go to Wal-Mart to engage shoppers in a Socratic dialogue about consumerism–we’ll see.

The weather has been mixed–shirt sleeves today, pissing down freezing rain a few days back. In the days ahead, a remote team will be setting up a semi-permanent shelter and distribution center in Plaquemines Parish, south of New Orleans, where we can give out much needed tents, blankets, food and cleaning tools. Yes, people really do still need that stuff–just not everyone, which is why we’re now going to them instead of the other way around. Those cajuns down there are tough–some are driving 5 hours a day just to fish for a few hours, then head back home. They don’t want a hand out, just a hand up, so we’re going to do what we can.

All of these volunteers are amazing–giving so much of their time (several have quit jobs and pulled up stakes to be here full time ) and energy–it’s very affirming, very heartwarming, to know there are so many great people willing to just step up and say “what needs doing?”

A lot of people have been writing and calling, asking how long we’ll be staying, and how they can help. Although most other groups are pulling out by late January at the outside, we’re planning on staying until March, or until we’re not needed ( which I can assure you won’t be before March ).

So, how can you help?

Option one: C’mon down and volunteer. Come for a day, come for the winter, we’ve got room, you’ll get a lot out of it, a great workout, and a chance to gorge on some of the best Vietnamese food you’ll ever eat ( the ladies at the temple here really hook us up ). You can also call: 801-712-5371 Tom or 530-401-4007 Richard.

Option two: paypal us $25 and get one of our snappy tshirts sent to you. Yea, we know we know, it’s comodification, but proceeds ( about $17 from each shirt ) will be used to keep us fed, watered. and our vehicles filled. Plus they’re wicked cool. Paypal to price_tom@hotmail.com, or snail it to Burning Man crew, Buddhist Temple, 179 Oak Street, Biloxi, MS 39532. You should also feel free to mail surprises–Santa loves surprises.

It’s 12:30, about 25 degrees, and so humid that freezing air is dropping off the inside of the dome, and typing in my gloves is getting a little old. So that’s it for tonight, thanks for reading, and thanks for all your support and encouragement.

Happy holidays,
-The Temple to Temple crew

Burners Without Borders – Report from the Field

[This dispatch reported by Boy Scout.]
Biloxi, Mississippi

Project Update

For the past week, the Temple Crew has been clearing out lots full of debris and cranking really hard to get the temple walls done.

We’ve finally got some professionals to mud and tape the walls so that they are smooth. A few volunteers put a lot of hours into mudding the walls but it really takes a pro to make the holes and seams disappear. When the mud finally dried, the Temple Crew lucked out when a volunteer professional painter, John, showed up with all the right equipment. He ran his sprayer day and night until it finally quit working. The rest of us were charged with taping down everything and rolling a final coat to get the coverage perfect. We also put more insulation up into the attic and we got the final materials list together: doors, trim, and bathroom appliances.

In addition to the work in the temple, we’ve been clearing out lot after lot of debris. Water Street is a big project with four lots piled 4-5 feet high. The excavator makes quick work of crunching homes into toothpicks, and filling up the bucket of the loader. The loader has been a giant wheel barrow, forming load after load into long giant mounds along the street so that the contractors can take it out to who knows where. I’ve had lots of time driving the loader. It’s gotten to the point that it’s now a bit boring driving up and down the driveways.


Last Thursday was the strangest Thanksgiving Day I’ve ever experienced. Salvation Army and many church groups competed to feed many thousands of meals to the public here. On Wednesday evening a Ryder truck full of turkeys and chickens pulled into the camp. We loaded up our pickup trucks, and drove into the surrounding community. Folks came out of their tents and trailers when they heard us shouting. Several hundred turkeys and chickens were distributed very quickly to eager families in the neighborhood.

On Thursday we had four cooks, Cowboy, Michelle, Eli, and Angelina, make us the most splendid of meals. When we had all stuffed ourselves silly with turkey and were eyeing the pies, another truck surprised us by pulling into the temple with hundreds of meals and pies they needed to give away. They brought a couple of vanloads of kids and adults to convince passersby to take the meals. So we set up tables on the street, and stopped traffic for four hours until everything but a case of apple pies was gone. Luckily, the Vietnamese Catholic church next door had services right after they arrived, so we had more than the usual amount of cars passing by. Michelle had received a bag of 30 donated kazoos to bring down here, and the kids had fun making lots of noise with them.

