Thursday, March 19, 2009

Hey Ellen, is this a piece of gum stuck to me?!

Wednesday's Reflections...

Dear Readers,

This trip has been pretty dank so far but Wednesday was probably the best day so far. The day started off perfectly with a hearty breakfast of french toast nuggets and coffee brewed by our resident artisan, Chris. We had a relatively productive day over at both Mary and Dolores' houses with lots of painting, flooring, sanding, spackling, and a new set of front stairs built to add to our list of accomplishments. However, the most interesting part of our day was going up to the coal mine in Caretta and seeing the mine firsthand.

What really troubles me about coal mining isn't the dark, claustrophobic tunnels that lead into mountains or the communities that are built around this commodity. It is the fact that America was built into the great industrial giant with far more wealth than any other nation in the world while forcing the miners themselves into poverty. The coal companies have exploited both the environment and the people and perhaps this is the most blatant example of violence of an industrial capitalist society. Although I had been up to the mine before, I still had a feeling of giddy anticipation for the surreal sights we all were about to see. The steep road leading up to the mine, the huge pieces of equipment used to move mountains, the toxic sludge pond, the coal covered dogs, the black ground, the black coal seam, the black smear of coal permeating everything.

A man named Kevin gave us an informal tour of the mine as his colleague who was supposed to show us around was stuck in his holler. But being the brother of the mine owner he had a wealth of knowledge to share with us and taught us much about the process of extraction, location, dangers, and final destination. His family was from Vietnam and had worked hard to purchase several of the mines in the area. On our previous trip to WV, we had the pleasure of meeting his older, and larger brother Sang who was also shy about revealing how much he truly knew about mining but really was an expert.

All in all we had a pretty fantastic day. I don't think my bowels purged themselves, which was lovely. Ciao

Baby Bear, I'm Coming In (Haikus of Tuesday)...

Ode to Farid

Tuesday, Farid - ill
We lost our transportation
Vomit, sleep, vomit

The Master of Plaster

spackling the walls
creates strong, White hands and legs
the Ceiling is next

Pure as the Driven Snow

painting White over
spikes on the Ceiling are high
as are learning minds

Ode to Lungs

white lung from sanding
reflects the black lungs of coal
the circle of mines

c/o Farid, Ellen, Chris, Taylor, Andrew, Tim

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

All of it, None of it, All of it.

Ahhhh Monday….

Written a couple of days after the fact, Monday at once seems so distant and as well as almost indiscernible from today. As our first day of actual service, we got off the bus raring to go, ready to tear apart (or reconstruct, or both) any house that got in our way. With a rebel yell, we cried More, More, More! even before we had begun. We met David, our foreman for the week. We would be spending our time between his sister Mary’s house and her neighbor Dolores’.
For Mary’s house, we would be following the coattails of Notre Dame (curses) and spackling their sheetrock. Skeet skeet. In addition, we’d be tearing out the floor of the bathroom and all the rotten joists, and giving the other walls of the house some texture. Over the course of the day, Mary would tell us how much the work on the house meant to her. I never really thought much about the qualities of sheetrock, or how having sheetrock’d walls could be such a luxury. Well, when the house starts out with 70 year-old cardboard for interior walls, drafty windows, and failed siding…you have a house that by most people’s standards needs tearing down. This is what I’d taken for granted: of course your room would be sheetrock walls, of course the outlets work, the roof hasn’t gone soft from water damage, and (most of all) of course you can drink/wash with the tap water.
For parts of McDowell County, water treatment is spotty. There is a new sewage treatment plant in Excelsior Bottom (near War), and a water treatment plant in Coalwood, but with the mountainous topography and limited municipal funds, the two ends rarely seem to meet. Many of the homes we visit have one or the other---either the tap water is o.k. but the sewage is mainlined into the stream out back, or perhaps the sewage goes to the plant, but the water coming out of the tap is raw. This is something I’d never had to consider in America before.
Anyhow, we got off to a good start, getting going on various remodeling projects at Mary’s and Dolores’, and already gaining new skills of spackel spreading technique, ceiling painting, and just general group morale upliftment. Our dinnertimes are fun, with Wilson-Proper combinations of coffee, bisquits, and homemade granola; or lasagna with shitakes, or tasty taco buffets. We rock the hell out of some dishes, and have been battling our rivals for kitchen time. All is well.


