08 November 2007


whew! what a week. i've got to get my final new orleans stories out of the way so i can get back to work pointing out stories about toys contaminated with GHB and the dangerous challenges of living in central washington.

i spent my last two volunteer days working on a house in the 7th ward. as noted in my mobile entry, the house was almost completely destroyed by katrina. rod and camile, the couple that lives in the house with their two daughters, said that the water came through as high as the top of a stop sign. the city had actually planned to demolish what was left -- mildewed plywood and crumbling, termite-infested studs -- but there is such an unimaginably gigantic backlog that they never got to it. so, we rebuilt it. my sister and mom had both worked on the house during previous visits, first to gut the house and then to put up walls. now here i was, working on the finishing touches before the family moves in at the end of this month.

the first day i mostly followed instructions. they had put the only four male volunteers on the project and we worked together well. no, that's an understatement. we worked fluidly and efficiently. we made some serious progress, i spent hours finding studs, or what was left of them, so that when we cut the baseboard we could lay it down quickly. with a nail gun. man, that thing is such a rush. i was a nail master. and i'm not talking manicures!

nothing like spending time with men looking for studs.

after our day of construction, we took rod and camile's family out to dinner to celebrate the near completion. we let them choose and ended up at a fast food-ish burger and seafood joint. you cannot imagine the waitress' face when we walked in and asked for a table for 22! ouch. bonus: $7 pitchers of abita amber, the delicious local brew.

my god, that put new york bar prices into perspective. can you imagine $7 pitchers? a bottle of bud is $7 some places in manhattan.

by the second day of construction, i was more or less working on my own -- measuring walls and angles, cutting baseboard and installing trim. now i know how to use a compound mitre saw!

throughout my experience down south, it felt like a privilege to be able to step away from my life and give some time and energy towards making even a little difference.

but the real privilege? getting to wear these amazing work goggles. damn sexy!

an intense end to the day came when the volunteers from the tureaud school arrived. this was the school where, just two days previous, we had helped host their halloween party and i had walked through the neighborhood, trying to capture boarded-up houses and burned-out churches. our volunteers were spending the day working on letter recognition when from outside the school there was a hail of gunfire and a man was killed. the school went into lockdown. remember, these are elementary school kids who have already had to survive the storm. post-traumatic stress disorder is a way of life for some of these kids. and now there was a corpse in the street in front of their school. i don't envy our volunteers who were there that day.

after finishing up at rod and camile's, we headed out towards the north shore of lake pontchartrain. driving across the long causeway at sunset, i marveled at the long views out all windows and wondered how such a pretty lake could have such a devastating effect on its neighboring city. the rise in pontchartrain was responsible for the worst of the flooding in new orleans, but in the glow of dusk, it was at peace.

the north shore unitarian universalist fellowship has hosted us and helped in our efforts since the first trip down, eight weeks after katrina. two of their members, tim and carla, live in an other-worldly magical house out in the woods. the house survived the storm remarkably unscathed, even as they lost half the trees on their property. we arrived to a giant homecooked meal and sat around the bonfire for hours singing, telling stories and jokes and making general merriment. a welcome break from being constantly surrounded by destruction and reminders of death, racism and the complete ineptitude of our government!

after our magical night in the woods, we said our goodbyes and parted ways. it's always hard to leave a community of service. you've all worked together towards a common goal, striving to make the world a better place, bit by bit. but then eventually you have to return to your lives and routines. if anything in your life makes you unhappy, returning to it puts it in stark contrast.

as i lay down to sleep that night, in my own soft bed and not on a church floor, i listened to the roaring trucks, the growl of buses, the screams of the ambulances and police sirens, the gleeful conversations of drunken patrons from downstairs. i wondered how i had survived it so long.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for sharing, and loved the pictures.