Tuesday, January 16, 2007

New Orleans

Helping to rebuild a part of New Orleans will be an experience I will never forget.

When we first arrived in the area of New Orleans, although one of the first things that everyone noticed was the trees, we soon saw other signs of the wide spread destruction of the area. We saw debris such as chairs, coolers and other furniture on roof tops, cars and boats in unusual places, and rows upon rows of empty, torn houses. At night, it was strange to drive through some of the neighborhoods and realize that there were only a few houses here and there that had any sort of light on.

The first day, the thing that really caught my attention was the markings on the buildings. Every single one had a marking (a huge X with information in each section of the X) denoting the date the building was checked, the national guard unit that had checked it, if there were pets that were seen in the building, and the body count. Every. Single. One. It was difficult to drive past a house that had a number other than zero in the bottom part of the X, as we soon found out that that number meant that someone one had died in that house.

On Monday, we started working on several sites, including the Musician's Village. The Musician's Village is a project that has Harry Connick, Jr. and Branford and Ellis Marsalis partnering up with Habitat for Humanity to get musicians back to New Orleans. Why is this project so important? One resident that I got to meet, Ellen Smith, said that it is difficult for musicians to come back because rent is now two to three times higher than it was before the hurricane with an one bedroom apartment now priced at $900. Smith will hopefully be able to move into her house this weekend. Here is a video of the building and dedication ceremony of the first few houses in the Musician's Village.

Throughout the week, I got to try my hand at landscaping, framing and hanging bedroom and closet doors, and putting the exterior trim around several windows on a house. While I came down to N.O. to help, I admit that I learned many skills that I will be able to use in the future when I get a house of my own. I will no longer be intimidated by doing my own home repairs.

Even with the destruction still widely visible, there were signs of hope. Even though there were not very many, every house that had a light on reminded our group that people were coming back to New Orleans; They were coming home. Signs posted at different locations helped to remind residents and visitors alike to stay positive and that the area was recovering. We could see the hope in people's faces as they would drive up to the area and stop to talk to volunteers and thank them for coming to help people that have virtually been forgotten. We told them that we would not let people forget them and that we would spread our tales any way that we could.

A sign of hope that really touched me, as strange as it may sound, was the rose bushes that I saw. How could the trees have died, yet many rose bushes throughout the area still survive? The ones that I saw were flourishing! I saw rose bushes in all areas, but the one that spoke to me was the one in the Ninth Ward. With many of the houses in this area already torn down, I was touched when I saw a fully bloomed rose bush next to a stair case leading up to where a house used to be. While this area of N.O. may never recover, that one rose bush reminded me that there is still hope.

I encourage all of you to get a group together and go down to New Orleans to help out if you can. For more information on helping check out the N.O. Habitat site.

Sites and things of interest in New Orleans:

Mardi Gras Masks
King Cake
Bourbon Street
French Quarter
Cafe du Monde
Beignets at Cafe du Monde
Palm Trees
Fima trailer villages
Fima trailers in people's front yard as they repair their homes
Fleur-de-lis symbol
St. Bernards Parish
Ninth Ward
The colorful houses of the Musician's Village
Water lines on houses
National Guard markings on the houses
Holes in roofs where people had escaped from their homes
Ann Rice's House
Real World House
Po Boy sandwiches
Harry Connick, Jr. (Yes, I did get to meet him)
Branford and Ellis Marsalis (I met them, also)
Ellen Smith singing at Cafe Brazil
A McDonald's that looks like a church
Swamp tours


Angela-Eloise said...

What an amazing experience that must have been. Thank you for sharing it with us. I wondered what effect the devastation had on the magickal community in New Orleans and how it must have changed the energy and spirits who have been a part of that place for hundreds of years. I hope that they will come back just as the people are beginning to.

Jeff Lilly said...

Sojourner, thanks for this post; and thank you for your service, as well!

Jenna said...

Thank you for that visual... believe it or not, I haven't really heard these kinds of details about how extensive the destruction is in New Orleans. It sounds like its enough to stop your heart... and then when it finally starts beating again, it beats with a newfound desire to heal.

I hope you don't mind that I have linked your blog on mine.

Bliss and light,

Laura said...

I truly admire you for "lending a helping hand" to those in need in New Orleans. It is wonderful to see there are people who care about others and not just about what it the outcome will be for them. What a great inspiration for others.

Sojourner said...

Thanks for the comments, everyone!

Jenna - I am guessing that after a few months, news media no longer considered it news worthy because it was becoming "old." In other words, people were becoming sensitized to the images.

There is so much that I didn't talk about. For example, there are still relatively few basic public services in New Orleans. Many areas still lack electricity and the sanitation systems are not properly working yet.

To keep the sewers from backing up, sanitation trucks have to pump out the content of the sewers at the street corners. These trucks can be seen at almost every street corner 24/7. Yes, 24/7.

Also, I don't mind at all! Thanks for the link.