Wednesday, January 18, 2012


On Friday, November 18, the reading classes of the Loyola Intensive English  Program (LIEP) boarded the Loyola van for a tour of New Orleans sites that are important in the book ZEITOUN by Dave Eggers. The LIEP classes had read and discussed this book about the experience of the Zeitoun family during and after Hurricane Katrina. Below is a short summary of the book ZEITOUN, followed by an account of our van tour.

ZEITOUN by Dave Eggers
Mr. Abdulrahman Zeitoun, called Zeitoun by most people who know him, comes from Syria. He and his U.S. American wife, Kathy, own and run a house painting business in New Orleans. The Zeitoun family practices Islam.

As Hurricane Katrina was approaching New Orleans, Kathy and the Zeitoun children evacuated to Baton Rouge, while Zeitoun remained in New Orleans to oversee his home, his rental properties, and the properties of his clients. After the hurricane, Zeitoun found a working telephone line and called Kathy faithfully every day at noon. Zeitoun also owned a canoe and used it daily to rescue people trapped in their houses.

However, about a week after the hurricane, Zeitoun had the misfortune to be arrested for "looking suspicious." As a Hurricane Katrina arrestee without proper processing, he fell into "a black hole" in the prison system. The only thing that Kathy and the Zeitoun children knew was that Zeitoun's daily noon-time telephone calls suddenly stopped.

The book ZEITOUN had gripped us so strongly that we wanted to visit the sites that were important in Zeitoun's Hurricane Katrina experience. Our van tour included the following sites.

  • RESCUES AND PHONE CALLS: In our van, we followed Zeitoun's canoe route so that we could actually see the places where Zeitoun had stopped to rescue people and to make his daily telephone calls to his family.
  • THE CLAIBORNE / POYDRAS OVERPASS: We drove over the Claiborne / Poydras overpass, where Zeitoun had met and spoken with survivors who were waiting, unsheltered in the sun, for buses to take them out of the city. Many dogs were also on this overpass. Zeitoun had returned later in his canoe to find that all the people had been taken away and that all the dogs had been shot.
  • STAGING AREA: We drove past the staging area where official boats had been sent out each day to find and rescue people on roof-tops and where Zeitoun had been taken after his arrest to be transported to a temporary jail.
  • CAMP GREYHOUND: This was perhaps the most impressive site on our van tour. We stopped to visit the New Orleans Union Passenger Terminal, where Amtrak trains and Greyhound buses arrive and depart. Called Camp Greyhound in the weeks after Hurricane Katrina, this terminal had been transformed into a temporary jail for anyone arrested in the post-hurricane chaos. Arrestees like Zeitoun had been placed into outdoor cages to await transportation to larger prisons.

The photo below shows Camp Greyhound in the weeks after Hurricane Katrina.
Camp Greyhound in the weeks after Hurricane Katrina
The New Orleans Union Passenger Terminal has an amazing four-wall mural depicting scenes from the history of New Orleans. Newly arrested and frightened, Zeitoun had been struck by the darkness and violence of some of the scenes. A scene from the mural appears below.

Scene from mural at New Orleans Union Passenger Terminal,
the site of Camp Greyhound in the weeks after Hurricane Katrina
This impressive van tour concludes our study of Hurricane Katrina and of the book ZEITOUN by Dave Eggers. Our thanks to LIEP instructors Karen Greenstone and Leo Rocha for planning and driving for our tour.

Our next post will take you with us as we visit Mardi Gras World, the den where Mardi Gras floats are prepared and decorated. We will hear about the history of Mardi Gras, try on elaborate Mardi Gras costumes, and watch the artists at work as they apply finishing touches to the floats.

A Sociological Look at Hurricane Katrina

Hurricane Katrina
By mid-November of 2011, our three reading classes at the Loyola Intensive English Program (LIEP) had spent much time exploring Hurricane Katrina in a close and personal way. We had read the emotionally gripping Hurricane Katrina story of the Zeitoun family in the book ZEITOUN by Dave Eggers, we had seen the effects of the hurricane on a Saint Bernard Parish family in the documentary STILL WAITING, and we had heard personal Hurricane Katrina stories from three women who remained in New Orleans during and immediately after the hurricane.

Now it was time to step back and view a wider picture by using the lens of sociology. To do this, we invited Dr. Bethany L. Brown, Assistant Professor in the Department of Criminal Justice at Loyola University New Orleans, to speak with us. Dr. Brown's background in both sociology and criminal justice and her research focus on crisis and disaster situations made her the perfect person to help us widen our perspective on Hurricane Katrina.

Dr. Brown explained that sociology is a scientific and systematic study of human society that helps us to see general patterns. It enables us to see personal problems in light of larger social issues.  Sociology analyzes things that are often taken for granted and makes those things conscious and visible.

The sociology of disaster examines what happens when a hazardous event and people interact. Dr. Brown emphasized that a disaster does not create social problems but reveals problems that are already there.

One social problem brought into stark visibility by Hurricane Katrina is social inequality. Those with money, resources, and connections could evacuate if they chose to do so, while those without money, resources, and connections could not. No provision was made to assist those without money, resources, and connections other than the very inadequate Superdome and the utterly inadequate Convention Center. When people must rely on their own resources in a disaster, the unequal distribution of resources becomes highly visible.

Dr. Brown also called our attention to another social problem made visible by Hurricane Katrina--society's unequal treatment of people from different racial backgrounds. Dr. Brown illustrated this with two contrasting news photos. Both photos show people who retrieved food and supplies from convenience stores in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina in order to survive. In the first photo, the people are African American (black), while in the second photo, the people are Caucasian (white). The two photos appear below, with the relevant words in each caption capitalized.

The first photo shows two African American women carrying bags through the flood.
"LOOTERS carry bags of groceries through floodwaters after TAKING the merchandise AWAY
from a wind damaged convenience store in New Orleans"

The second photo shows two Caucasian men also carrying bags through the flood.
"Two RESIDENTS wade through chest-deep water after FINDING bread and soda
from a local convenience store in New Orleans"

The African American women are described as LOOTERS who TAKE groceries AWAY. The Causasian men are described as RESIDENTS who FIND groceries. Although both the African American women and the Caucasian men were doing the same action (retrieving food and drink from a convenience store) for the same purpose (to survive), the African Americans are pictured as thieves and the Caucasians as survivors.

Dr. Brown helped us to see the larger social issues underlying the personal Hurricane Katrina stories we had read and heard. Thank you, Dr. Brown, for helping us to widen our lens and view Hurricane Katrina from a sociological perspective.

Our next post will tell you about our van tour of New Orleans sites important in the book ZEITOUN by Dave Eggers, read by LIEP students in our reading classes. We visited the sites important to Mr. Zeitoun and his family as they struggled through the difficult time after Hurricane Katrina.