Sunday, May 20, 2012

I've Been Canoeing Through Katrina Flooded New Orleans . . .

 . . . with Abdulrahmen Zeitoun, who stayed behind while his wife and four kids drove to her sister's place in Baton Rouge.  Born in Syria, Zeitoun made it to the US as a sailor and met Kathy, who had converted to Islam before she met Zeitoun, and married and settled in New Orleans where they started a house painting business and eventually bought rental properties.

As Katrina neared, his shipping captain brother in Spain, who'd been following the Florida storm online, kept calling him telling him to get out.  At first it was good that he stayed.  He was able to move some of their possessions to the second floor, saving books and the TV and the DVD, food from the refrigerator, and family photos. and the kids' games.  He had long ago bought a used canoe and now used it to explore the neighborhood, locating and getting help for stranded neighbors.

Meanwhile his wife, after her sister's place gets too crowded, packs up and drives to her best friend's place in Phoenix.  By now Zeitoun's cell phone battery is dead, but there is a working phone at one of his rental properties on Claiborne Street and he calls every day at noon. 

The water that at first was fresh and clear is now oily and contaminated with who knows what plus floating debris including one dead body.  The military in town are proving less than helpful, treating him like a looter and potential danger.  He keeps resisting pleas from his brother and his wife to get out.  He's been placed here by God to help the people and dogs trapped in their houses that he's been feeding.  He's ok.  The violence they see and hear about on the news is downtown, not near him.   Then he returns to the Claiborne house with the phone and sees a strange boat tied to the porch.  Some guy named Ronnie saw the phone box above the waterline and had come to use the phone.  His friend, Nasser, whom he'd found with his canoe one day and is now was staying with him said he thought Ronnie was ok.  They discover that the water is running in the bathroom and they take showers.  It's nine days after Katrina first hit.  Seven days since Zeitoun woke up to discover the levees had broken and everything had flooded.  Zeitoun comes out of the shower and is about to call his wife when he hears Nasser talking to people outside.
"Zeitoun!"  Nasser called.
"What?"  Zeitoun said.
"Come Here,"  Nasser said.  "These guys want to know if we need water."
Zeitoun assumed it was more men like himself and Nasser  - people with boats who were roaming around, trying to help.
When he put the phone down and looked toward the front porch, he saw a group of men, all of them armed, bursting into the house.  Zeitoun hung up the phone and walked toward the door.

So, with the help of writer Dave Eggers,  I've been elsewhere all morning.  I stopped here, on page 180 of Zeitoun.   It took 20 pages or so before I got sucked completely into this book for my next book club meeting a week from tomorrow.  I decided this time I wanted to finish the book before the afternoon of the meeting.   That won't be a problem.

So this is my way of keeping the blog moving as I also try to do other things I need to get done. 


  1. I bought that book when I was buying my mothers day cards for mom. She lived in Damascus and Alleppo Syria as a little kid, although she is not Syrian. Will start reading it tomorrow after I get home from the SB area.

  2. Thanks for the heads up. I stopped reading your post right where you said. Didn't want to accidently see anything, so I didn't give you my thanks on that post.


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