31 October 2007

new orleans

i'm sitting at the shared computer in methodist church volunteer center. the center was set up almost immediately after the storm, and we're lucky enough to be able to crash here, even though we unitarians have some significant differences of faith. we're stashed up in the youth wing, which i have to say is about the sweetest youth room i've ever seen -- they have a pool table, ping pong, air hockey, two foosball tables -- now if only we had energy or time to play!

yesterday i was picked up at the airport and driven straight to gregory middle school, where they've had to deal with three moves *this school year* -- that's moving an entire middle school three times since the beginning of september. and the district removed their much-beloved principal on monday. our job was to organize their boxes and take them to proper classrooms. it's a surreal place to be -- a middle school in giant gleaming white modulars with no grass, no place to play, surrounded by gravel pits and directly in the looming shadow of their old destroyed school.

it's a school of contradictions. the computer lab is well stocked and the the science lab is spotless. but the computer lab isn't ready to use and the science teacher, in his first week in new orleans (our guess is teach for america) didn't know where the science lab even was. they have an array of a dozen computer workstations in their library, but our donation to the school is going to be office supplies, because they don't have paperclips or paper. i'm serious, the secretary hoards paper to give to kids who need it.

i can't figure out who decides what supplies go to the school. it's obvious that much is donated -- why else would they only have 100 copies of book two in a series but no book one? but for real, in a school with 80 students, why do they have three *palettes* of graphing calculators? they literally have hundreds upon hundreds of graphing calculators. and my guess is that the nearest school may not have any.

we'll be spending the week at the school pretty much doing whatever they need us to. that may be planting flowers, or moving gravel, or figuring out what the hell to do with a thousand calculators.

after we left the school yesterday, we came back to the church for a cooking class with a luminous woman who taught us how to make a proper creole roux for gumbo while talking about the history of the food we were going to eat. it was wonderful, standing in a hot, smoky kitchen with two dozen volunteers, watching this woman cook ancient foods that actually traveled from west africa with the slaves. did you know that the bantu word for okra is kigombo? thus, gumbo. how cool is that?

looks like it's time to make some lunch and head back to the school. and maybe another cup of the worst coffee known to humanity.

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