My Double Edged Trip to Plaquemines Parish, began at night while driving from Mississippi on a two laned highway. Etched across the skies in the dark forever in my mind’s eye, were the lights of megalithic refineries.
It was an auditory hauntingly quiet, drive into a place that I had never been, but visually my eyes were overwhelmed with the colorful lights.
As far as the eye could see, alongside intensely, brightly lit huge cruise ships, glaring glimpses of Refineries, Oil barges. tugs, and trawlers, which became the landscape of the background of the towns, that constitute the parish called, “Plaquemines”.
The strange illusion was that in reality, the people of Plaquemines Parish (part of ground zero for the BP Disaster and the Spraying of Toxic Corexit) had to coexist peacefully with refineries, open coal pits, oil companies, orphan wells and pollution.
My co-pilot was Theresa Graff, our trip was probably one of the most bittersweet ( joyous and tearful) that I have been on since the Blowout of the Deepwater Horizon Disaster in 2010.
Theresa and I checked into a Motel in the Dead of Night. Many of the people staying in our designated place woke up at 3 to 4 am. in order to begin their day working in the refineries. We were told not to speak of the BP Blowout nor allude to why we were there.
A double edged sword, the oil went everywhere, it happened, but we dare not speak of it with the Oil field workers or the owners of Marinas or Hotels. Along with Oil Field Workers, guests in our hotel were Wealthy Anglers visiting with beautiful Sport Fishing boats, which approximately, only four percent of the people in the US can even afford to own.
The light of day changed my whole perspective of Bures and Venice, Louisiana. The sun was bright when we drove to the Southern home with the beautifully painted wrapped porch and the inviting oaks that became the backdrop for the beauty that I found in Louisiana.
The wind blew comfortably. Kindra was the consummate welcoming friend who for the rest of my life I will know. She and I held together a bond for almost 5 years never really speaking of it and keeping it to ourselves looking out for each other on Facebook and in phone calls and emails to one another over the years.
Just the look in her eyes finally brought me physically to tears and I could not believe that I was finally meeting my sister (not related by birth) and my friend. Having Theresa there was a treasure, her humor and compassion was an added component to that sisterhood.
Marriages have fallen apart all along the Gulf Region. Due to the stress, cancers, funerals, illnesses, devastation and the sheer loss that couples and families have had to endure, many prior secure marriages failed.
Living in a toxic environment creates elements of anger, frustration, depression and anxiety along with the symptoms of brain fog, lesions, rashes, eyesight damages, cancers and the host of illnesses are likened to First Gulf War Syndrome. Many cannot survive the day to day stresses much less the bleak future that they have to face.
Life was good for most of the residents of the Plaquemines Parish and the commercial fishermen but since the Gulf Disaster their everyday joys, celebrations, surrounded by music, love and community have been taken away. Every day in Louisiana I saw people trying to enjoy every moment they could but there was always that deep dark stain in the back of so many minds that BP, Transocean, Halliburton, and Bill Gates majority owner of Nalco aka Corexit took away.
I cannot begin my series of articles on the illnesses to come, until I speak of Kindra and David Arnesen and what they have endured. These “accidental” activists did not want the spotlight they wanted their lives back. They wanted justice, not just for their family but for every family that suffered similar fates all along the Gulf.
The Arnesen family lived for 2 years with reporters in their home and a consistent barrage of spotlight into their everyday lives. They did not receive any compensation for their “advocacy” at one time in the Midst of their nightmare a famous talk show host offered to buy them a new home. Kindra, being the woman that she is said “NO.” that was a first according to the reporter.
She and David gave generously of their time, boat, gas and Money and the lives of their children in order to show the world what BP and the corporate dynasties did to their community.
They did this only to help others that were suffering, and for all of the communities that were impacted by the largest maritime disaster in the history of the United States of America. They wanted their piece of heaven cleaned up and they wanted the US to stop spraying those dispersants.
When David first went out on to the water after the Gulf Massacre, every person on that boat and the vessels around him were vomiting and sick. There are days where he wakes up not feeling well and I noted that many of the residents of Plaquemines symptoms become more acute at sundown.
Sundowners syndrome is a very real phenomenon in hospitals and with many Chemically Toxic people that includes people with Alzheimer’s and episodes of confusion.