I’ve been updating a photo blog with photos taken of the town and temple crew.

Temple Crew Mission Update

Volunteers are still needed. Over the past couple of weeks we’ve had a high turnover in volunteers helping with the Temple Crew’s mission. Some only stay for a couple of days, or up to a week or two. Many of the long term folks who have been here for 8-10 weeks are burning out. The environmental conditions are not extreme, but the physical and mental conditions demand much beyond what any of us do in ‘real life’. Just as getting used the playa takes a few days, coming into this devastated community puts most people into shock.

PLEASE VOLUNTEER to help with this monumental task of helping this community cope with the loss of everything they left behind when they evacuated. We’ve got the space for many more folks and you don’t have to worry about HOT food, a warm shower, or even a ride from the Gulfport airport. The weather is coastal with warm days in the low 70s and cool nights that may go down into the mid 30s. If you want to volunteer, please call Richard at xxxxxxx.

Some of the crew have been seeking out folks who are even more needy than this community. They found Plaquemines Parish, LA (google maps) which is estimated at 7 to 8 weeks behind even Biloxi. Folks are returning to find no power, no lights, no water, and no phone, no nothing left. We want to get them food, water, tents, blankets, and other necessities.

Burners Without Borders – Report from the Field

[This dispatch reported by Boy Scout]
Biloxi, Mississippi

Today the crew started to clear a set of four lots between Kuhn St and Sophia St near Howard Ave. The gulf is a clear shot from these lots and they got the full force of the waves that hit the shore. Every building within the path were pushed in several blocks and then washed out to the sea leaving 3 to 10 inches of white sand with beautiful full shells buried within. These houses are what is called ‘gone-gone’. They are a total loss with nothing left standing that did not leave the premises before the storm. The 4 and 5 storey buildings in the distance are casino barges that have washed up over a hundred feet from the shoreline.

One man I met across the street, John, had a yard covered with his collection of hundreds of 12″ LP records and upside down cars half sunk into the ground. He found 6 out of 8 nicely carved posts from his front porch up to three blocks away. He showed me a photo of a beautiful wood sided home taken a week before the storm.

Everyone in the camp took shifts clearing out the rubble, fallen trees, wrecked appliances, and foundation piers. We slavaged as much of the cinder block onto four pallets ready to be fork lifted out. The giant Daewoo excavator, Daawoo front loader, and tiny Kubotou tractor were running all day clearing everything into giant piles on both streets. Lunch for the crew was courtesy of a church run community recovery center. Thin meat chili and a cheese roll. Tomorrow, when the machinery finishes clearing out the big pieces, we’ll rake/shovel out whats left. Today’s find – a makeup case full of not totally wrecked wedding photos of a Viet family.

Dinner was hamburgers and corn courtesy of Salvation Army. Plain but good warm food followed by yet another burn barrel under the street light next to the dome. There is a permanently hot bonfire in the back for those who desire quiet. There is no shortage of wood to warm the night and entertain the pyromaniac burners.

Many people in the community prefer for the Temple Crew to do their clearing because we try to salvage what building supplies we can to help defray the cost of replacement. We are only doing lots for the people who were uninsured or underinsured. Mostly shrimpers and elderly who got little or nothing but free meals, blankets and maybe a FEMA trailer. Many of the folks here work the shrimp boats and used the cash to buy everything.

Although the distribution center is closed because most everyone is out in the field all day, there is a steady stream of folks coming to the temple to give or ask for aide. The community and the relief agencies are taking care of feeding us (along with everyone else) with endless carbs and sugary snacks. Last Sunday the temple had a great vietmanese luncheon for the ‘day of sorrow’ holiday the monk declared. Many many families came out for mediation and chanting. The church next door gave out a semi trailer full of blankets and warm coats. The traffic jam was worse than Van Ness Ave on a weekend day.

We are endlessly thanked for our efforts by everyone we pause to talk to. Yesterday we got an invite to eat at a six grill bbq set up next to a field of trailers.

