Lying on her side on a bicycle path, the first sailboat we see on our journey is a surreal sight.
If I was some creature from a distant land that has somehow appeared in Hoboken, I would think that this is a strange place populated by strange people. I would not know that something terrible had happened here just days ago.
I would not know why there are small dead fishes lying flat in the middle of the streets.
The sidewalks are full of drowned objects, basement creatures forgotten in dark corners, memories dug up for a last time awaiting their final journey to the landfills of New Jersey.
I would probably think that in the beginning of winter a sad and silent spring-cleaning festival has been organized here.
The first person I meet in a dark wet basement is Terrie. She looks like someone from outer space with a gas mask, a flash light on her head and plastic bags on the feet. Her basement got flooded and she is emptying it all up.
The next person I meet is Enrique from Ecuador. He is helping Terrie to clean up. Enrique doesn’t speak English so I get a chance to practise my Spanish. He urges me to take a mirror with a heavy wood-carved frame.
After Enrique, I meet Major Charles Kelly from the Salvation Army. I never thought that the Salvation Army IS an actual army with majors and all…They are here to help people with shelter and supplies, he tells me.
Next to a public park in a residential area I talk for a bit with Morgan, a volunteer worker on a lunch break helping to clean up the city after the storm . He tells me where I can get some hot empanadas.
Further down the street a soldier from the U. S. Army poses for me. His name tag reads Rodriguez. He explains that the Army is bringing in supplies and equipment and his job is to protect a small area on the main street close to the City Hall for these operations. He thanks me for asking. Asking what, I ask him. “Asking if I don’t mind to have my picture taken. Usually people just shoot without asking me.”
I also ask many questions a young guy named Alex from Vinton, Iowa. He works as a volunteer for FEMA, department of Homeland Security, an organisation that is supposed to help people during disasters. I ask him if he has seen a documentary entitled Camp FEMA, a much more sinister explanation of the organisation’s role during times of distress. No, he says. He has come all this way along with many other college kids hoping to help.
Down the Washington street, I ask a Hoboken policeman to pose for me. Officer Nicholas Burke. Initially he refuses, telling me that he is not supposed to pose for pictures and suggests I photograph him incognito from a distance. But then we start talking about photography and finally he is happy to pose. Tells me he is a photographer himself. We understand each other.
I am happy to have met all these people who talked to me about helping and carrying for each other in times of crisis.