They weathered Katrina, walking the perimeter of their slice of heaven home that they rebuilt, I was astounded by the magnitude of the work that they did. Kindra said, “If you look up to that window (she pointed to the second story window of her home) below the window is how far up that water came. We rebuilt a brick home that was practically gutted to what it is now. We rebuilt our lives then after Katrina, fishing was great and we were able to move forward to live our lives once again. We learned to evacuate, the people of my town and David did that well, why did they not evacuate this place after the BP disaster?”
With solemnity and reverence to two human beings and their family I was able to look into Kindra and David’s blue sparkling eyes. Sitting alone with David one morning in the Arnesens comfortable den, adorned with photos of their children and their lives, I listened.
David’s eyes welled up with tears that traveled down his bronze, strong cheek bones when he spoke of the future, “I don’t know if I am going to see my children grow up.
They tried to take away everything, including my health. Every day my throat gets sore when the prevailing winds blow out of the South West, my eyes burn. I wake up nauseated some days.”
“I have been doing this (commercial fishing) for 35 years of my life my father was a commercial fishermen well into his 80’s I always thought it would be my work for my entire life and there is nothing else that I want to do.”
When I asked him about the workforce programs that are being offered (and other fishermen) the Resounding question was “If BP made it so good and if everything is okay why are we offered Workforce programs?
What is it that the States know that they are not admitting?” David was forthcoming when he spoke of his thoughts in regard to the Red Tape and the ridiculous rules that were placed on Commercial Fishermen. His statements were corroborated by others in my Journey along the Gulf.
Kindras’ sparkling, beautiful blue eyes welled up at times when she spoke of her love for her family, her Parish and her husband. “At night I reach over to see if he is still breathing, David still has discharge coming from his ears and his breathing is not good he is suffering from chemical toxicity, some days are good and others are not good at all.”
We were in a restaurant the day of our departure, when she began reading a statement that she sent to bridge the Gulf for a quote, she couldn’t finish reading it and I took the text, finished reading it out loud while she, Theresa and I cried. On our trip to a local graveyard Kindra showed us dates and plots and empty graves that were never recovered.
“We have a reverence for our dead here, when I am attending at least a funeral a month here…. then someone is not looking at the reality of what we are going through.” The stark reality that this reporter who loves her Gulf of Mexico, saw a whole lot of early, young deaths in the obituaries and on those grave markers.
Kindra has learned to live with being chemically toxic herself. She looks after her community as much as she can and will be the first to talk to a friend and hold them and a sick child.
I watched how she greeted people in her community. She knew their names no matter their color or social standing and Theresa and I in turn I accepted and treated like one of the family. In my trip I was honored to talk to other commercial fishermen and women and residents of Bures and Venice that were chemically ill, I was honored to have them share their stories that will be forthcoming in future articles.
I only had to spend time with them to see the love that permeates their lives. When I see them together and watch them look at their family I can feel nothing but love for them and respect.
The story of how Kindra and David met was a heart rendering story. As she told Theresa and I her story in her mix of southern cajun dialect and her passion with words, I was mesmerized.
The pride that she feels for her husband and family touched off a tinge of bittersweet envy in that I have not seen that lifelong love with a mate. The words that are expressed by David and Kindra are palpable and in the softness of the moment you can truly feel their words.
The unfortunate fact is that due to work that David and Kindra have done for their community and for the love of their Gulf have left them isolated from some local people, that they have known their whole lives.
They have been outcast by people that they knew, loved and trusted. One thing is that anyone who outcast them lost some real friends. Kindra and David would have loved them and accepted unconditionally if they would have not turned their backs on them.
The double edged sword was “the loss of connections from over the years that has taken its toll on our friendships and family.” To this day Kindra shakes her head in disbelief. It is difficult to see the people that she loved every day, only to be talked over and ignored.
The Double Edged Sword is that people who loved their lives in the impact zones and who lived there all of their lives, must coexist with the oil companies, refineries and polluters.
I too after spending time outdoors had burning eyes and a sore throat but I was at least able to get out of that region and come home.
The Double Edged Sword is that these people are chemically toxic and have no physicians but for a few in the whole of Louisiana and practically none all over the Gulf to care for them. They are diagnosed as drug seekers, fakers or people who are just out to cash in on a windfall.
It has been estimated that thousands will go out of the impact zones in a box often at a young age.
That sword needs to be sharpened and its fine blades must pierce the truth so that anyone who needs help and anyone who was impacted needs recompense and the needs are great. They also need clinics filled with compassionate health care providers. Finally and lastly these people need to be made whole.