Burners Without Borders – Report from the Field

Biloxi, Mississippi

Been a long time since there was an update from the Katrina Relief zone, so I’m going to take a whack at it. But where to begin?

First, the weather. Cold, rain, is this Seattle or what? We had a tough day a week or so ago, when our long suffering dome cover final split down the middle and sloughed off, in a rain storm. Louie and the crew hurriedly covered our stock, and a few days later we rigged a temp cover until a new one could arrive. But if we think we’ve got it rough, all we have to do is literally look out the back door: this man lost his wife in May, and his job and home to Katrina, and is now living in a leaky tent in his front yard. We cleared out his yard, and removed the tree that landed on his house, but he can’t get back in yet because of a typical conflict with his insurance company; they’ve told thousands that since the waters rose first and THEN the storm hit, it was uncovered flood damage and not covered hurricane damage. While the lawyers argue, he and thousands more slowly loose hope.

This man lost his wife in May, and his job and home to Katrina, and is now living in a leaky tent in his front yard.
This man lost his wife in May, and his job and home to Katrina, and is now living in a leaky tent in his front yard.

Work and needs-wise, things are definitely shifting, at least in the Biloxi area. The immediate, hand out food/water/shelter/clothes part of the effort is winding down–in fact, for the time being we’ve closed the donation dome in Biloxi, so we can instead move our work crews inside where they can stay at least a little warmer, as the cold fog of winter slides across the gulf coast.

Instead, we’ve been focusing all our efforts on finding those who’ve been overlooked, like sending teams into Placemines Parish south of New Orleans. Some parts of PP were under 30+ feet of water for WEEKS, so you can imagine what the place looks like.

Austin (on Gregory's truck) delivers some clothes and food down near where the Mississippi meets the Gulf and borrows a little "protection" from one of the locals...
Austin (on Gregory’s truck) delivers some clothes and food down near where the Mississippi meets the Gulf and borrows a little “protection” from one of the locals…

The Temple crew and the burners with HANDS ON USA in Biloxi have instead been tearing into the hard, dirty work of clearing people’s destroyed homes. In some cases, it’s so they can rebuild. In others, it’s just to clear enough clean space so FEMA has a spot to part the trailer they’ll be loaned for a year.

me, Louie, Austin, George, Cab and Max, post clean up on Elmer Street. The 85 year old woman in the hat has lived here for decades; all we found that was salvageable were her son's military records, and some dishes.
Me, Louie, Austin, George, Cab and Max, post clean up on Elmer Street. The 85 year old woman in the hat has lived here for decades; all we found that was salvageable were her son’s military records, and some dishes.

The absolute best news we’ve had lately came rumbling down the street, when the _wonderful_ people at Doosan Daewoo ( a multinational manufacturing company), who had heard about what we were doing and liked it, delivered to us “to use as long as you’ve got use for em” a BRAND NEW, still-plastic-on-the-seats articulating front end loader and excavator. OK, big whup you might think–till you’ve see what these things can do to a pile of rubble.

Here Cab, Mischka, George, Phil, Richard, Chaos and others work the loaders, a tractor, rakes--it takes every piece to really clear a place out. Oh, see that big open space? A house was there just a few hours before...
Here Cab, Mischka, George, Phil, Richard, Chaos and others work the loaders, a tractor, rakes–it takes every piece to really clear a place out. Oh, see that big open space? A house was there just a few hours before…

And yes, orange “DPW” stickers are already on their way down there, so we can slap em on our new machines.

Our new toys, however, are raising the hackles of the contractors who’re being paid to do similar work, and some politicians are siding with them–what, you don’t want it done for FREE? Politics is intruding all along the gulf coast, from still-locked-down parts of New Orleans ( where we saw the Counter Current group and their mobile media bus at the very laid back New Orleans Decompression and BBQ, and hooked up again with the Third Line Circus folks, both of whom are working in some _tough_ hoods doing crucial work with forgotten communities ), to Waveland where the Rainbow Family is encountering some troubles with their _amazing_ “New Waveland Cafe,” to Biloxi and the no so subtle attempts to push out the poor of East Biloxi, to make way for new developments that are sure to follow last month’s decision to allow casinos on land again.