Attention all Cowgirls

Sunday March 15th
Waking up in a new place is often bewildering and like so mornings before, I felt as though I was in my bed back home. But in the space of a second my mind was transported thousands of miles, across landscapes and epic mountains, to small community nestled in once booming part of our country.
We woke at our own pace as there was no hurry to get anywhere this morning. There would be no work on account of it being Sunday. We enjoyed a relaxed breakfast and conversed intimate as we were all becoming close in a surprisingly short amount of time. There are host of inside jokes, repeated catchphrases, and rude games that are springing up, fizzling out and being replaced but new random discourses.
Parts of the building (particularly the office from which I am writing) are noted to produce a suspicious crackling sound. I assumed that it was emanating from the florescent bulbs until I ventured to look up and investigate. What I saw was thousands of lives in total confusion. Six times that many legs scrambling feverishly in every direction. Two times that many wings flapping in to erratic destinations. Eight times that many Pokka dots that will never reach their full purpose, whatever that is...
It was Lady Bug holocaust. Countless ladybugs crowded around the light and buzzed around slamming their minute mass into the bulbs and then crawling around for a while to do it again later. They dead were immeasurably more numerous than the living. Maybe they are helplessly attracted to the light. Maybe they see the light as a terrible enemy and are coming together the fight it to the best of their ability and die gloriously in piles in the dustily corner. Maybe I should write about what we did that day. Their bodies are like pop corn shells, but with a sense of honor.
W knew a few sights around town and decided to tour the Champs Elise of war, or better known as the playground that has been untouched by the hands of over controlling parents. It was like going back into my childhood. The playground fit none of those silly standards of safety that prevent children from having fun. The toys were of stark unforgiving metal and overly steep flimsy design. It donned and super sonic marry-go-round, a slide that rivaled bobsled courses, and replica of a space shuttle (home of the Rocket Boys). But best of all was the Monolith of Doom. Standing twenty feet high, with four cables radiating from the top, it was like a may pole with the ribbons spinning on a wheel on the top. It operated with four trill seekers holding the handles on each end of the cables and running at full speed in the same direction around the pole until the force suspended the bodies in the air. It was like a marry-go-round from hell. Erected by man to praise the daemon of concussion and twisted ankles.
Chris had a glorious tumble into the mud. He slid several feet and did a flip but he was all smiles when he got up. And so was everyone else. After more sickening rides on dangerous pieces of spinning metal we met two local boys by the name of Noah and Daniel. They were brothers of about 10 and 12. Both were friendly and easily engaged in talking just like everyone you will me here it seems. They told us about sports, other kids in the neighborhood, games of capture the flag in the wood and inevitably the fabled Rocket Boys. With them were a pack of unleashed, uncollared dogs that were as friendly as the folk and they were all named Rusty.
After they both took a group picture of us on the geodesic dome we said our goodbyes and moved on the Marsha's Daughter's home and animal farm. The farm was less than a half acre of trampled muddy ground at the end of a small neighborhood of company houses and trailers. There were an exotic assortment of chickens and that prowled the grounds and splendid roosters the herded their hens. About twenty goats that herded themselves and were bossed around by the alpha set apart by superior horns. In the barn there was a mule with hoofed that had never been trimmed. They curled up in a J shape like a clog maybe six inches long. I felt sorry for every time I stepped on a blade of grass, as there were so few of them and they looked so fragile poking out of the manure brown mud. Hunter (Marsha's Grandson) showed off his pet alligator that is currently handheld but is expected to group to a health 10 feet. I hazard its diet will consist of goats and stray doggies. We also took turns with his bee bee gun and learned that there are little tombs in railroad tunnels that could save your life.
The house next door was one of the projects that the South Eastern Missouri group would be handling. It was a sight of ravaged memories and squandered potential. In the house there were only piles of ruble and lumber along with a handful of possessions: dolls, a camp stove, and full prescription bottles, ceramic busts of nameless people and shelves of paperback novels. From the story we were told the house had been traded for a car and a family of five moved in. No one was employed and they must have survived of the grandmother’s welfare check. They keep to themselves and no one knew much about what went on until a fire broke out and partially damaged the second floor and the roof and the rest was water damaged by the fire hoses. The family moved into a trailer in the back yard and when the neighbors came in to clean things up the found mounds of (for lack of a better word) stuff. Trash, debris, possessions, filth (human and animal) stacked and layered. Acquired from the numerous charities and good wills available for free. Rather than wash dirty clothes, it was cheaper to keep getting new ones and letting them all pile up to be used as dog wallows. I think the quantity was 68 trash bags full. The owners said to throw it all a way and tear the place down but the structure was in sound shape so it will stay up and after cleaning and repair it can be made into a home for someone more responsible.

