Sunday, October 30, 2011

Reading ZEITOUN and Watching STILL WAITING

This month at the Loyola Intensive English Program (LIEP), all three of our reading classes -- Intermediate, Advanced, and Pilot (those students taking two courses at Loyola University New Orleans as well as two credit-bearing intensive English courses) -- are reading ZEITOUN by Dave Eggers.

ZEITOUN by Dave Eggers
ZEITOUN tells the true story of the Zeitoun family during and after Hurricane Katrina. Mr. Abdulrahman Zeitoun, a Syrian, is married to a U.S. American named Kathy. Together, Kathy and Zeitoun run a house painting business. In 2005, at the time of Hurricane Katrina, they had four children: Kathy's son from a former marriage and three daughters of their own. The family practices Islam.

Before Hurricane Katrina, Kathy and the children evacuated to Baton Rouge, but Zeitoun stayed in New Orleans to protect his home and to oversee his clients' houses. About a week after the hurricane, he was arrested because, with his Arabic accent and swarthy appearance, he looked suspicious. He was imprisoned, with no way to let his wife know what had happened. All Kathy knew was that her husband's daily telephone calls at noon suddenly stopped. Zeitoun had been calling everyday at noon from a working landline in one of the Zeitouns' rental properties in the flooded city.

Zeitoun spent about three weeks in prison, undergoing sub-human conditions and humiliating treatment. He and Kathy tell their story in Dave Eggers' book ZEITOUN.

Members of the extended family
featured in STILL WAITING
To prepare for reading ZEITOUN, the three LIEP reading classes came together to watch the documentary STILL WAITING: LIFE AFTER KATRINA on Thursday, October 20. STILL WAITING shows how Hurricane Katrina has affected one extended African American family in St. Bernard Parish, the low-lying and heavily flooded parish just east of New Orleans. This extended family, with over 150 members, was left homeless after Hurricane Katrina. They received help from the one member of their close-knit family, Connie Tipado, who lived elsewhere -- in Dallas, Texas. The documentary shows the family's determination to return home and rebuild despite tremendous odds -- the complete destruction of their homes and towns and the slow response of the government to provide promised assistance.

After watching STILL WAITING, the students formed small groups composed of members of each of the three LIEP reading classes. Each group focused, first, on vivid imagery from the documentary. The students were especially impressed by these images:

  • Houses completely submerged in water up to the rooftops
  • The interior of a flooded church, with overturned pews, moldy bibles, and a grimy altar
  • Home-cooked food -- gumbo, jambalaya, sausage, sea food
  • The tiny, cramped kitchen in a trailer provided by FEMA (the Federal Emergency Management Agency) as a temporary home
  • The family tree of this extended family, with branch after branch showing mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, aunts, uncles, cousins
  • The large crowd of family members gathered for a meal at Connie Tipado's home in Dallas
After exploring these images, the students examined the forces pulling this extended family apart:
  • No homes to which to return
  • No services, such as police, fire fighters, mail service, banks, hospitals, schools
  • Fear that such a hurricane could happen again
  • Racism in St. Bernard Parish
  • Better job opportunities elsewhere
  • The lack of government help
Finally, the students explored the forces uniting this extended family:
  • Their love
  • Their habit of frequently visiting each other's homes
  • Their common faith and church community
  • Their many meals shared together
  • Their very desire to continue the unity built up by generations of togetherness
The documentary STILL WAITING gave us all a clearer picture of what people in and near New Orleans went through during and after Hurricane Katrina. With this in mind, we began our reading of ZEITOUN.

Our next post will describe our visit with Mr. Carl Arrendondo, Chief Meteorologist for WWL-TV, one of our local television stations in New Orleans. We will share with you how Mr. Arredondo gave us a better understanding of hurricanes in general and of Hurricane Katrina in particular.

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