No matter–there’s an almost limitless amount of need for help to just clean things up so people can get back to work and on with their lives…which is exactly what we’ve been doing. And when it gets dark at around 5pm, we come home for a big group dinner, sit around what appears to be the only allowed burn barrel in the whole city (somehow the police seem to sense we’ve got fire handled ), play guitar, race wheelchairs, and tell stories–the people who have volunteered and showed up in Biloxi are without a doubt some of the most interesting, amusing, funny, well-traveled, most open minded and biggest hearted people I’ve ever had the chance to meet. Lemme tip my cap here to (apologies for whom i’m forgetting): Juan, Max, Richard, Phil, Austin, Chaos, Mischka, George, Brett, Chris, Jeff, Cab, Louie, Cowboy, Gregory, Linda, Andy, Corry, Monte, Doctor, Teresa, Peter, Angel, Erik and all the others– bless you, all

Work rebuilding the Buddhist Temple is nearing completion–which is also why we’re moving our rather large tent city seen here into the dome in the back.

So, what’s next? More of the same, more clean up, more helping people as best we can until…well, we don’t know when. Some of us are jokingly calling ourselves “BEMA” ( Burning Emergency Management Agency, as opposed to the much reviled FEMA), and starting to wonder what we could do at next year’s event to collect resources to help in other emergencies. Meanwhile, volunteers are signed up through Christmas it seems, and some are planning on coming in January. We’ve been having a blast explaining exactly who we are ( we’re the only non-organize, non-non-profit, non-for-profit, non-church group working along the area, except perhaps the Rainbow Family in Waveland) and how we all know each other. Yea, the days are long, and nerves are getting rubbed raw, and some days cleaning yet another pile of rubble gets a little old. And yet somehow we get up, have another cup of Cowboy’s brazilian coffee, another Louie omelet, another morning taping up ankles and knees, and grab our tools, and head out again.

For questions/volunteering in Biloxi, please contact Richard Scott at xxx-xxx-xxxx.

Burners Without Borders – Report from the Field

Biloxi, Mississippi

This is a quicky: if you’ve got frequent flyer miles that you’d be willing to donate so people could go volunteer in the Gulf Coast rebuilding efforts, or if you’d like to go if only you could get there for free, please email me at Tom Price. No promises, but we’ll see if we can’t get a couple more warm, willing bodies down there getting the job done.

Burners Without Borders – Report from the Field

Biloxi, Mississippi

From Anthony in NOLA:

On the heels of another evacuation (and an actual storm this time, but I don’t need to tell you that) we are having the 2nd annual New Orleans Decom.

This is a no money, no commerce, no big whoop event.

I’pricet_6m bringing a grill and a cooler of some stuff to grill.

You bring something.

This is all about the relaxing. Come enjoy a day along the river with some other burners.

Where? At the fly, (it’s officially riverview park) behind Audubon park. Drive til you find a small Nissan frontier truck with a large piece of tie dyed cloth on the caper top. Look around. I’ll be close.

When: Sunday Nov. 6th. starting about 1 p.m. til the park closes at some point around 8:30.

The Biloxi Temple crew and friends are fo sho gonna be there–and we’ll be bringing our BBQ, coolers of beer, and wheelchairs for racing (it’s a Biloxi thing).

We’re happy to pick up every/any one along the way, and bring you back. Contact me for ride details, see you there!

Burners Without Borders – Report from the Field

[from Stuart Updegrave]
Biloxi, Mississippi

There is still a constant ebb and flow of volunteers through the temple – ten new arrivals in the last two days, in fact. Amani (from Seattle) has returned to the Biloxi area (working with World Shelters on her first trip down) to join us at the temple. Amani’s friend Savi arrived this morning; she is 15 years old, here until at least Nov 1st, and will be receiving school credit for time spent volunteering here. Another burner crew (Chaos, Doc, Monty and Teresa) rolled in yesterday with a 24′ truck (which they bought for an art project, but decided to use to help the people of Biloxi for now) – they’ve eagerly dived in, helping out on various projects already. Richard’s friend Linda arrived yesterday morning – she’s likely to take over cooking responsibilities after I leave. And there’s another posse that came in (Ryan from L.A., Rachel and Mandy from Toronto) to help out as well, working in the free store and helping finish up the drywall effort in the temple building.

