Spending the day with 'neighbors' in Ocean Springs

Published 5:23 pm Monday, September 12, 2005

By Staff
How petty is this world becoming? Sometimes it staggers the mind at the things people will use to start a fuss, a fight, and an argument or get a rise out of government and/or the media.
Refugee: one who flees for safety (The Merriam-Webster School and Office Dictionary, 1991 edition); a person who flees for refuge or safety (The Random House Dictionary of the English Language, second edition); somebody seeking a safe place (Encarta World English Dictionary, North American edition). These definitions all indicate that those who are fleeing may be doing so because of persecution or at the threat of war. However, one dictionary took the definition a step further and told the whole story.
From the Compact Oxford English Dictionary the definition reads as follows: refugee - noun: a person who has been forced to leave their country in order to escape war, persecution or natural disaster.
Now then, although these people didn't have to leave their "country", they did flee their "homeland" to take a place of safe shelter in the face of a natural disaster. And, if you want to take it a step further, in the case of New Orleans, many fled to escape a type of "war". With all the looting, shooting, yelling and fighting I've seen on the news shows, you can bet I'd classify that as some kind of war. At least it's similar to some of the things we've seen on shows concerning the war in Iraq: shooting, looting, yelling and fighting.
I realize that when we Americans, from the comfort of our air conditioned living rooms, sitting in front of our big-screen televisions, eating freshly cooked food from a microwave, have seen the images of "refugees" in times past, we have seen human beings forced from their homes for mostly political reasons. Those news stories have shown images that conjure up thoughts of disease, poverty, squalor and despair.
Well honey, if the aftermath of Miss Katrina doesn't fit that category, then I don't know what does.
A group of my church family traveled to Ocean Springs, Mississippi on Labor Day to help prepare food for those "refugees" in that area. Although we served a simple hamburger or hot dog to those folks, you would have thought we were serving steak and lobster! I've never seen a more appreciative group of folks in my life.
We saw people reach for a hot hamburger while still wearing armbands from the local hospital. Some were barefoot and searching for shoes as they received their meal. Many times we were told how happy they were to have cooked food. "I'm so tired of potted meat," one lady said. Another told me she never, ever, ever wanted to see "another can of Spam as long as I live", and comments like these were endless as we offered around 1,000 servings of freshly prepared food.
Those folks in Ocean Springs wouldn't have cared if we had called them refugees. They would have run to the food tent anyway. I know I've referred to the victims of Katrina as evacuees, but with their displacement periods lingering for more than a few days, it doesn't really seem to fit. I'm not sure if I'd call them victims either. The ones I have met in Mississippi and here in Brewton don't seem to fit my idea of "victim". A victim conjures up images of weak, fragile and helpless individuals. These folks don't fit that definition at all. They are strong and willing to do what it takes to rebuild their lives.
So let the folks in the media call them refugees, evacuees, hurricane victims. It doesn't really matter. They are people whose lives have been completely turned upside down.
How about this, let's call them neighbors.
Lisa Tindell