This morning Zeitoun rises early to feed the dogs across the street, then heads out to check on the state of his office building. On the way, he sees a group of men at the Shell station, carrying full garbage bags from the office into a boat. Zeitoun realizes that these are the kind of people Kathy warned about: criminal opportunists. When one sees Zeitoun, he reveals the handle of a gun holstered in his belt, and Zeitoun quickly turns back toward the house on Claiborne. He tells Kathy on the phone that the slight rain falling meant he couldn’t see the office that day.
Zeitoun’s selfless work contrasts with those who have taken advantage of the disaster to benefit themselves. In Zeitoun and many others we have seen the best of human nature following a tragedy, while in these men we see the worst. It is telling, however, that in nearly a week Zeitoun has only seen one example of this kind of behavior—while it is “looting," not rescuing, that dominates the news. Zeitoun still recognizes the potential danger—and is perhaps even paranoid from the media via Kathy—even as he wants to keep Kathy from worrying.
Kathy tells Zeitoun that some friends have called. Knowing Zeitoun is still in the city, they’ve asked if he could check on their properties. Delilah Burmidian, the wife of a Tulane professor, was one of them: they owned a building that housed a resource center and dorm for visiting students from Arab nations.
The tasks that Zeitoun feels responsible for, like taking care of the dogs and his properties, begin to accumulate again. He’s the kind of person that is happiest with something to do, so these responsibilities cheer him up.
Arriving at Tulane, Zeitoun realizes that he can walk on dry land. The property is mostly undamaged apart from a few downed branches on the ground. Then he sees Nasser Dayoob, another Syrian who had left the country in 1995 and arrived to the U.S. stowed away on a tanker. He had stayed at this residence during his legal proceedings to gain sanctuary.
Zeitoun’s experience around Tulane shows just how differently Katrina affected different parts of the city, even though natural tragedies might seem indiscriminate. Zeitoun’s acquaintance Nasser will figure prominently in the rest of the book.
Zeitoun asks if Nasser wants to come with him. Though Nasser knows he’ll be safe on campus, he wants to see what has happened to the city and his home. Kathy has always thought Nasser to be a somewhat fragile man. Sometimes Nasser does housepainting for Zeitoun—they’re not close friends, but Zeitoun now enjoys the company of someone who has a shared history with him. They both remark on the strangeness of being left behind in a city, with thousands of left-behind animals with them.
Like Zeitoun, Nasser has a certain curiosity about New Orleans in the aftermath of the storm, a curiosity that trumps his desire for safety, despite Kathy’s characterization of the him as fragile. Even though Zeitoun is well assimilated into New Orleans, it is understandably helpful to be able to relate to someone else with a similar past.
Nasser has heard reports about New Orleans residents stranded under highway overpasses, their evacuations unsuccessful, and so he wants to stay in the city for now. Zeitoun mentions that there’s a working phone in the Claiborne house. As they arrive, Zeitoun runs into the Williamses, a couple in their seventies. Alvin, the husband, who is in a wheelchair, is a church pastor. His sister often used to eat at the Zeitouns’, since she loved Kathy’s cooking.
In addition to being curious about the state of the city, Nasser has also heard about what increasingly seems to be a troubled rescue operation by the authorities. This doesn’t bode well for Zeitoun’s friend Alvin and his wife, who seem in great need of being rescued and evacuated from New Orleans.
Zeitoun has never seen the couple look so tired. They’ve waited out the storm but now their food and water have run out. Zeitoun tells them he’ll find help, and paddles up to the Memorial Medical Center, where he knows there are police and soldiers. As he approaches, two of them raise their guns and shout to not come any closer. He shouts over the wind that he’s just looking for help. While one soldier lowers his gun, they both say they can’t help him—he has to go to St. Charles. They ignore his protests, and Zeitoun is incredulous that they want him to paddle all the way there rather than simply have the soldier call a unit on his walkie-talkie. One soldier, who looks incredibly young, seems afraid and unsure, but finally turns and walks away.
Once again, Zeitoun assumes responsibility for other members of his community by promising to help them escape the city. However, the response he receives from the policemen and soldiers is wildly out of proportion to what he’s asking of them. They treat Zeitoun like a criminal rather than a concerned citizen, and seem less concerned with helping others (like the church couple) than with protecting themselves from an unknown and, at least so it seems to Zeitoun, nonexistent threat of violence.
Zeitoun paddles all the way to the intersection of Napoleon and St. Charles, where the water is shallower. There are tents, military vehicles, and police officers and soldiers. Zeitoun steps out of his canoe and asks one officer to help a handicapped man be evacuated. He gives the man the exact address, and asks him when he’ll go: the man says he’ll head over in about an hour. When Zeitoun returns, he reassures the pastor and his wife that help is on the way.
Finally, Zeitoun comes across a staging ground that seems largely devoted to helping those affected by the storm, although there is still a large police and military presence, in more significant numbers than actual members of the rescue operation. Still, the focus on crime seems to ebb long enough for Zeitoun to get his message across.