Jim left this morning to go spend some time with his son in South Carolina. While here, he talked to several bicycle shops to solicit donations of used bicycles. A shop in Ithaca NY committed to send 100 bikes down, and he is talking to a few shops in Seattle as well (including BikeWorks, which has helped many Sea-town burners find playa-worthy wheels).

We’ve made progress on getting basic services moved back indoors. Richard salvaged a stainless steel three-tub utility sink from the old Catholic church across the street; after cleaning and re-plumbing, it is now installed in the temple for us and the temple staff to use for dishes. Yesterday, Thomas moved the washer and dryer into the temple (they were previously residing in the driveway). And today, Chaos is going to plumb a sink and flush toilet in the bathroom to go along with the shower.

The cover on the large dome used for the store has taken some wind damage over the last few days. Richard spoke with Asha, the owner of Pacific Domes, who says they will fabricate and send us a new cover. This is wonderful news!

The store is still providing for at least 100 people per day, with supplies still rolling in. Occasionally, we get large resources for use by the temple volunteers and staff (such as the full-size chest freezer which arrived this morning – which will be used mainly to store ice as it comes in), but most shipments consist of food, water, toiletries and cleaning supplies for the community. Yesterday, some cots and blankets arrived, which were eagerly received given the cold nights recently. We are still working our various networks to drum up more donations of tents, sleeping bags and warm clothing. Steve and Elena (the Peace Corps / FEMA folks who stayed here a few nights) are bringing in some coats and blankets tonight, I just heard. Wonderful news!

I’m heading back to Seattle on Friday morning, with mixed emotions. I feel like I’ve barely begun to scratch the surface of the work that needs to be done here, yet wonder how much difference I am making personally.

Burners Without Borders – Report from the Field

Biloxi, Mississippi

Several times a day, we have the sound of the Red Cross truck driving past with its annoying horn-bleat, and the announcement “Red Cross. Hot meals, cold drinks.” If only the meals were a little better. Once in every four or so is passable, but the rest leave something to be desired. At least it’s fuel for the body, which is important to the people around here.

There are many who have essentially nothing. Houses gone, living in small tents in driveways. They come in each day to get some canned food and a case or two of water bottles – one old woman told me this morning that she needed water for fifteen people. It’s interesting, though – nobody wants the canned water provided by the beer companies.

We’ve been setting families up with huge tents, two or three a day. On Saturday morning we sent another out to provide temporary housing for a family of six – they had been renting, and are currently living in a smaller tent. The owner of the place they were renting is apparently considering selling out to the casinos (which have permission from the city to move on shore now). This will leave these people homeless. Things like this are hard to take.

One of the predominant problems we’re hearing is of people who didn’t have flood insurance – they are covered for wind damage, but not water. If your house was destroyed by a spawned tornado, then that’s clearly wind damage – but if it floated off its foundation and into the neighbor’s yard, the insurance companies are likely to call that water damage. Most of the houses around here sustained water damage – unless they were lucky enough (paradoxically) to be destroyed by wind.

The roof on Liem’s shop is finished now – but we still see him or his wife Twin a few times a day. They stopped by today (Sunday morning) to deliver a big bag of egg rolls, and invited me and Thomas to go down to their [friend|family member]’s shrimp boat. We went down for a while and saw the boat back in from last night’s run, and came home with another grocery bag full of shrimp. It was my first time to the beach since I arrived. Seeing the huge casino barges sitting on the land firsthand is really humbling. Every fresh view into the damage caused by Katrina continues to humble me.

Today is the first time the store has been closed since it opened, nearly six weeks ago. This came about partly because Richard and the other volunteers wanted a break from it, and partly because Thay (the master monk) requested a day where he could have services without the interruption and chaos of people coming in to get supplies from the store.

Cowboy (or Jay) and Bob (who is frequently rather silent) continue to do covert ops, bringing us ice and hooking us up with tools as needed. They’re here as grassroots volunteers, working to set up a permanent free clinic in Biloxi.