This is how things went on our adventures. From the simple delights of these wild mountains and their charmingly unrefined people to the bitter poisons of this abused place. But there is such vigor and hope that I see in Marsha, Ray, Scott and the others, even when people have so much to be depressed about. Like a tired rodeo rider you got to find a way to get back on your lame and lazy horse, dig your spurs in and ride 'em cowgirl!

Yours’ Truly,
Timothy Jenkins

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Are We Missing Someone?

Saturday, March 14th

We are all on the bus by about 9:00am. I look around and ask, "are we missing someone?" Our group is small and the bus, well, it's big. There are seven of us total. Farid, our student crew leader and driver is at the wheel. We don't speak much from the outset, instead we doze. Eventually we find ourselves somewhere in Virginia. The buildings seem to become increasingly ramshackle the closer we get to our destination. I'm expecting the worst from what I read in the trip description, something like a third world country with broken, destitute people. We finally arrive at the Big Creek People in Action (BCPiA) schoolhouse which will serve as our lodging for the trip. We are greeted "Fluffy" Ray who immediately shatters my expectations of the locals. He is friendly and accomadating - you could even go so far as to say he is goofy. Even goofier is Scottie, who would later sport a shirt that said something along the lines of "If you wanna have fun ride hogs and chase women - WV". They get us settled in and disappear to go take care of other work.

After unpacking and choosing our bunks we decide to go explore the area. Ellen stays behind to rest and organize the details for the rest of our week. We come along an abandoned coal mine. In a way it serves as a metaphor for the entire area and the trip ahead of us. Industrial decay created as a result of the bust following the coal boom. Farid explains the difference between Bituminious and Anthracitic coal to us and explains what some of the abandoned equipment does. I'm fascinated with the abanoned mammoth structure, I take lots of pictures. We head back and have some of Ellen's famous chilli for dinner and prepare ourselves for the rest of the week.

- Andrew

All Apologies

Hello All -

Just a brief note of apology from all of us traveling in War, WV. While we have been having a magnificent time spackling, tearing out floors, laying new floor, moving large appliances, painting ceilings, stuccoing floors, sanding walls and sweep up debris, we haven't been very attentive to our blog.

This is about to change! We'll be doing a "group blog" to get you up to speed about what we've been into since Saturday. And, hopefully, we'll be able to have internet access for the rest of the trip so that we can keep you posted with our goings on.

Here is just a little teaser:

We started to eat lunch outside by the bus on Monday. This was our frst day at the work site. But, before we could whip out our bread to make sandwiches, we had been invited in to the house next door to use their plates and kitchen table. Virgie and Jerry have been a life saver. We use their bathroom because the house we are working on does not have water. We ate at their table on Monday which saved us from eating on the muddy ground in the sprinkling rain. Jerry comes to talk music with Chris as he plays his fiddle during our lunch break. And, Virgie has insisted that Taylor take her address so that they can write each other. When we lost our superviosor David for a few hours today, Jerry lent us his ladder and told us to come back for anything else we needed. And, Virgie can't wait to have her picture made with all of us. Needless to say, we love Virgie and Jerry, and love having them next door to us all day every day!

We'll be writing more shortly!

Thanks for thinking of us!


c/o Farid, Chris, Taylor, Carrie, Andrew and Tim