Meanwhile, Yuko’s husband Ahmaad arrives in Houston to drive Kathy and her family to Phoenix. Though Ahmaad discourages Kathy from listening to the news, even the country stations announce that President Bush is visiting New Orleans—he mentions the loss of Trent Lott’s summer home in Mississippi. National Guardsmen, heavily armed, have entered the Convention Center, but they find no resistance, just exhausted, hungry people. Kathy takes some comfort from thinking that the situation is under control.
The news that seeps through on the radio also underlines the country’s focus on New Orleans as a kind of “war zone” rather than a site of suffering for victims of a natural tragedy. This story, at least, seems to acknowledge the disconnect between the expectation of violence and the reality of desperation and hunger among those left behind. President Bush was especially criticized for his slow response to the disaster, and here Eggers emphasizes this by showing how Bush seemed more concerned for a Senator’s summer home than the thousands of poor and minorities who were left homeless and hungry.
Zeitoun and Nasser, paddling around, find an abandoned military jeep with boxes of meals, ready-to-eat (MREs) in it. They head past a family of five on an overpass and hand the MREs to them. Around 5 p.m. they head back to Claiborne. On the way they pass by the pastor’s just to check, but Alvin and his wife are still on their porch with their bags ready. Zeitoun feels helpless and betrayed, and apologizes to the couple, saying he’ll figure something out.
Nasser has partnered with Zeitoun in a kind of two-person rescue mission, doing what they can in their small canoe. Still, Zeitoun realizes that he has failed in his responsibility to Alvin and his wife: it may not be his fault that the man at the staging ground failed to get help to the couple, but Zeitoun still feels frustrated by this thoughtlessness.
Outside the Claiborne house, Todd Gambino is sitting next to his motorboat with a dog he’s found. Zeitoun feels like God has intervened again: Todd immediately agrees to take his motorboat to Alvin and his wife, dropping them off at the intersection. Grateful, Zeitoun spends time chatting with Todd on the porch, as they swap stories about their different rescues. Zeitoun has always thought of Todd as a playboy, and somewhat irresponsible and flaky, but now he’s impressed by Todd’s selflessness.
Here Zeitoun realizes that he himself can be susceptible to prejudices and snap judgments about other people, as his earlier assumption about Todd is now countered by that realization that Todd is acting with kindness and generosity. Zeitoun finds this attitude appealing and impressive, and it contrasts to the lack of “official” help for the couple.
That night, Zeitoun realizes he’s still angry about the pastor and his wife. He wonders what the man at the intersection could have possibly had to do that was more important than saving others. Unable to sleep, Zeitoun goes inside to sit on the floor of Nademah’s room. He misses his family.
Zeitoun, selfless himself, is again surprised and frustrated by the authorities’ apparently misplaced priorities, as they focus on violence, lawlessness, and disorder rather than on helping those who need it.
Zeitoun opens one of the photo albums he’s saved, to a photo of himself his first year at sea aboard a ship captained by Ahmad. Ahmad had left home after their father’s death. He first went to Turkey to study medicine, but then left college and enrolled in a training academy to become a naval officer. Two years later, he was on the sea.
As usual, Zeitoun seems to revisit his past at night, tonight focusing on his brother Ahmad, whom we’ve already heard from when he called Zeitoun from Spain. Ahmad followed his father’s wishes while Mahmoud was alive, but after his death followed his dream of being on the sea.
Ahmad is the family member who takes the most pictures, and there are more of him in this album than of Zeitoun. There’s one of Ahmad and his crew grilling something that looks like a dog, another of Ahmad in downtown New Orleans, another in Tokyo, another in India. Meanwhile Zeitoun was still at home, restless. His mother recognized Zeitoun’s longing, so one day she called Ahmad to ask him to take his younger brother with him. Speechless and overjoyed, Zeitoun prepared to meet his brother in Greece.
Ahmad is the brother who is best at keeping in touch, and this quality of seeking constant connection to his family is reflected in his picture-taking mania. Ahmad’s photos catalogue his years on the sea and help Zeitoun recall his own time spent working under his brother as a young man—an opportunity that his mother granted him out of love, even though it meant losing another son.
Initially Ahmad treated Zeitoun more harshly than the others, probably to counter suspicions of favoritism, but Zeitoun didn’t mind. Zeitoun was completely content, despite the grueling labor. He spent his twenties and early thirties at sea, on cargo and passenger ships going all over the world. Zeitoun loved exploring cities, but he wasn’t the stereotypical sailor: he didn’t gamble or drink alcohol. Instead, he would swim laps, always testing himself. He sailed for 10 years, until landing in Houston in 1988. He decided to explore inland, where his next life began.
As Zeitoun recalls the years he spent on the sea with Ahmad, he doesn’t remember the hard work and struggle to prove himself with any bitterness. As with his early job with Charlie Saucier, Zeitoun doesn’t shy away from hard work, and in fact elevates it as a virtue above most others. He’s disciplined and persevering, even while remaining adventurous at heart, which has led to this new adventure.