There’s an old Vietnamese woman who sits in the back of a pickup truck outside the temple gates nearly every morning, selling fresh persimmons and some other fruit I haven’t identified yet.

Pirate Pete (burner from Maine, who has been here for several weeks) is an unstoppable bundle of energy. He frequently will load up the basket on his bicycle with the latest useful booty and go for a ride through the community – giving out flashlights and batteries, baked goods, etc.

We’ve had several new volunteers arrive: Jim Rohrssen, from Lopez Island, WA; Steve and Elena, who work with FEMA and are here to coordinate with us – they have been in the region for five weeks, in various locations; Michelle and Karen from Florida (Michelle is here with another crew, and they both plan to stop by periodically to help out); and Gregory, a long-time temple crew burner from Austin (who arrived with a huge converted bus, pink with flames on the windows). Jim has been organizing fundraising events on Lopez since the Saturday after Katrina hit land, raising $5000- the very next day. He’s planning an event on Nov 19th that will feature gulf coast (Cajun / New Orleans) cuisine, along with blues and zydeco music. If you’ve been down in the Gulf volunteering and are interested in talking about your experiences at this event, contact Jim.

I rode into Gulfport on Friday to get a replacement cell phone. Along the way, there were lots of areas that didn’t seem to be terribly damaged – until you noticed that many houses had uniform roofs: big blue tarps. This reminded me of flying in – as we curved northward from our route skirting the edge of the Gulf, the number of blue tarps covering roofs was incredible – Thomas likened it to flying into L.A. and seeing pools in nearly every yard.

We recently received a shipment of school supplies – approximately 250 book bags filled with notebooks, pencils and folders, an equal number of interactive learning aids, a bunch of boxes of crayons, etc. We’re going to schedule a kids’ day soon to give all this stuff out.

Richard says that the odds are good that David Best (who designed and led the efforts to build the temples for Burning Man every year prior to 2005) will come down to do some work on Chua Van Duc temple. The temple structure itself is relatively plain, and Thay wants it spruced up – when he saw my photos of this year’s temple burn, he got very excited and made sure I would help him get some improvements made to his temple.

We’re expecting for the promised excavator to arrive sometime between Wed and Fri this week. Hopefully by then Richard will be able to cut through the politics so that we can actually put it to use helping people get their yards cleared, damaged houses demolished, sites readied for trailers.

We continue to eat well – we got a huge delivery of pastries this morning, which were nice to snack on for the early risers. Late morning, Jim made a big batch of fruit crepes. We just got finished with lunch – Thay invited the entire crew in for a Vietnamese meal – noodles with tofu and vegetables, rice, fried egg rolls, followed by an odd (to western palate) but enjoyable dessert (a mochi-like gooey ‘shell’ surrounding a bean-based (lotus?) filling with ginger), followed by a tea service. And tonight, I’m planning to fry up the egg rolls Twin gave us, to go with grilled shrimp and salmon burgers.

As can be expected, many people here are paying close attention to storm season, particularly since Hurricane Wilma is so close. While Thomas and I were at the shrimp boat this morning, I looked south into the Gulf of Mexico. There’s a line of clouds running SE / NW, about 50 miles out. Yes, that’s Wilma. She is currently looking as if she might run aground at or around Marco Island, FL, where Bev and I went with a bunch of friends for New Years several years ago.

Two Atlantic storm season records have been broken in the six days I’ve been here: first, Wilma became the most powerful storm on record (as measured by barometric pressure – it bottomed out at 882 millibars), and now tropical storm Alpha – the 22nd named storm of the season – has formed and is causing more flooding in the Dominican Republic and Haiti. The previous record was 21 storms, established in 1933.

There is still work to be done here. If you want to come down and help out, please call Richard at xxx-xxx-xxxx.

Addendum, Monday 24 Oct 2005

It’s getting cold and windy. Even those of us who are used to the vagaries of playa weather woke up cold this morning. People here need tents, sleeping bags, blankets, warm clothes. If anyone reading this has connections to camping supply stores or companies and can get donations sent this way, please do so! Coordinate through Richard (at the number above) for delivery. When I get home to Seattle on Friday, I’m going to starting pounding the pavement trying to get donations from the various outdoor companies there.