“When can I go to school?” was the first thing 12-year-old Curtis said to me, after he’d stepped off the bus and I had taken his bag. Not “where are the cots?” or “do you have any water?” The second question was “do they have basketball teams here?”
It was a long night, I carried a lot of bags and babies, and heard a lot of horror stories. Took a lot of people to triage, people with swollen feet they could barely walk on, people in insulin shock, people severely dehydrated. Women came in who had been gang raped in the Superdome. Dotty and Ron told me of their two nights spent on the floor in the shopping mall, which became overrun by looters and where they feared for their safety and their lives. She saw a woman who had been beaten to death with her own wheelchair, babies dying, bodies in dumpsters.
People got off the bus tired, drunk, dazed, angry, scared. Some were happy to be there. Many were grateful, saying that we were the first people who had treated them with any kindness in days. There were groups of 24 who had stayed together all the way, groups of 12, groups of 13. They had suitcases and garbage bags full of clothes and shoes, their only remaining possessions. Some were barefoot.
Baby Gerald, five months old, was there with his mother, brother David, and sisters Kiere and Lisa, all of them tired and dirty, stinking of urine and wanting beds. David got a new asthma inhaler and a prescription for antibiotics for his brewing ear infection while I held sleeping Gerald, a perfect, fat little cherub, totally oblivious to the chaos around him. The family ate their burgers and fries and the mom gave out their medical history. When I had finally gotten that family to registration, I needed a new shirt. They would soon have showers and clean clothes, but who knows how long it would be before they had beds, walls, privacy, normalcy.
Between midnight and 8 a.m. Sunday we unloaded probably 60 Metro busses with 30 people on each one. As I was leaving, we heard of three more planes coming in with 575 more. More came throughout the day. And today there are signs up still on the highways, directing refugees to the Convention Center. When all is said and done, we’ll have 7,000 refugees in Austin needing help, jobs, schools, money, homes, cars, child care, and comfort. There’s so much work still to do. Happy Labor Day.