By Chaz Volk
In May, 2015, massive flooding devastated the Austin,Texas area. San Francisco Hillel has sent 7 students to contribute to the long-term recovery effort; here are their reflections.
Our morning begins with the usual banter you can expect from a bunch of college guys sharing a cabin. Our joking and teasing starts our day with a laugh and helps get us up and ready for our first day of work in San Marcos, Texas.
After breakfast, we pile into our vans and absorb our first glimpses of the devastation left by last year’s floods. We drive across bridges that were once completely covered by 42 feet of water. Surrounding us are basins whose walls were weathered by the unforgiving currents of the floods. A gallon of water weighs eight pounds. This powerful natural element caused unfathomable flooding, leading to millions of dollars of damage, 350 injuries, and eleven deaths. And here we are, driving down a road that was completely submerged seven months ago.
We arrive at our first worksite for the day, the Creekhaven Inn. We are greeted by a gentle giant of a man named Harold. He appears camera shy when he notices my GoPro, and quietly assigns us our duties around the Inn. Even though 80% of the work on the building seems completed, the destruction and debris scattered around remind us what happened here. Entire roots of trees are exposed. “Water goes where it wants to go,” says Harold. And that phrase is what sticks in my mind and dominates my thoughts throughout the day. Harold tells us that tourism is the backbone of the entire local economy, and the recovery of this Inn is a priority for the state.
After lunch we come to our second worksite, EIEIO Farm (yes, that’s its real name!) and we’re tasked with building a fence just off the road. We’re told this road was the site where two currents moving in opposite directions met, and I can only imagine the destruction caused from such a clash. The farmhouse on the property is mostly rebuilt, and as we take a tour around I notice that whoever lives here enjoys the same video games as me; Halo, Call of Duty, Far Cry. I wonder how I would react if I had to build my life back together like this homeowner. How would I feel if my video game collection, my living room, and everything I own was taken away by 50 feet of water.
We get back to our cabin after our long day of power hosing, raking, debris clearing, digging, flattening, tightening, and lifting. I stumble into my bunk, already tired from only one real day of work, and take a much needed shower. Relaxing for the first time today, my bunkmates and I resume our boyish banter; we need something to smile and laugh about. And as I get ready to drift off to sleep, I think about these wisecrack exchanges. We tease each other over the slightest things; we pick apart small moments – a friend’s silly statement. It’s our way to distract ourselves from the pain and loss we witnessed earlier today. But I keep thinking about the boy who lives in that farmhouse, and Harold, and am humbled as I realize they don’t have the option to simply make a joke and forget about what happened to their homes and lives.